'Old reliable' does it again
Tom Brady decisively turns back challenge from young buck Andrew Luck
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Another day, another win, another bucket full of passing yards and touchdowns and highlights against a young, upstart opponent.
That's how Tom Brady rolls. He stands back, takes stock of the weekly challenges and goes about devising ways to obliterate the swagger of the opposing defense.
The latest victim on Sunday was the Indianapolis Colts and their rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck. Brady led an assault that generated 59 points (tying the franchise record), 331 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 127.2.
The score -- 59 to 24 -- was as lopsided as it sounds.
Luck did not fare as well in the ballyhooed Colts-Patriots, redux. He completed 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards, but was picked off three times (two returned for touchdowns). Some of his miscues were the result of pressing with his team behind by multiple scores. Asked if he could recall the last time he lost a game by five touchdowns, Luck answered, "I can't remember. I'm sure sometime in Pop Warner."
The future face of Indy's franchise clearly has staying power. He's young, talented, poised, versatile and already has led the Colts from the brink of despair to respectability.
But Luck also has turned the ball over six times in the past two weeks (four interceptions and two fumbles). He's a rookie, remember?
And Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, remember?
Maybe you don't. Early Patriots hiccups against Arizona and Seattle and mounting evidence that the defense wasn't up to snuff caused the national pundits to stray from New England's scent. They had gotten a whiff of too many other new, fresh, exciting angles to linger on Brady and his productive numbers.
Been there, seen that.
"There's a lot of stories out there in the league," observed Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, Brady's friend and former teammate. "There's the young guys, and the comeback of Peyton after his injury, and then there's Tom.
"He goes out there and throws for a million yards and scores a bunch of touchdowns and gets his team in a position to win. That's what Tom always does. That's why we all love him.
"Being on the opposing team, all you can do is shake your head sometimes and say, 'Man, how are we going to stop this guy?' But when you're on his side, you love to have him."
Brady is too wise to engage in conversations comparing himself to other quarterbacks. He acknowledged Luck's obvious qualities in the days leading up to this game and was sincere in his praise for the rookie's future prospects.
If all the chatter regarding the next wave of great QBs irks him, he certainly never let on.
Surely you remember last year's January playoff game against the Denver Broncos and another young savior. It was the height of Tebow mania (which seems to have gone the way of MySpace) and although there was a heaping of build-up to their meeting, Brady never went there.
Instead, he threw for six touchdowns and 363 yards en route to a 45-10 thrashing of the Broncos, while Tim Tebow limped home having completed just 9 of 26 passes.
Brady did not exhibit any rancor or irritation toward Tebow, nor did he harbor any jealousy toward Luck and his press clippings.
His job when they come to his house is to show them around -- then show them the door.
"There's always the hype of the new guys coming in, but he's been so steady for years," lineman Donald Thomas offered. "I don't think Tom cares about that. It's nothing we ever talk about, I can tell you that."
Now don't misunderstand me. Andrew Luck is no Tim Tebow. He's a gifted quarterback who will be around for years to come.
His strength alone is notable. Consider a third-and-12 play from his own 18 in the third quarter, when Rob Ninkovich was able to wrap his arms around the quarterback's waist. As Ninkovich pulled him down, Luck still managed to drill a bullet to T.Y. Hilton for a 16-yard completion.
"He's a big boy," Ninkovich confirmed. "I kind of thought of him more like a [Ben] Roethlisberger-type guy, but with a little more speed top end-wise.
"He's big enough where he can kind of shrug off guys around him, but he's athletic enough to make some yards down the field."
It's human nature to talk about the shiny new toys in the NFL sports shop. We all have had fun debating who has been more successful to date: Luck or Robert Griffin III. We've been enamored with some stellar moments from Russell Wilson, and then there's the always-entertaining Manning vs. Manning debate.
It doesn't hurt that Brady has relied on a big hulk of a tight end who has revolutionized the position, not just here, but throughout the league. Rob Gronkowski was close to unstoppable on Sunday, but in the wake of his seven-catch, 137-yard game, the news was ominous: Gronk suffered a broken arm on the final extra point of the game and could miss four to six weeks. It's a crushing blow to a team that planned to feature its tight ends, but already has been without Aaron Hernandez for most of the season.
If you are Brady, it's not so awful to know one of your closest friends on the team (Wes Welker) tends to be redoubtable when you are in trouble and need an escape valve to throw the ball underneath. And it's not the worst thing that the guy slated to replace one of your closest friends on the team enjoyed a career day yesterday.
Raise your hand if you predicted Julian Edelman would gain 222 all-purpose yards all on his own, including 68 on a punt return for a touchdown. Raise it again if you expected the defense to chip in with two TDs off interceptions.
"Our job is to keep him safe," center Ryan Wendell explained. "Usually I have my back to Tom. If I can see him, that's not too good."
Here's the thing: The New England Patriots were the highest scoring team in the league even before they dropped 59 points on the Colts.
So now I'll ask the question: Why is nobody talking about Tom Brady as an MVP candidate? The numbers are there, and the results (offensively, at least) continue to manifest themselves.
Take a look at the production of the Patriots and Brady during their prolific 2007 campaign, when they went undefeated during the regular season. The difference from this season, as outlined by ESPN Stats & Information, isn't as dramatic as you might think.
New England averaged 41.1 points a game through 10 games of 2007, while the 2012 team is putting up 35.8 points a game. The '07 squad put up 436.8 yards a game, while the current group is averaging a shade less at 431.9 yards a game.
Brady's individual numbers aren't quite equal to those from his brilliant 2007 season, which culminated with him receiving an MVP trophy, but they are impressive just the same. Through 10 games of 2007, he had completed 74 percent of his passes. He is currently at a 65.1 percent rate.
At this juncture in '07, Brady sported an absurd 38-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio (he would go on to throw 50 TD passes that year).
His current 21-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio would truly be eye popping if not for those gaudy results of 2007. Of course, during that season Randy Moss was the optimal All-Pro deep threat and Welker was a featured (and appreciated) weapon.
The receivers have come and gone (and, in the case of Deion Branch, come and gone and come back again and been cut and re-signed and released and possibly resurrected again), but Brady remains the mainstay. He's currently in the midst of 161 straight attempts without an interception. He's also thrown for at least one touchdown in 42 consecutive games, trailing only Drew Brees (53 and counting) and Johnny Unitas (47).
"The thing about Tom we always said was he had that 'it' factor," Vinatieri explained. "You can't coach it, you can't teach it, you just have it. Of course he works his butt off in the weight room, in the film room, and on the field and in the meetings, he has all of that. That goes without saying.
"But he's also got that little extra I don't know what you call it, but that's what separates him from the rest."
Brady's job got a lot harder on Sunday. With Gronkowski sidelined and Hernandez's status up in the air, his weapons again have been depleted.
The Jets are waiting, on Thanksgiving Day. They hate Tom Brady, and, in a rare admission, he once acknowledged he hates them back.
That won't stop him from systematically throwing the ball for a bucket full of yards and a touchdown or two.
It won't stop him from giving his team a chance to win every single week, as he has year after year.