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Tom Brady on critics: 'I absolutely want to play better'

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The whispers are creeping. They're soft and quiet, but they're there. Slowly, some feel emboldened to breathe the thoughts into words.

Maybe Tom Brady is slipping?

The ageless wonder, still slinging it at 41, hasn't been his ultra-effective-self, missing too many throws, not seeming to trust his protection, own arm or some of his receivers.

In a wide-ranging interview with Jim Gray of Westwood One, Brady admitted he can play better than he has through the first 10 weeks of the season.

"Everything is different from one year to the next," TB12 said Monday when asked about critics who say he might be slipping. "I think you keep working at it the same way. Those things haven't changed for me. I'm sure some of my statistics have changed. But I feel good out there. And I feel like do I want to play better? I absolutely want to play better. I want to play best as I possibly can for my team, and that's what my job is to do. Certainly, yesterday was not a great performance. I got to go out there and play my very best these next six weeks to give our team the best chance. And that's what I want to do. That's what I'm going to focus on these next two weeks. We got another road test. Another opportunity to go up against the Jets, a division rival in two weeks, and we got to have our best road game of the year, and that's what I'm expecting from us."

Brady points to the statistics, which he's middling in most of the major ones through 10 games, with 2,748 yards on a 65.2 completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt average, 17 TDs to 7 interceptions and a 94.7 QB rating. If kept on the current pace, those stats would be his worst since 2013 -- a.k.a. the season after which people started questioning whether Brady still had it, before he ripped off a run no one had seen at his age.

The reigning MVP's struggles can partly be explained by an offensive line that has given up more pressures of late. Injuries especially hurt in Sunday's loss to the Tennessee Titans, who sacked Brady three times. According to Next Gen Stats, Brady struggled against the blitz versus the Titans, being sacked on three of his nine dropbacks and completing only one of his six pass attempts for 6 yards. In the last five games, teams have blitzed Brady with impunity, generating a 14.7 sack-rate, 44.8 completion percentage, 20.7 tight window throw percentage, 0-1 TD-INT ratio and a 56.4 passer rating (juxtapose those to the first five games of the season: 3.6 sack-rate, 77.8 completion percentage, 3.7 tight window throw percentage, 4-0 TD-INT ratio and a 148.7 passer rating).

Even when kept clean, however, we haven't seen vintage Brady. His completion percentage when protected well sits at 71.8, 16th in the NFL, and his accuracy percentage on deep passes when given a clean pocket is 77.4, 24th in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

Brady's weapons have also been an issue. Rob Gronkowski has missed games. Josh Gordon is learning a new offense and has dropped too many balls. Julian Edelman is coming off suspension and injury. The running game has been inconsistent. These aren't excuses; they are facts.

This week's concern about Brady should be put into context: The Patriots owned a six-game winning streak prior to Sunday's road blowout. Sometimes teams, even great teams, lay an egg on the road.

"We just got to figure out how to play well on the road," Brady admitted. "And that's a lot of mental toughness, and that's really a lot of great execution early in the game. We're still trying to figure out, in ways, what our identity is -- I know we'll be searching for that as long as the season goes because it always changes and that's part of football season. But we really got to work hard this week to figure out the things we need to do to help us the most going forward. No one really has margin of error at this time of year. We're all kind of at where we're at. The teams are built. We've shown what we can do well. Our identity is there to a degree. We need to shape it in a way that allows us more opportunities to win.

"When you perform the way that we did yesterday, nobody feels good about it. You don't sleep, you think about it all day. It bothers you, but at the same time you have resolve and you say, 'look, it happened, we take ownership of it and we got to make sure that as we move forward we learn from these mistakes.' And that doesn't mean you're guaranteed victory moving forward, it means you got to put those words into action and that's what we're going to try to do."

Despite not playing up to MVP expectations, the GOAT will still guide his team into the postseason in a weak AFC East, and perhaps to another first-round bye. If Brady, Belichick and the Pats are hoisting another Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year, no one will care if TB12 was outperformed by the likes of Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff during the regular season.

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