The national pundits have raised this question in show rundowns for years ... only to have to explain their skepticism away by season's end. The latest round is sure to follow after the New England Patriots lost their second game of the year in uninspiring fashion, 28-22 at Houston, falling out of the top seed in the AFC in the process.
But Brady has been foreshadowing this offensive ineptitude for the better part of the season, both with his words and with his actions. In fact, the only time the Pats quarterback seemed to truly believe this could be a championship-caliber offense was during the quick courtship of Antonio Brown. You remember that? Brady was a "million percent in." Of course, that relationship went the way of some of these Hollywood romances, eventually annulled after 11 days.
So does Brady have a right to be upset? Thirteen weeks into the 2019 NFL season, his receivers are still struggling to get on the same page with him, leading to trust issues nearly across the board.
It started early in Houston. Rookie N'Keal Harry is the first first-round wide receiver Bill Belichick and the braintrust have selected since they arrived in Foxborough two decades ago. The pass catcher is chiseled out of stone -- 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. Yes, Harry missed the better part of summer camp and the regular season with an assortment of lower-leg injuries, but his big body paid dividends almost immediately upon his return, with a beautiful back-shoulder touchdown catch in the rain against Dallas. But in the opening quarter on Sunday night, he got schooled on a simple slant, costing the Patriots the football.
Harry ran the slant versus veteran Bradley Roby. With his power, Harry needed a good plant and acceleration to the spot, using his body to shield the Texans corner away from the ball. Instead, Roby made a subtle grab of Harry's jersey at the top of his route, which threw the entire process off because Harry didn't fight through it. That resulted in a softer route from the rookie, which allowed Roby to cut in front and come up with the interception. Harry had been heavily involved in the game plan to start. He would see the field for just 10 plays the remainder of the contest.
"I mean, I guess I could've used my body more," Harry told reporters postgame.
Brady had his first on-the-field eruption just a few minutes later, screaming "Go!" in Jakobi Meyers' general direction as the Patriots tried to convert a third-and-6. Pressure moved Brady off his spot in the pocket, but the 20-year veteran deftly maneuvered to create a clear passing lane. Meyers, the undrafted rookie, had run a speed or quick out in the right flat but had a defender on his back shoulder, trailing the play. Brady gestured for Meyers to turn it up the field, but instead, the youngster stopped and worked his way back to his quarterback. Brady fired the ball down the sideline to where he wanted Meyers.
"He was trying to tell me to turn up and go," Meyers said. "I don't know honestly what I thought in the moment. I tried to push up, come back, give him a target. We were just on different pages."
"Just on different pages" is something that's not acceptable to Brady at this point in the season, and it's no doubt why he got really animated on the sideline after the play.
There wasn't nearly enough improvement as the game wore on. Another example came near the end of the first half with the Patriots at midfield. Brady signaled to both Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett. Edelman got the memo. Dorsett either didn't see it or didn't know what it meant. Brady ended up launching the ball some 50 yards down the field to no one. Dorsett had run a stop instead of what appeared to be a visual request via a hand signal to run some sort of double move.
Brady appeared to relay what he wanted to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the two huddled on the bench.
"We're battling," said Brady postgame, trying to present something better than he did in Philadelphia following that win, when his press conference lasted less than two minutes. "We're trying as hard as we can. Hopefully, we can make enough plays and be the best we can be. It all remains to be seen."
As a bonus to this exercise, I'll take you back to that Eagles game now a couple weekends ago. Another miscommunication, of which we've seen far too many this season. It came about 5 minutes into the fourth quarter. The Patriots had spread the Philly defense out, going with an empty backfield. The Eagles appeared to be in man coverage with a single high safety. Meyers was the middle of three receivers to Brady's left but ran a post/post-seam into that safety help instead of running a corner route away from the coverage. Brady read the play as a veteran would and spun the ball to the outside of the numbers.
Another pass to nowhere in a season that's been full of them, threatening to derail a team that has been playing at an elite level on one side of the ball (defense) but has been missing the piece that usually drives it to Super Bowl success.