It's the season nobody talks about.
In 2002: The New England Patriots would record the worst record of the Brady-Belichick era (9-7) as they failed to make the playoffs. Tom Brady recorded a career-low mark in passer rating (85.7) while setting a career-high mark in interceptions (14). No ring, no All-Pro nod, no AP MVP—heck, not even a Pro Bowl selection for No. 12.
"Brady didn't win nothing in 2002." -Idiot
After winning a Super Bowl MVP by completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 145 yards—a lowly 5.4 Y/A average—and one touchdown pass, many thought that the Patriots had a team so dominant, so well-coached, that they wouldn't need their quarterback to produce for them to succeed. They were wrong.
The 2002 Patriots supported Brady with the NFL's 17th ranked scoring defense (the worst of his career). If they were going to have a winning season, they would have to rely heavily on their young quarterback. What many forget is that Brady led the NFL in touchdown passes in 2002. It was his first of three touchdown pass crowns (2002, 2007, 2010) and perhaps, the most improbable.
Brady has long been the beneficiary of the "he does more with less"
myth. It's a proclamation as often misused as it is misunderstood.
Merriam-Webster defines "more" as:
: greater in amount, number, or size
: extra or additional
What people mean to say is: "Brady has won a lot of games, including multiple Super Bowls, with wide receivers who do not sport brand names." Lower levels of production and efficiency in relation to his peers has no correlation with any practical interpreation of the verb "more." There was however, a clear correlation between defensive team support and Brady's four championship rings. During every one of those seasons, Brady was supported by a scoring defense ranked in the Top-10.
It's no coincidence that during the two years that Brady had his best defensive support, he won two Super Bowl rings and during the two years he had his worst defensive support, his team's traveled the shortest distance. Still, it's not as though Brady hasn't carried dead weight to success. On the ground, the 2002 Patriots ranked 26th in rushing Y/A. That, in addition to a 17th ranked scoring defense put the bullseye on Brady. What happens when you can't run the ball and your defense gives up points?
Although Brady's 14 interceptions are tied for a career-high, his NFL ranking in interception-percentage was actually worse during two of his championship seasons.
- 2002: 8th
- 2001: 13th
- 2004: 15th
Brady was red-hot at the beginning of the 2002 season. After throwing 21 touchdown passes in his first nine games, he was on-pace to finish the season with over 37.
"Brady originally injured his throwing shoulder Dec. 16, 2002, at Tennessee. Attempting a pass at the end of the first half, Brady suffered a first-degree separation on a hit from Tennessee's Jevon Kearse. Brady completed 14 of 29 passes in that game (48 percent), one of three games in 52 career starts in which he has completed fewer than half his attempts. He was limited the following week in a home loss to the New York Jets, in which he completed 19 of 37 (51 percent). In the victory over Miami in the 2002 finale, Brady reinjured the shoulder, this time sustaining a second-degree separation."
The injury clearly impacted Brady's performance. His Y/A, completion-percentage, touchdown-percentage, interception-percentage and passer rating all tanked.
- Week 01-14: 315 of 491 (64.2) for 3,276 yards (6.7), 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 91.7 passer rating.
- Week 15-17: 058 of 110 (52.7) for 488 yards (4.4), 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. 59.2 passer rating.
- Week 01-14 (projected): 388 of 604 (64.2) for 4,032 yards (6.7), 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 91.7 passer rating.
Despite hitting a tremendous slump after injuring his shoulder, Brady still beat out Peyton Manning and Brett Favre for the NFL's touchdown pass title. Had he continued at the pace he was producing when healthy, he would have thrown for 32 touchdown passes—an impressive stat considering that nobody else had thrown for more than 27.
Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, only eight quarterback have ever led the NFL in touchdown passes at the age of 25 or younger.
The notion that Brady wasn't a productive quarterback until 2007 is false. Although he wasn't remarkable productive during his first three Super Bowl runs, Brady led the NFL in touchdown passes in 2002
and in passing yards in 2005
—remarkable feats for a young quarterback backed by the NFL's 17th
ranked scoring defense.
2002 isn't remembered as one of Brady's greatest seasons. It wasn't on par with the stretch of greatness he displayed between 2007-2012, but it may be more impressive than the Super Bowl winning season that came before it (2001) and the two Super Bowl winning seasons that came after it (2003, 2004). It was a season in which Brady really did do more than his peers, with less to boot. His teammates couldn't run the ball, they gave up too many points, but Brady still produced and led them to nine wins.
It's one of the most impressive accomplishments of his storied career—yet, it's the chapter that many people are quick to gloss over.