Born again New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked after his team's first week of OTAs whether Tom Brady could still improve this year as he's set to turn 37. McDaniels gave a typical Patriots-speak answer.
"Yup, I do. It's hard for me to ever feel like that wouldn't be the case. Any time you have a guy that is really focused on working on all of the weaknesses in his game, when there really aren't that many, you can see where there would be room for growth," McDaniels said last week via ESPNBoston.com. "He listens as well or better than he ever has in terms of taking coaching and working on things that we're trying to get better at. I think that's a great example for the rest of the guys."
The Patriots are working on some of Brady's weaknesses, like throwing on the move and making "off-schedule" throws. But the bigger question is whether Brady can hold on to all his strengths, like accuracy, pocket moving and decision-making as he gets older.
Brady's 2013 season was neatly divided into signs of mortality and greatness. He struggled through his worst half-season since his rookie year until Week 9. In the second half of the season, Brady played like an MVP.
Folks want to point to the absence of Brady's most trusted targets (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) to explain the first half, and there was a period of adjustment with the team's young receivers. But the slow start was also on Brady. He missed far more open throws than we are used to seeing and went through prolonged cold streaks. He was often bothered by pressure that wasn't there. His efficiency ranked among the worst in the league in the first half.
Brady and the Patriots' offense improved dramatically down the stretch. The abbreviated return of Gronkowski helped immensely, and Brady figured out which receivers he could trust. (Julian Edelman above all.) Brady's yards-per-attempt for the season only climbed to 6.9 by season's end, which is below average. But anyone watching Brady down the stretch could see he was playing very well until the AFC Championship Game.
Brady and Peyton Manning have helped adjust our expectations for quarterbacks heading into their late thirties. But both men can only beat back Father Time for so long. The Patriots can only truly threaten Denver's crown in the AFC if Brady continues to convince Patriots fans that the normal aging rules don't apply to immortals.