- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
PHILADELPHIA -- Well, that ought to stop all the chatter about Tom Brady's health.
In a week that saw reports of bone bruises, tendinitis and other mystery ailments in his right throwing arm, the New England Patriots quarterback shed the elbow strap he's worn for the past month, then shredded the Philadelphia Eagles' defense by completing 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in New England's 38-20 thrashing of Philadelphia on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Patriots spotted the Eagles a 10-point headstart, then Brady went to work, surgically dissecting the Philly defense for the better part of three quarters as New England scored 38 of the game's next 41 points while racing away.
Maybe old friend Asante Samuel summed it up best when asked how tough it is to stop Brady and the Patriots' offense.
"It's difficult," he said. "He's a great player. They had the running game working and they had the passing game working. They were working on all cylinders. We couldn't figure anything out."
He wasn't kidding. Even going against one of the league's top pass rushes, the Patriots often emptied the backfield as to spread out Brady's weapons. The offensive line kept his jersey clean (only one sack) and Brady spread the ball around to his top four targets, including wide receivers Wes Welker (eight catches, 115 yards, two TDs) and Deion Branch (six catches, 125 yards).
Just one week after Brady admitted he had to do a better job of feeding those outside receivers, Welker and Branch feasted on the Eagles' defense.
"I thought it was more balanced today," Brady said. "I thought we did a good job getting it to the wideouts -- Wes and Deion -- both obviously had a big day. And then the tight ends [Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez] made some big plays, too. That's how it needs to be. You gotta run it, you gotta throw it to everybody and you gotta keep them off balance -- you've got to screen, you've got to draw, you've got to trap, you've got to downhill run, you need quick-hitters. You need all levels of the passing game. When they're able to take a few of all those away, obviously it makes it more difficult to execute, but I thought today we did a good job of really maximizing all of the guys out there."
A run-heavy first-quarter scoring drive seemed to loosen up the Eagles' defense just enough. Despite the success on the ground, the Patriots put an emphasis on attacking through the air.
A couple of big plays aided that cause. Brady shuffled away from pressure early in the second quarter, then hit Branch for a 63-yard gain that set up a short touchdown run. Later that quarter, an Eagles' miscommunication left Welker running down the seam all alone and Brady hit him for a 41-yard touchdown.
The two hooked up again on an efficient eight-play, 69-yard touchdown drive to start the second half and Brady ultimately spent the final seven minutes of the game on the bench, giving way to backup Brian Hoyer for the first time this season.
"I think Tom did a good job of really pressing the issue," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We felt like we had him on the run a little bit with some of the empty stuff and some of our matchups. We felt good about our running game, too, but just when we felt like we had some matchups we could take advantage of, Tom just kept pressing it.
"Everybody got involved there, and that's what Tom does best -- finds the open guys, puts the ball on the money -- and he did it many times [Sunday]. He did a very good job of avoiding the rush, and not so much the yards he got scrambling but just staying out of bad plays, keeping us on track with some positive yardage and giving us another chance to line up and make another good play."
Who would have thought that Brady would finish with nearly as many rushing yards as LeSean McCoy (31 yards, 10 carries), who entered Sunday's game as the league's leading rusher. Brady generated 28 yards on five trots, though he'll rarely be confused for Philadelphia's mobile quarterback tandem of Michael Vick and Vince Young.
"Yeah, that's a rarity," Brady said. "There's just a few times where I felt it opened up in the middle and I just took off. I'm not moving very fast, they're converging pretty quickly, so I just got down there as fast as I could."
One of those scrambles ended humorously with a large divot in the turf at the Linc from Brady's knee brace. Hernandez had to help him dig it out.
Even then, the Patriots didn't miss a beat.
"I thought the brace was bent, but it just ended up having a lot of turf jammed up in there and Aaron was trying to tug it out of there, which fortunately he did," Brady said. "And we were in the no-huddle, so we were able to get on the ball and get it snapped with some time left on the clock."
Over his past three games, Brady has now thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Any injury concerns lingering from when New England dropped back-to-back games after its bye week have been shelved.
Ever the perfectionist, Brady lamented some of the missed opportunities on Sunday, like a first-half drop by Tiquan Underwood that had home-run potential.
"I thought we took advantage of some plays there and I thought that we should have hit some other ones, though," Brady said. "But all and all, it's a good win and, as we do at this time of year, we've got to move on."
Move on, and leave all that injury chatter behind.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
17hEric D. Williams
18hSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo