Much of the chatter about the New England Patriots in the offseason was whether Tom Brady would show any signs of slowing down at age 40.
As it turns out, Brady is as good as ever.
As the Patriots started out 2-1, he passed for 1,092 yards, the seventh-best figure for the first three games of any NFL season.
He’s already first (2011 with 1,327 yards) and fifth (2015 with 1,112 yards) in that category. And he led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of their 36-33 victory over the Houston Texans last Sunday.
But what is surprising is that the Patriots’ defense has fallen off a cliff.
It has given up 95 points, most in the league, after leading the NFL in scoring defense last year while allowing just 250 points.
They’re also last in yards allowed after three games and are on a pace to give up 7,376 yards for the season, topping the New Orleans Saints record of 7,042 yards in 2012.
Last week, the New England defense was torched by rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was making just his second NFL start, as he passed for 301 yards, added 42 on the ground and had two touchdown passes.
Watson might have pulled off the upset if Houston coach Bill O’Brien hadn’t taken the ball out of his hands on a fourth and half-yard play with a little more than two minutes left.
Instead of letting Watson go for it, which would have clinched the victory if he made it, O’Brien took the field goal to take a five-point lead. All that did was set the stage for Brady to pull off another trademark game-winning drive.
O’Brien said he thought about going for it but couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s always better to go for half a yard rather than give Brady the ball back.
Meanwhile, it’s puzzling why the Patriots have been so shaky on defense this year.
One problem is that one of their best defensive players, Dont’a Hightower, is out with a knee injury. And cornerback Malcolm Butler was benched after the first game although he bounced back with a better game against the Texans.
It’s too early for the Patriots to panic because coach Bill Belichick’s teams often improve during the season.
“We’ll keep working on it,’’ Belichick said. “Grind it out.’’
The next test for the Patriots Sunday will be against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, who won their first two games with defense by allowing just a field goal in each game. They then were blown out by the Saints last Sunday, 34-13.
Newton has been having problems since winning the MVP award in 2015.
He’s coming off shoulder surgery in the offseason and threw three picks and was sacked three times in the Saints game.
In his last 16 games, Newton has thrown 16 touchdowns and 14 picks.
It could be that Newton hasn’t fully recovered from the shoulder surgery or that he’s taken too hits over the years and they’re taking a toll on him.
This sets up an interesting matchup Sunday pitting Newton against the Patriots defense.
With both the Patriots defense and Newton struggling, it’s difficult to see which team has the edge.
The Patriots, though, have one thing going for them. If Brady keeps refusing to act his age and continues to put up big numbers, they may survive with a subpar defense.
But if Newton torches the New England defense the way Watson and Alex Smith did, it would be time for the Patriots to get concerned.