by Christopher Price
When it comes to watching Tom Brady, Joe Theismann is just like the rest of us.
“We’ve run out of adjectives to describe him,” Theismann said earlier this week after watching Brady throw six touchdowns in a 49-28 win over the Dolphins. “He is what every quarterback should aspire to be.”
Through seven games, Brady is enjoying a storybook season. The 30-year-old tops in the league in most every statistical category, including touchdown passes (27), total passing yards (2,096), completion percentage (73.3) and quarterback rating (137.9), all while leading New England to its first 7-0 start in franchise history.
Theismann has always held Brady in high regard, but this year, the former Redskins quarterback and “Monday Night Football” analyst said Brady’s game has gone to another level because he has so many dependable offensive options around him.
“His numbers in the previous couple of years were only reflected by what I think was a suspect receiving corps,” Theismann said. “What they’ve done this year is upgrade the receiving corps tremendously.”
And while Theismann has an affinity for Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, it’s Randy Moss who has really made the biggest difference. Theismann cites several of his team-high 10 touchdown catches this season — including his two scores against the Dolphins — as plays that only someone like Moss could make.
“It’s speed to run away from people, athletic ability and ball presence to be able to take the ball from anyone, anytime, anywhere,” said Theismann in explaining what makes Moss special. “There hasn’t been a more dangerous football player in the National Football League than Randy Moss, except that he hasn’t had the compliment to go with him.”
The Patriots are on pace to break several offensive records, including touchdown passes, touchdown receptions and total points scored. But for all of the offensive pyrotechnics, Theismann believes the unsung heroes of the 2007 Patriots are the offensive linemen.
“The offensive line has done a wonderful job — they’ve allowed Tom to be able to step into his throws,” he said. “I’ve seen the film, and I’ve seen six or seven times where Brady has upwards of four seconds to be able to let Randy Moss get down the field and get the ball. … As compared to Notre Dame. I just watched Notre Dame-USC, and [Fighting Irish quarterback] Evan Sharpley had a half-second.
“It’s so great to see so many elements of a football team come together like this.”
According to Theismann, when it comes to going undefeated, there are two main points to consider. You need to keep your key players healthy. And it always helps to have some company at the head of the pack — in this case, Indianapolis, which appears to be doing everything it can to stay stride for stride with New England in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs.
“When it comes to going undefeated, the most important thing to happen for New England is to have somebody close enough where all 16 weeks matter,” Theismann said. “Then, Bill will have the toughest decision when it comes to how much he wants to play these guys and how much he wants to rest them.
“But this is the best football team that’s been put together in the last 15 or 20 years. They really are.”
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK
1. If Jason Campbell can have any more success against the Patriots than any of the other first-timers have had this season. Campbell marks the fifth quarterback who will be going up against the Patriots for the first time in his career in 2007. He follows in the footsteps of Buffalo’s Trent Edwards (10-for-20, 50 yards, one interception vs. the Patriots), Cleveland’s Derek Anderson (22-for-43, 287 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions), Dallas’ Tony Romo (18-for-29, 199 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and Miami’s Cleo Lemon (24-for-37, 236 passing yards, one interception).
2. If New England’s second-half struggles in stopping the run against Miami were simply attributable to the Patriots spending much of the time in a prevent defense, or is it symptomatic of a larger problem? The Dolphins had little trouble piling up 179 rushing yards against New England. Much of that was when the game was well out of reach — and so the Patriots spent much of the time defending the pass instead of the run — but regardless of the numbers, the tackling was still poor at times. With plenty of above-average running backs just over the horizon (Clinton Portis, Joseph Addai and Marshawn Lynch), it’s a situation that bears watching.
3. If the Redskins secondary — probably the best the Patriots’ passing game has faced all season — can slow down the New England wide receivers. Led by four first-round draft picks (LaRon Landry and Sean Taylor at safety, Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers at cornerback), Washington’s starting secondary has limited opposing quarterbacks to just a 67.7 passer rating, the best in the league. In addition, they’ve allowed just five passing touchdowns all season, tied for second-best in the NFL. If there’s any team who can truly manage single coverage against Moss, Welker and Stallworth, it might be this group.
4. How many carries Laurence Maroney gets. After missing three games because of injury, the second-year running back had six carries for 31 yards in the win over the Dolphins. With Sammy Morris likely sidelined for another few weeks — and the Colts’ game drawing closer — the Patriots need to start working Maroney back to 100 percent.
5. If the clock starts on Richard Seymour and Troy Brown this week. Head Coach Bill Belichick didn’t offer any sort of insight as to the status of the two veterans at Monday’s press conference. Once they come off the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots have 21 days to activate them, release them or place them on season-ending injured reserve. “I think we’re getting close to that point,” Belichick said of the guys on the PUP list. “Whether that will happen this week or Wednesday or not, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
STAT OF THE WEEK
8. The combined number of Super Bowl rings that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs have.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK (tie)
“Guys really liked playing for Herm [Edwards], but I don’t know if I can say the same for Eric [Mangini]. Guys played hard for Herm because they liked him. Guys now are scared. … Eric knows his Xs and Os, but he’s not a motivator. It’s just his way or you’re out of here. Some guys already know they won’t be here next year.” — Unnamed Jets player, speaking with the Newark Star Ledger on Sunday.
“We can’t win in America. Maybe we can win overseas.”—Miami defensive end Jason Taylor, answering a question about the winless Dolphins’ game next week in London against the Giants.
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. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].