Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation and one of the greatest in NFL history, is 36 and no longer playing like Tom Brady.
Which means those sad sack Steelers, the team that can’t even beat the Oakland Raiders or the Minnesota Vikings, have a chance this afternoon when they play Brady’s New England Patriots at Foxboro.
The Patriots are 6-2, but these are not your father’s Patriots and that has something to do with the man playing quarterback. Consider these three statistics concerning Brady this season and for his career:
Percentage of completion: .557 this season, .634 for his career; yards per attempt: 5.94, 7.44; passer rating 74.9, 95.6.
Consider also this: Brady is 27th in the NFL in passer rating -- two slots behind Terrell Pryor.
Brady has not lost it all. He led a quintessential Brady fourth-quarter drive that dropped New Orleans from the unbeaten by moving the Patriots 70 yards in the final 1:13 on Oct. 13.
But mostly, for a variety of reasons -- his age, the absence of the usual superior fleet of receivers -- he’s not, as the numbers clearly indicate, the Brady of old. Which is not to suggest the Steelers will win. The team that can’t handle Pryor and can’t handle Matt Cassel of the Vikings is not likely to handle even the downgraded version of Brady.
But a win is not as out of the question as some might think. The Patriots might be 6-2, but it is an unimpressive 6-2. They have a two-point win over Buffalo, which is 3-5; a three-point win over the Jets, who are 4-4, and a seven point win over Atlanta, which is 2-5.
A Steelers win would leave them with a 3-5 record and two games behind in the loss column to first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North Division. There is almost nothing to indicate the Steelers are capable of reversing their current level of ineptitude and win seven of their last nine -- despite a somewhat favorable schedule. Such a finish would give them a 9-7 record and possibly allow them to contend for the playoffs.
So, yes, the chances are on the wrong side of slim. But no less than the chances of the 2005 Steelers, 7-5 and losers of three straight, winning their final eight in a row.