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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Rare err: Tom Brady INTs a limited edition

By Tim Graham

Tom Brady and Brodney Pool
Tom Brady, left, has gone a remarkable 319 attempts without an interception this season.
Mere mention of the stat elicits astonished replies. Professional athletes and coaches -- grown men who have seen a few things in their day -- stammer in awe.

"That's ... That's ... That's ... That's something else," Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found the number "mind-boggling," and he owns a Harvard economics degree.

"It's ... I mean," Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said before a contemplative pause to gather his thoughts. "It blows my mind a little bit, to be honest with you."

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has thrown four interceptions this year. He hasn't misfired once since Oct. 17, a record span of 319 attempts and counting.

Brady has been the ultimate mistake minimalist. With one game left in a phenomenal season, he could finish with the lowest interception percentage of any quarterback to start more than 10 games.

"Even the best quarterbacks have something they give away," New York Jets safety Brodney Pool said. "He really doesn't. It's hard for opposing DBs to get a clue. He's very smart. He knows where to go with the ball and knows the weaknesses of the coverages.

"You can try to hold a coverage, but even if you trick him one time he'll come back the next time and you won't know what hit you."

Brady has a 0.84 interception percentage. The NFL record of 0.41 was set by former Brady backup Damon Huard with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. Huard threw one interception, but that was with 10 starts and only 244 attempts.

Carr
Carr
Pool
Pool
Brady's interceptions have been limited to two games. If the Dolphins don't pick him off Sunday in Gillette Stadium, then Brady will join Steve DeBerg as the only quarterbacks not to be intercepted in 14 starts. DeBerg also threw four interceptions in 1990, but Brady already has 32 more attempts than DeBerg had that year.

Pool and Carr comprise half the membership of the exclusive "I Intercepted Brady In 2010 Club." Also in are Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie and former Ravens safety Ken Hamlin, now of the Indianapolis Colts.

Hamlin
Hamlin
Cromartie
Cromartie
Neither Pool nor Carr keeps the footballs from his big plays. In retrospect, Pool says he regrets not hanging onto his Brady ball.

"You know what?" Pool admitted. "I thought about that after the game: 'Man, that was Tom Brady. That's pretty special.' I should've kept it."

That baby was a limited edition.

"I don't keep any balls," Carr said. "A ball is a ball to me. It probably would end up lost in my house, laying around somewhere."

That's right. Carr's chances of losing that ball -- even with nobody trying to steal it -- probably would be higher than Brady's.

"Sport Science" examined the likelihood of a quarterback not throwing an interception in 319 straight attempts.

Since Brady's last interception, quarterbacks around the league have thrown 296 of them, 2.9 percent of all attempts. Based on those averages, the chances of dodging an interception on 319 straight throws would be 0.00837 percent -- or one in 11,947.

Math is one thing. Where a fellow quarterback such as Fitzpatrick or an opposing coach like Sparano has comprehension problems is when they consider how Brady has skirted all those happenstances that cause interceptions.

A tip, a bobble, a defender hitting the quarterback's arm as he throws, a receiver falling down, a badly gripped football in the snow, a wind gust altering trajectory just enough ...

Brady's season is even more incredible when considering the Patriots receivers are second only to the Detroit Lions in drops this year. ESPN Stats & Information has charted 36 drops for the Patriots and a league-worst 11 for Wes Welker.

"A tipped ball has haunted us three or four times this season in different ways, whether it's just fluttering up in the air or lands on the ground," Sparano said. "To think that not one of those -- not one of those things -- is happening in 300-plus attempts is pretty impressive."

Most of the four interceptions Brady did throw weren't his fault. Three of them were deep balls. Two were long passes to Randy Moss, who's no longer on the team. Moss twice tipped the ball into the air before Pool swooped in and made a tippy-toe grab at the sideline. The play originally was ruled incomplete and overturned on video review.

Hamlin fielded Brady's last interception, a Hail Mary skyball that sailed 48 yards through the air and into the end zone on the last play before overtime against the Ravens.

Since that play, Brady has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,536 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Carr stressed that interception-avoidance isn't about luck with Brady. He's a great quarterback within a proficient offensive structure. The Patriots often have a lead and rarely play from more than one score behind, erasing the need for Brady to force throws late in games.

"It's more quarterback than system," Carr said. "If you put any other quarterback in that system, he's not going to have that streak. You put Brady in any system and he's going to be successful."

Joe Montana threw at least seven interceptions each season he made 10 starts. Dan Marino never threw fewer than nine interceptions in any season he started at least 10 games.

John Elway had double-digit interceptions every year he played. Brett Favre threw a career-low seven interceptions once as a starter, but never fewer than 13 interceptions any other season.

Peyton Manning has a pair of four-interception games this year. Drew Brees has one also.

A search of Pro-Football-Reference.com turns up seven Hall of Fame quarterbacks with at least seven "quadriception" games on their ledgers since 1960. George Blanda had 18, Joe Namath 15 and Terry Bradshaw 12.

Brady owns five four-interception games.

Yet he's one game away from closing out a four-interception season.

Criminy, the Patriots' defense has returned that many interceptions for touchdowns this year.

"He doesn't stare down receivers like some quarterbacks do," Carr said. "He looks off receivers when he does throw the ball down the field. When the receiver's not there, he's going to throw the ball away. When it's time to take a sack, he's going to take a sack.

"He has confidence that 'Hey, if the throw's there I'm going to make it. If it's not, we're going to live to play another series, and we'll score then.' He takes what the defense gives him."

Brady hasn't thrown any interceptions on passes that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air, ESPN Stats & Information notes. And before you dismiss that zero as unimpressive because those are higher-percentage throws, keep in mind Drew Brees has thrown 12 interceptions in this range. Eli Manning has thrown 13.

Brady has 358 passing attempts of 10 yards or shorter. Every quarterback with at least 115 attempts in this category has been intercepted.

Carr noted Brady didn't make a mistake on his interception, a deep pass over the middle to Welker. Carr said the Ravens tricked Brady by doing something unexpected.

But when asked to recount the play, Carr showed deference to Brady's and the Patriots' shrewdness. The Ravens might meet the Patriots again in the playoffs.

"I'm always thinking ahead," Carr said with a chuckle. "I know how smart Brady and them are. They'll read the article. Somebody in the organization will go back and watch the film and get a little bead on that. They're always looking for that advantage."