by Christopher Price
As Tom Brady walked off the field at Texas Stadium Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old quarterback cemented himself as the early-season favorite to win his first NFL MVP Award. Against the Cowboys, on the biggest stage in football, he finished 31-for-46 for 388 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-27 pounding of Dallas.
Over the years, New England football fans have almost grown numb to Brady’s brilliance. But this season, buoyed by a new set of receivers, he’s taken everything to a new level statistically. “I’ve always had a saying that Peyton Manning has his wide receivers, why can’t Tom have his?” Randy Moss asked reporters after the win over the Cowboys. “Now that Tom has his, we’ll see.”
What we’re seeing is one of the finest six-game stretches of football ever played by No. 12. But where does it stack up when compared to some of his other work? Sunday’s game — and the overall numbers he’s compiled since the start of the season — sent us back into the archives to recall some of the other great six-game intervals of Brady’s career. Here’s our Top 5.
5. In a six-game span from Oct. 30 through Dec. 2 of 2006, the Patriots went 4-2. In that span, Brady had an almost pedestrian 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but an impressive 1,642 passing yards and a stellar completion percentage of 65.7. His best game came on a Monday night against the Vikings in Minnesota, when he absolutely dissected the opposition by throwing for 372 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-7 blowout. A four-touchdown, zero-interception effort in a win over the Packers at Lambeau is a close second.
4. Midway through the 2003 season, Brady had a similar six-game span — the touchdown passes weren’t there, but he was throwing for plenty of yards. In that stretch, he had nine touchdowns and five interceptions, but an eye-popping 1,708 passing yards and a 61.5 completion percentage. The Patriots won all six games, and Brady was never better than when he tossed for 350 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-26 win over the Broncos. (You can be forgiven if Brady’s performance in that one is forgotten — it’s more famous as the Monday Night contest where Bill Belichick had the Patriots take a late safety, which led to a late game-winning touchdown pass from Brady to David Givens.) In that same span, Brady had a 368-yard performance in an overtime win against the Texans in Houston.
3. In the first six games of the 2002 season, Brady had 15 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 1,749 passing yards and a 65.4 completion percentage while the team went 3-3. He racked up most of those numbers the first three weeks of the season — three wins — and had arguably one of the finest games of his career in a 41-38 overtime win against the Chiefs in Week 3 when he threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception on a sun splashed day at Gillette Stadium. He set single-game career-highs in yardage and total completions (39) in the win.
2. At the start of the 2005 season, Brady had a six-game stretch where he threw for an amazing 1,821 yards — the most yardage he’s ever had in that length of time — but had just eight touchdowns, four interceptions, and a completion percentage of 62.7 while the team was going 3-3. It’s interesting to note that perhaps his best game in this stretch was a contest where he failed to throw a touchdown pass — a dramatic 23-20 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. In that one, protected by a pair of rookies on the left side of the offensive line, he threw for 372 yards (including a 12-for-12 effort on his final dozen attempts of the afternoon) and engineered a two-minute drive that culminated with a game-winning 43-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with one second left. Second place goes was a razor-sharp effort against the Falcons in Atlanta, where he completed 82 percent of his passes (the second-best single-game mark of his career) and three touchdowns in a 31-28 victory.
1. This season, through six games, Brady already has 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions to go along with 1,771 passing yards and a completion percentage of 72.5. Sunday marked a career pinnacle for Brady on a number of levels, including touchdown passes (five) and passing yardage in a non-overtime game (388 yards). In addition, he became the first player in league history to throw for three or more touchdowns in each of a season’s first six games.
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK
1. Tom Brady in South Florida. If we know one thing about Brady, it’s that nothing cools him off quicker than a trip to Miami. The Patriots quarterback has had some of the worst performances of his career against the Dolphins in Miami, and is 2-4 as a starter in Joe Robbie Stadium/Pro Player Park/Pro Player Stadium/Dolphins Stadium/Dolphin Stadium. Two of the four times he’s thrown for less than 100 yards in a game as a starter, it’s happened in Miami. Last year, Brady threw for just 78 yards and was sacked four times in a 21-0 loss.
2. If the Dolphins try and take a page from the Cowboys’ when it comes to defending the Patriots. Brady’s amazing numbers aside, Dallas was better than any team this season when it came to getting pressure on the quarterback, sacking him three times. Miami simply may not have the defensive talent to succeed using the same plan, but that doesn’t mean they won’t at least give it a try.
3. Is Laurence Maroney feeling chatty? Most weeks, you can gauge the overall health of the running back by his availability with the media. If he talks, chances are he’s playing. If he’s out of sight, chances are he’s probably not playing — as has been the case the last few weeks. With both Maroney and Sammy Morris questionable (Belichick said he had no update on Morris’ status yesterday), the New England running game could hinge on veterans Kevin Faulk and Heath Evans this week in Miami.
4. If the New England run defense can keep its streak alive. The Patriots have not allowed a running back to go over 100 yards in the last seven games (including last year’s playoffs). San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson was the last running back to break the century mark, rushing for 123 in last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff. The closest to get to the century mark since L.T. was Buffalo’s Marshawn Lynch, who had 74 rushing yards against the Patriots in Week 3.
5. The New England secondary. It’s unlikely the Patriots will be seriously tested against quarterback Cleo Lemon and the rest of the Dolphins, but New England shuffled their secondary last week against Dallas on several occasions, playing James Sanders and Rodney Harrison together at safety and Eugene Wilson seeing time in the nickel. Much of that was an attempt to combat the Dallas passing attack, but the personnel combinations in the secondary do bear watching this Sunday.
STAT OF THE WEEK
230. The number of points the Patriots have scored through six games. New England is on pace to easily break the Vikings’ single-season mark of 556 points in 1998.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We were behind? Really? Man, I don’t even remember that.” —Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, speaking with reporters after Sunday’s win over the Cowboys. New England trailed for the first time all season in the second half, 24-21, before outscoring Dallas 27-3 down the stretch.
Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. His book “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower” is released today by Thomas Dunne Books. He can be reached at [email protected].