He’s 39 years old. He has played in only four games following a suspension. But at the midpoint of the NFL season, Tom Brady is the front-runner for the MVP award.
The New England Patriots quarterback has the stats, but — stop me if you’ve heard this before — Brady would be a controversial choice as MVP. Reggie Wayne was painfully, succinctly blunt about the matter. “There is no way Tom Brady can win MVP,” the former Indianapolis Colts receiver said on the NFL Network’s “Total Access,” “because he was caught cheating this year.”
You can debate all you want whether he was cheating or not — I had fervently hoped never to type the word “Deflategate” again — but that thing with footballs that may or may not have been intentionally deflated to gain a competitive edge occurred in January 2015. Brady played the entire 2015 season with, presumably, every official watching his every move.
He was punished this year, Reggie.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter and one of the biggest points made by people who argue against Brady as MVP. He has played in only half of the Patriots’ eight games and, while he was off sunning his backside in Italy as he served his four-game suspension, the team was 3-1 behind Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. If Brady’s so crucial to the team, how on earth did it go 3-1 without him?
The answer, and it’s a convincing one, lies in what he has done since returning to the Patriots’ locker room on Oct. 3. Everyone expected that he’d be out for revenge, but he has pursued perfection with a scorched-earth focus that was surprising even for a guy who, after four Super Bowl wins, carries a chip on his shoulder over being the 199th pick in the NFL draft. There’s revenge — and then there’s what Brady is doing.
He is on pace to pass for 3,957 yards and 36 touchdowns. He has not thrown a single interception, has a 133.9 passer rating and has completed 73.1 percent of his passes.
Tom Brady has played 4 games. If he had a 16-game schedule, he'd be on pace for 5,276 yards, 48 TDs, 0 INTs, 73.1 comp pct, 133.9 QB rating
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) November 1, 2016
That is just . . . ridiculous. Critics will counter with the argument that Brady has not faced stellar defenses; the Browns rank last in the league in yards per game, the Steelers 27th, the Bengals 24th and the Bills 16th. The rest of the way, he faces four teams with defenses presently ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards per game (the No. 2 Ravens, No. 3 Seahawks, No. 7 Rams and No. 8 Broncos).
Statistically, Brady is having the kind of seasons quarterbacks rarely — if ever — have at the age of 39. He has eight times passed for over 4,000 yards and only once has surpassed 5,000. Five times, he has thrown for 3,000 or more yards. Whether you extrapolate his final stats for 12 or 16 games, the numbers are eye-popping.
Further, winning the MVP at 39 would validate his crazy “avocado ice cream” diet and make him the oldest MVP ever, topping Rich Gannon (2002) and Peyton Manning (2013). Both were 37 when they won the award.
Brady is not, though, a lock for the award with half a season left to play and there’s growing support for Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, whose team is 6-2 despite leading the league in penalties and ranking next-to-last in defense. Carr has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 2,321 yards and 17 touchdowns, with three interceptions. His passer rating? 100.9. It also helps his cause that he’s playing in what has been the AFC’s most competitive division.
What may outweigh Deflategate and the shorter season is the fact that Brady is making history. Only Joe Montana (1987) has started 12 or fewer games and passed for at least 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns passes.
If he can continue at this pace, Brady probably will be the MVP, as much as that might rankle Roger Goodell, the man who pressed Deflategate forward and has not set foot in Gillette Stadium for going on two seasons. He likely would be as ambivalent as fans, who seem to either love to hate Brady or just plain hate him. Either way, even if Goodell doesn’t like it, the situation could still be a win for the league: Brady’s revenge tour might cause fans to tune into the games again.