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Brady at head of class again

MINNEAPOLIS --The quarterback was one excitable boy in the locker room before this one had even started.

"Dancing around,moving, talking, stuff like that," reported running back Kevin Faulk. "Man, he was ready."

Yes, he was. Tom Brady has been patiently waiting for his offense, his perpetual work in progress, to take shape. He has spoken wistfully of making big plays downfield, of hitting multiple targets, of putting big numbers on the board.

You want numbers? See how these sound: 372 passing yards, 4 touchdown passes, and completions to 10 receivers.

Last night, Brady reached out and connected with Benjamin Watson, Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Laurence Maroney, Troy Brown, Corey Dillon, David Thomas, Chad Jackson, Jabar Gaffney, and Faulk.

The only guy he didn't toss a spiral to was linebacker Mike Vrabel, whose goal-line wizardry as a receiver was not needed on this night, when the Patriots came away with a 31-7 win.

No need to rub it in. As it was, the Patriots destroyed the Minnesota Vikings, a supposed NFL contender, with an efficient offensive attack that began with a seven-play, 86-yard drive to start the game.

During that opening sequence, Brady was 6 for 6 for 94 yards. During that drive, he hit Watson twice, Gabriel twice, Brown once, and Caldwell in the end zone. As he directed his team down the field, he looked like a player who was in total control.

''That was fun,'' said the quarterback. ''We had great protection all night. It was a nice feeling to get up on a team like that.''

Translation: It was a nice feeling to put up numbers like a Pro Bowl quarterback again. Brady is a team guy; he's proven that repeatedly during the early days of this Patriots season, which began with a ragged, dysfunctional offensive arsenal. He has never complained about the fact that he doesn't have Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, or, for that matter, Adam Vinatieri.

Yet he wouldn't be human if he didn't daydream about what it would be like to have those weapons on his side of the ball.

Those daydreams couldn't - and didn't - last long. Brady took a long, hard look at the personnel he did have and determined he needed to provide equal parts encouragement and tough love. There wasn't enough time to coddle the guys or bring them along slowly. So he spent time before practice, after practice, during practice, whispering in their ears, working on their psyche, preparing them for what the Vikings would do to stop them.

Last night, he walked into the locker room with his eyes wide and his energy level exaggerated.

''Yeah, I was excited,'' he said. ''I felt good about what we were going to do.''

The quarterback picked up the blitzes early and often, and obliterated it with quick strikes and crafty decisions. He made one bad throw - a first-quarter sideline pass to Watson that Darren Sharper picked off at the New England 45-yard line - but his defense bailed him out.

The defense has a way of doing that. Often, they have been the story of this Patriots season. But last night, the quarterback was running the show with the lethal precision that won him three Super Bowls.

''It's all about preparation,'' chimed in offensive tackle Matt Light. ''Tom was money tonight, because he took the extra time with the receivers to work on what to expect. We had a game plan, and he executed it about as well as anyone could.''

''It's about establishing a rhythm,'' explained Watson, who hauled in seven catches for 95 yards, and a TD. ''Tom did that for us. He's such a smart guy. He knows. Ask him anything about us, about them, and he knows. He can pick up the blitz, can determine what routes we should run, what plays we should call.''

Tom Brady's work is hardly done. His offense remains under construction. There are times when the timing still isn't quite right, and the quarterback and the receiver are not completely in sync.

''It takes time,'' said veteran Troy Brown. ''Guys are still getting familiar with Tom. We kept a core of good players that have been here awhile, and we've worked everyone else in.

''Obviously this season didn't start the way we planned. But we've weathered the storm. We're on our way now.''

The next roadblock is a familiar old friend. The Indianapolis Colts and Brady's pal Peyton Manning come to town Sunday night with an unblemished record. They do have guys named Harrison, Wayne, and Vinatieri, and Manning is putting up numbers at an MVP rate. Asked if he was aware of Manning's 345 yards this weekend, as he bettered those numbers by nearly 30 yards, Brady merely smiled.

''We're buddies,'' he said. ''It's a rivalry. We always want to beat each other.''

Funny thing about the numbers. Manning's have usually been gaudier, but Brady has always come out the winner.

In the past, he's had more weapons to pull that off, but he has stopped thinking about the past.

Tom Brady is in the here and now. He is dancing and talking and moving.

The Indianapolis Colts? Bring it on. The quarterback is ready.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is

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