I stopped writing this column for two seasons, and Tom Brady is better now than when I left. Back then, there was appropriate awe that he was hanging on as a top-10 regular-season quarterback before he lit up the AFC on the way to his final Patriots title. He fell further in his final New England season, closer to league average. Just 18 months later, it's obvious that no NFL quarterback has played better since last December, a stretch lasting nine Bucs games.
Brady was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded passer from Week 13 forward last season -- and he just topped the PFF board again in Week 1 of 2021. Justin Herbert, sensational in every respect, was outplayed by a man who was in the NFL when Herbert was 2 years old.
Composing a "Tom Brady is still good" take is one of the most challenging endeavors a writer can embark on -- hasn't it all been said before? -- but I'm fascinated about the shape of Brady's latest peak. He's a different player, making "wow" throws more consistently. His average depth of target is deeper than it's ever been. He is way more fun to watch at 44 than he was at 24.
The easy tell of an analyst with an anti-Brady bias is when they question his arm strength. Even in 2019, when he earned his No. 14 year-end QB Index grade, Brady still had his velocity. The melding of what Brady does best with Bruce Arians' offense has encouraged the veteran signal-caller to take more chances, which helped TB12 lead the league in PFF's "Big-Time Throws" metric in the 2020 campaign. He made more big-time throws last season than Patrick Mahomes! And Brady had five more such tosses in Week 1 -- that's as many as he posted in any game during his record-breaking 2007 season, one less than Week 1 leader Kyler Murray and the same amount as Dak Prescott. Unlike Murray and Prescott, though, Brady didn't have a single "Turnover-Worthy Play," per PFF. Also unlike them, he became the oldest starting quarterback ever to win a game.
There have been multiple Brady peaks, from that '07 dream season to the 2010-11 up-tempo corridor to the 2015-17 late-30s/early-40s stretch that figured to be the final piece of evidence that his career had a shape unlike any other. Perhaps this mad bomber stretch in Tampa won't last as long, but it's time to recognize Brady is not just playing well for his age. He's playing as well as he ever has.
NOTE: Up/down arrows illustrate movement from the Week 1 QB Index. Rankings reflect each quarterback's standing heading into Week 2.
2021 stats: 1 game | 75.0 pct | 337 pass yds | 9.4 ypa | 3 pass TD | 0 INT | 18 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
So much for the revamped running game. With less help from the defense and ancillary skill-position players than usual against Cleveland, Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill continued to show how far three players can carry a roster. The ball was coming out of Mahomes' hand fast.
2021 stats: 1 game | 64.0 pct | 379 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 4 pass TD | 2 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Of all the unlikely things Brady has done in his career, bringing Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to play this well may be the most impressive. Brady doubters like to point out his surplus of weapons, but one of his superpowers is an ability to maximize those around him like Gronk and this Bucs offensive line.
2021 stats: 1 game | 53.6 pct | 133 pass yds | 4.8 ypa | 0 pass TD | 2 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
He couldn't find open receivers against New Orleans, and he appeared late on throws when they were there. I'm inclined to throw Sunday out, as late-career Rodgers has tended to have one total tire-fire game per season.
2021 stats: 1 game | 78.3 pct | 254 pass yds | 11.0 ypa | 4 pass TD | 0 INT | 9 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Strong response to his No. 6 ranking last week. The sudden overabundance of play-action calls has Seahawks Twitter buzzing, but Wilson's stat line (23 throws for 254 yards and four scores) is straight out of the early-career, ruthlessly efficient Russ playbook.
2021 stats: 1 game | 58.8 pct | 270 pass yds | 5.3 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 44 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
The Steelers backed off Allen, rarely blitzed and dared him to slowly work the ball down the field while figuring out their coverage. It worked beautifully, and Allen mixed in a few inaccurate deep shots that would have changed the game. Will the blitz-happy Dolphins follow the same game plan this week?
2021 stats: 1 game | 66.0 pct | 337 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | -1 rush yd | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
The Chargers' Week 1 offense was unrecognizable. Herbert faced pressure on a lower percentage of snaps than any starter last week despite playing against a strong defensive line. The ball came out quickly, but the Bolts were also aggressive when necessary, including a crucial third-and-16 toss to Keenan Allen from the Chargers' own goal line. Herbert's arm strength makes difficult throws look routine. It's almost scary how few crazy plays Herbert needed to make, because we already know he can make them.
2021 stats: 1 game | 63.3 pct | 235 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 86 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost
These were not your normal Ravens, spreading out the defense, struggling to pass protect or convert short-yardage situations. It almost worked on a night Jackson had some gems from the pocket and some missed lay-ups, but it was notable that most of the Baltimore QB's rushing production came out of structure. The injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards may accelerate changes to an offense that was already in transition.
2021 stats: 1 game | 72.4 pct | 403 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 3 pass TD | 1 INT | 13 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Watching Dak excel without his best fastball and without maximum mobility is a reminder that few quarterbacks win before the snap better than Dak. Perhaps no QB under 30 years old flourishes in a way that is so similar to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, with accuracy and supercomputer processing speeds above everything.
2021 stats: 1 game | 65.6 pct | 289 pass yds | 9.0 ypa | 4 pass TD | 1 INT | 20 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
When Kyler's good, he's so, so good. Some of his throws from the pocket against Tennessee were even prettier than the wild scramble plays that made every highlight reel. One game does not make a third-year leap, but it's certainly on the table.
2021 stats: 1 game | 60.0 pct | 212 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 17 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost
Tannehill had no chance for success in the opener, with Chandler Jones humbling left tackle Taylor Lewan, but that wasn't the only concern. The Titans' running game was stagnant, Tannehill's play-action attempts were way down, and Julio Jones struggled to uncover. It was just one game. It was just one game. It was just one game.
2021 stats: 1 game | 76.9 pct | 321 pass yds | 12.4 ypa | 3 pass TD | 0 INT | -5 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
It's like Stafford went from playing on All-Madden mode to playing Tecmo Bowl. The Rams' new QB dropped back just 27 times, third-fewest of any healthy Week 1 starter. Reads were defined, teammates were open and Stafford delivered with elan. It can't stay this easy, can it?
2021 stats: 1 game | 75.0 pct | 321 pass yds | 11.5 ypa | 0 pass TD | 1 INT | 7 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
To answer my friend Marc Sessler's question: If Baker played as poorly as Derek Carr did to start Monday Night Football, I'd express surprise. Mayfield's stretch of steady accuracy and increasingly sharp decision making goes back half a season. His unfortunate interception to end the loss in Kansas City was more bad luck than bad throw, but all three of the Browns' tepid final drives left a bitter aftertaste to an otherwise-stellar afternoon.
2021 stats: 1 game | 60.7 pct | 435 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 2 pass TD | 1 INT | 6 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
In the afterglow of one of Carr's most memorable wins, I was surprised to hear the Raiders QB compare his career to the Ravens game itself: a roller coaster. Carr is coming off one of his most consistent seasons, and yet, it's almost like he's been conditioned to expect the worst, just when things are going well.
2021 stats: 1 game | 73.5 pct | 351 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Watching NFL Game Pass always leads to a few surprises, like how well Cousins played overall in the Vikings' overtime loss to the Bengals. Cousins and his receivers had to work awfully hard to gain yards because of the offensive line's struggles, but they overcame some difficult situations before Dalvin Cook's controversial fumble cost them a comeback win.
2021 stats: 1 game | 60.0 pct | 164 pass yds | 4.7 ypa | 0 pass TD | 0 INT | 8 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
That was rough. Ryan's early misfires in the red zone against Philadelphia proved to be the least depressing part of a day in which the Falcons' offense was stagnant, combining heavy personnel with terrible pass protection and zero big plays. It was just one game. It was just one game. It was just one game.
2021 stats: 1 game | 70.0 pct | 148 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 5 pass TD | 0 INT | 37 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
His LASIK guy and his trainer should both get endorsement deals. Winston's capacity to pick up first downs with his legs adds another dimension to a quarterback seeing the field clearly. Like Drew Brees, one of Winston's best skills has always been his ability to navigate the pocket. If all his studying at decision-making graduate school in New Orleans sticks, watch out.
2021 stats: 1 game | 68.0 pct | 314 pass yds | 12.6 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 2 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
Garoppolo led Week 1 starters with 12.6 YPA and was fifth in EPA, without having to complete any Big-Time Throws, according to PFF. Brandon Aiyuk also barely played. This is life as a Kyle Shanahan quarterback facing a short-handed defense, a role Jimmy G has proven he can play well.
2021 stats: 1 game | 56.3 pct | 188 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 5 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
It's a bummer to think of Big Ben as a quarterback with a limited ceiling. While he connected on some clutch tight-window throws late in the Bills win, a Steelers passing attack with this surplus of weapons should have more than 188 yards. Roethlisberger needs his offensive line to play better.
2021 stats: 1 game | 65.8 pct | 251 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 23 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
He looked fine, which was a pleasant surprise, given that he barely practiced since the start of training camp because of his foot surgery and time on the COVID-19 list. He will eventually have to make some plays outside of structure and go deep more often to beat quality teams, but the conservative start made plenty of sense as a baseline.
2021 stats: 1 game | 77.8 pct | 264 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 19 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
That Broncos debut went even better than the official driver of the Teddy Bandwagon could have expected. Yes, I am the driver. I am the gas. I am the windshield wipers, shaking off doubters like Teddy shaking off the Giants' formidable blitzes and pressures. If he plays this well all season, you cannot fathom how annoying I will be.
2021 stats: 1 game | 74.4 pct | 281 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
His first career dropback was a fumble, the type of rookie mental short-circuiting that was so absent in Jones' preseason. After that, he barely had a negative play. It was stunning to see the Patriots going empty and changing pace in key late situations, with Jones calling out protections and making some plays outside the pocket. It was even more stunning to see Jones win so often against pressure with pinpoint accuracy. Based on everything we've seen so far, it won't be surprising if he has the best season of any of the rookie quarterbacks.
2021 stats: 1 game | 74.1 pct | 261 pass yds | 9.7 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 2 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Bengals used far more play action and got the ball out of Burrow's hand quickly to protect him. Burrow had the fourth-lowest time to throw of any starter, per PFF, a drastic change from a year ago. He read the field well when he had time. Burrow looked hesitant to scramble when pressure did arrive, however, taking five sacks. Overall, that was an encouraging first game back.
2021 stats: 1 game | 54.1 pct | 258 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 2 pass TD | 1 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Well, he's not afraid. Wilson wasn't shy about throwing deep, holding the ball in an effort to make a play or throwing versus pressure. The results were mixed, and taking six sacks is a major concern, but Wilson's attacking finish felt like it came from a player already learning from his first taste of adversity. That's the idea!
2021 stats: 1 game | 59.5 pct | 267 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 27 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
The Giants' offensive line wasn't that bad against Denver. But Jones was hapless when he did face pressure, gaining 14 yards on 11 dropbacks, according to PFF. Kenny Golladay coming to life late in the game was a bright side after a concerning previous month.
UPDATE: Jones completed 22 of 32 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown in the Giants' 30-29 loss to Washington on Thursday.
2021 stats: 1 game | 59.3 pct | 202 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 1 rush yd | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Tua threw the ball deeper more often and looked proficient in the quick game against New England. When he was forced to hold the ball or faced any pressure, there were a lot of negatively graded plays. Per PFF, only Ben Roethlisberger had a lower adjusted completion percentage in Week 1.
2021 stats: 1 game | 77.1 pct | 264 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 3 pass TD | 0 INT | 62 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
He can deliver when well-protected, which is always my first test of whether someone is an NFL starter. Combining his running ability with error-free games like the one he had in Atlanta would lead to a lot of Eagles wins.
2021 stats: 1 game | 63.6 pct | 291 pass yds | 8.8 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 40 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
Based just on Week 1, Taylor would be top-10 player on this list. He brought Buffalo Tygawd era memories back with a few big plays, a few fancy runs and some safe throws in between. Taylor finished 16th, 18th and 18th in QB Index's year-end rankings from 2015-2017, so this level of play is hardly out of character.
2021 stats: 1 game | 66.7 pct | 338 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 3 pass TD | 1 INT | 14 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
With a matchup against his fellow Cal alum Aaron Rodgers on tap this coming Monday night, Goff had a Week 1 performance reminiscent of his college days. No quarterback dropped back more in the opener. Goff and the Lions would rather run the ball more, but this could be a season of trying to make up in passing quantity what his teammates lack in quality.
2021 stats: 1 game | 54.9 pct | 332 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 3 pass TD | 3 INT | -2 rush yds | 0 rush TDs | 0 fumbles lost
Seemingly every throw from Lawrence was either amazing or awful. Plays like the rocket shot to D.J. Chark for a 41-yard touchdown will keep us coming back, but it's clear Trevor will have his down moments. I'm mostly surprised by the accuracy problems on some open throws.
2021 stats: 1 game | 68.6 pct | 279 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | -1 rush yd | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
I like that the Panthers offense uses Darnold's arm strength occasionally. I like that Darnold was making quick decisions. His accuracy and ability to go through reads will be tested more in coming games, but his start against the Jets was a positive first step.
2021 stats: 1 game | 71.1 pct | 206 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 0 pass TD | 1 INT | 13 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble lost
If you want a difficult 7-yard completion, Dalton is your man. The Bears racked up 24 first downs and moved the ball past midfield seven straight times against a quality Rams defense, which are the types of stats that convince Matt Nagy that starting Dalton is a good idea, despite the small matter of getting blown out.
2021 stats: 1 game | 73.6 pct | 122 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 17 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles lost
From his journeyman status to his playing style, Heinicke profiles like a young Ryan Fitzpatrick if everything goes right. He's played well enough in over 100 snaps for Washington to have some hope he can keep this team afloat, but starting for at least the next two months is a bigger ask.
UPDATE: Heinicke completed 34 of 46 passes for 336 yards with two TDs and a pick in Washington's comeback win over the Giants on Thursday.