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Brady operating with surgical precision

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  November 26, 2010 12:51 PM

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DETROIT -- If we didn't believe it already, yesterday was confirmation. The scar on Tom Brady's surgically-repaired left knee does not represent a line of demarcation in his career. There will be no designation between post-operation Brady and pre-operation Brady, just standard operating procedure for Brady.

It was classic No. 12 in the Patriots' 45-24 win over the Detroit Lions on Thursday, a performance you could have pulled out of 2003, 2005, or 2007. The QB who sliced up the Lions defense yesterday like a scalpel, posting a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3; the QB who went 11 of 14 for 241 yards and four touchdowns in the second half; the QB who is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes (23) and hasn't thrown an interception since Oct. 17 is the QB we've become accustomed to watching for nearly 10 years now. The hair is just a little longer.

There was the fear and the idea last season, and following the September loss to Jets, that Brady would never quite be well... Brady again. That the clutch quarterback who led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles was lost the fateful September day in Foxborough when Bernard Pollard plowed into his knee, tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.

Unlike Brady, that theory proved to be wildly inaccurate. That's because Brady has not only come back from his knee injury, he is playing at as high a level as ever. Proof is that the only other time Brady posted a perfect passing rating before yesterday was in 2007, the apex of his powers, during a six-touchdown pass performance against the Miami Dolphins.

TB12 will never match the Xbox numbers he put up in '07, when he threw 50 TD passes and was named the league MVP, but in a way, what he's doing now is even more impressive -- because the talent around him is not. These precocious Patriots need him to be bloodlessly efficient and almost automated in avoiding miscues. He has been both as the Patriots have surged to a 9-2 mark.

The post-knee surgery Brady is a best-of-both worlds passer. He can put on an air show like '07 when called for or revert to mistake-free game manager mode.

In the last three weeks, Brady has thrown for a season-high 350 yards and three touchdowns to thrash the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has outplayed Peyton Manning without even throwing for 200 yards (186 yards and two touchdown passes), completing 76 percent of his passes. And he has riddled Detroit's defense for a season-high four touchdowns, while going 21 of 27 for 341 yards.

Yet, Brady's most impressive number right now is zero. That's the number of interceptions he has thrown in his last 199 attempts, a new franchise record. The last time Brady committed a miscue was Oct. 17 against the Ravens, when his Hail Mary at the end of regulation was picked off. Brady has just four interceptions for the season, after having eight through 11 games last year on his way to 13 INTs.

"I think he's just doing a great job of managing the game," said retread receiver Deion Branch, who was around when Brady managed to quarterback the Patriots to Super Bowls crowns in 2003 and 2004.

Brady's greatest weapon as a quarterback has always been his brain, his ability to process information quickly and make good decisions. But his decision-making seemed a little off at times last season. You can blame Randy Moss -- that seems convenient these days -- even though Moss didn't seem to hold Brady back in '07. But there was more to it than that.

After a year away from the game, his quarterback calibration seemed to be off just a tick. Remember the play in Denver last year where he drilled the ball at the feet of a wide open Wes Welker in the fourth quarter? Contrast that with his 79-yard touchdown pass to Branch yesterday.

Branch was not Brady's first read and the route he ran was not the one called out of the huddle. However, Brady intuitively knew that Branch was going to improvise and found him wide open.

"Yeah, that stuff starts in practice, and once we get into the film room the play that we run is designed to go to either me or Wes and the guys that are not getting the ball those are the guys that he focuses on," said Branch. "He'll tell them, 'Hey, I need you to run this route this way.'

"Brandon Tate, he's talking to Tate and saying, 'I need you to run this route this way just in case I don't throw to Deion.' Those are the type of things we go over in practice. That's Tom Brady. He's always teaching, always coaching and making sure the guys are in the right place. I think if we just do our job. He'll find us. He'll find us."

While the Patriots have silenced the doubters who said they were a team in decline, Brady has proven that he is not a franchise quarterback in decline. There were those quick to dismiss his 28 touchdown passes and 65.7 percent completion percentage last season while returning from the knee injury and fixate on his failures in the fourth quarter against Denver, Miami, and Houston.

The knee-jerk argument went that Drew Brees, after one Super Bowl title, had surpassed Brady in the franchise quarterback hierarchy.

Perhaps that is why we've seen a different Brady this season. For the first time in a while his ability had been doubted. He's been more demonstrative and irascible on the field, yelling at opponents and teammates a like. Off the field he's been blunt in his State of the Quarterback Addresses.

The message has been delivered loud and clear: I'm still here, and I'm as good as ever.

What Brady has proved this season by leading the Patriots to a 9-2 start is that his best days aren't like his knee injury -- a thing of the past.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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