Tom Brady continues to amaze
Even with all he's accomplished, the Patriots QB keeps getting better
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Receiver Deion Branch was explaining what it was like to be on the field when quarterback Tom Brady is in the zone, which is exactly where Brady has been the past two weeks in ringing up 940 yards, an NFL record for the first two games of a season.
The scene unfolded in a unique postgame news conference in which Branch stood side by side with Brady, sharing the interview podium.
"You have to see this guy's eyes," Branch said, looking at Brady, who was standing to his right. "Once he's in the pocket, his eyes are so big when he's getting ready to throw the ball. I guess he's so excited when guys are so open."
Brady smiled, his eyes getting big one more time.
"Yeah, always," he responded, before looking at Branch. "And he's always open."
Everyone seems to be open to Brady these days, the quarterback turning in back-to-back performances for the ages over the first two weeks of the 2011 season. His 940 yards smash his previous two-game high of 763, which came in 2002 against Kansas City and San Diego.
It's cliché by now, but New England Patriots followers should enjoy this while they can. When it comes to the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game, the 34-year-old Brady is obviously in the discussion. Some might argue he's the best ever.
When he plays like this
"The sky is the limit," Branch said, finishing the sentence. "Tom puts us up for the challenge in practice and we execute in practice pretty good, so the expectation is what's going on the football field during the game."
"He's done a good job," said coach Bill Belichick, who seemed to be working hard to deflect any praise of Brady and spread it around. "The offense has done a good job. We've been pretty balanced and Tom has made a lot of good decisions."
What did Brady and the Patriots' offense accomplish in Sunday's 35-21 win over the San Diego Chargers?
The team's 23 first downs via the pass set a franchise record. The performance marked the 10th straight regular-season game with 30 points or more, setting another team record. Brady moved past former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly into 17th place on the NFL's all-time list for passing yards, had his 11th straight game with two or more touchdown passes, threw for three touchdowns in a game for the 43rd time, and totaled more than 300 passing yards for the 36th time.
There is more.
Last Monday against the Dolphins, Brady became one of just 11 passers in NFL history to throw for more than 500 yards; on Sunday against the Chargers, he became the first of those passers to follow up his performance by throwing for more than 400 yards. Following up his 32-completion performance against the Dolphins with a 31-completion effort marked the 15th time that Brady has had back-to-back 30-completion games.
By now we know these type of statistics don't drive Brady. It's not why he plays the game, even though he'll probably be interested to know his 268 career touchdowns are just five shy of his childhood idol, Joe Montana.
What drives Brady is wins, and that's why there was no discussion of his eye-popping passing statistics after Sunday's victory. He was already looking ahead to next Sunday in Buffalo.
"We're going to stay after it. Two wins doesn't get you anything in this league," Brady said after notching his 113th career regular-season win as a starter, which is eighth all-time and has him within striking distance of Montana (117) for the seventh spot.
Part of what has the Brady-led offense operating so effectively is its no-huddle attack, which features receivers Branch and Wes Welker, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and running back Danny Woodhead. It is dictating tempo. Couple that with solid pass protection and enough of a running game to make defenses respect play-action, and it's a nice mix.
But make no mistake, if not for a trigger man like Brady, the results wouldn't be as impressive. He was 31-of-40 for 423 yards and three touchdowns Sunday.
"They obviously have a great quarterback," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "The biggest thing you have to do, the first thing, is to find pressure."
Turner felt the Chargers did that enough, with two sacks and five quarterback hits. There was one hold-your-breath moment for Patriots followers in the third quarter, when Chargers nose tackle Antonio Garay reached out his left arm into Brady's left knee, Brady ending up on the ground, his back arched and legs bent.
He ended up being OK, but for a brief moment, the idea that one play could make it all come to a crashing halt seemed real, which is something Brady has acknowledged in the past.
"You count your blessings when you come off the field," he said last September. "I think you have a new appreciation when you do come off the field, win or lose. You try to win, obviously, every time out, but I think you also pinch yourself every time you walk off the field healthy and say, 'Man, at least I get a chance to go out next week and play also.'"
This is the same way many Patriots followers feel when it comes to watching Brady play, the idea of savoring it while they can. In the same year that Peyton Manning has been sidelined by a neck injury in Indianapolis, Brady is still going strong.
Actually, he's stronger than ever.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
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