Monday, October 22, 2007

Tom Brady Is Rewriting the NFL Record Book

It used to be fashionable to wonder what would happen if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady traded places. In other words, if Manning had always played with a defense like New England's would he have won three Super Bowls, as Brady did? If Brady had been blessed with Manning's offensive weapons then what kind of numbers would he put up? We no longer have to speculate about these things--the Colts' defense stepped up in last year's playoffs, helping Manning to capture his first Super Bowl title, and in this offseason the Patriots completely rebuilt their receiving corps. After years of making do with good but not great receivers, Brady now has Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker. The result of this embarrassment of riches is that Brady is well on his way to setting new standards for NFL quarterbacking.

The Patriots 7-0 and possibly headed toward a perfect season after their 49-28 win over Miami. Last week Brady tossed a career-high five touchdowns as the Patriots routed the previously unbeaten Cowboys but he topped that by throwing five TDs in the first half against Miami as New England rolled to a 42-7 halftime lead. Brady started the game 11-11 for 220 yards and four touchdowns. He seemingly left the game for good in the third quarter but after Jason Taylor intercepted a Matt Cassel pass and ran it back 36 yards for a touchdown to make the score 42-21, Coach Bill Belichick put Brady back in to restore order. Brady promptly drove New England 59 yards in 2:19, capping matters with a 16 yard touchdown pass to Welker. Brady finished with these unreal numbers: 21-25, 354 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, 158.3 passer rating. The latter number is the highest possible score in the NFL's passer rating system. Brady's rating through seven games is 137.9 and he has posted a rating of at least 100 in each game. His 27 touchdowns are six more than anyone has previously had at this point in a season and he is on pace to finish with 62, 13 more than Manning's record. To put this in perspective, Brady is a three-time Pro Bowler whose career-high in touchdowns is 28. Not surprisingly, the Patriots are on track to break the NFL single season records for points scored (556 by the 1998 Vikings; New England is on pace to score 638) and touchdowns (70 by the 1984 Dolphins; New England is on pace to score 82 touchdowns).

Is Brady the greatest quarterback ever? That sounds like a sacrilegious question but Brady only needs one Super Bowl ring to match Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana (four each). What are we supposed to think if Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl after shattering the single season statistical standards set by the likes of Manning and Dan Marino? Yes, there is still a long way to go--including a showdown in just two weeks between Brady's Patriots and Manning's Colts--but it is not too soon to at least consider the possibility that Brady is about to significantly upgrade his already prominent place in football history.

Other than injury, the only things that may stop Brady are weather or the Patriots clinching everything in sight with several weeks to go. As Bob Costas pointed out during NBC's Sunday night game, several of New England's late season games will be played outdoors in cold weather cities, so Mother Nature may at least slow Brady down. It is also possible that Brady's playing time may be limited once the Patriots clinch having the best record in the AFC.

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