|Tom Brady has stepped to the fore among NFL quarterbacks with his performance in the first two games of the season. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)|
Brady is complete success
FOXBOROUGH - When assessing quarterback Tom Brady's performance through the first two games of the season, start here: No. 12 has thrown just 12 incomplete passes.
Brady is 47 of 59 for 576 yards in resounding victories over the Jets and Chargers, his 79.7 completion percentage easily leading the NFL.
QB a cool customer, says GQ. E1
Even more impressive is that of those 12 missed connections, three came as Brady was simply throwing the ball away. Another three came on dropped passes. And on one, the intended receiver slipped.
Think Brady has found an early-season groove?
"Obviously, he's been making a lot of good throws and the receivers are doing a great job getting open," observed left tackle Matt Light, Brady's blindside protector. "I don't really ever worry about that. It's not his first rodeo."
True enough, although last year's rodeo had way too much bucking for Brady's liking.
Early last season, he talked about how it would take time for the passing game to develop, that players can't simply step on the field and expect to be productive. As the Patriots attempted to break in a new group of receivers in the first five games of 2006, Brady's completion percentages were a dismal 47.8, 51.7, 56.4, 57.7, and 55.2.
Now, by looking as sharp as he has through two games, Brady is proving himself wrong.
Much like last year, the Patriots have an almost completely revamped receiver corps. The difference, it seems, is in the talent level of those pass catchers, a group that includes Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donté Stallworth, Kelley Washington, and the lone holdover, Jabar Gaffney.
Brady said yesterday that his job essentially comes down to evaluating the field, picking the player he feels is most open, then making a good throw. He feels the receivers have done a nice job getting open in man-to-man coverage - tight end Benjamin Watson would be included in that group - while the offensive line has provided solid protection.
It's been a winning combination, with Brady the key piece.
"He's made good decisions and put the ball on the money," coach Bill Belichick said. "That's what a quarterback has to do."
Among NFL starting quarterbacks, only Brady, Houston's Matt Schaub (72), and Detroit's Jon Kitna (71) have completed more than 70 percent of their passes. Brady's 134.2 passer rating easily leads the league.
"I'm happy that we're completing at a high percentage and a high yards per attempt [9.76], because that's how you become efficient in the passing game," Brady said. "There haven't been a whole lot of third downs, which has been good."
In eight seasons with the Patriots, Brady has seen the passing game take on different forms.
"I think the thing about this offense is that we always try to morph into what the guys on our team are good at," he said. "Deion [Branch] is entirely different than what Randy is, and we're not doing the same things with Randy that Deion did. I just don't think it'd be fair to them. We've found ways over the years to be successful, and I think this year that we're finding new ways as well.
"I think this year we're expanding the field a little bit more vertically."
Ever the perfectionist, Brady talked yesterday about plays the offense has failed to convert.
Still, of his dozen incompletions, he can really only knock himself for four. In the opener, his only true misfire was an underthrown delivery to Stallworth that skipped off the turf on a receiver screen. Last Sunday night against the Chargers, Brady narrowly overthrew Stallworth on a high, arcing pass down the left sideline, and had two throws behind receivers - the first intended for Welker on a third-and-9 delivery, the second on his lone interception, which tipped off Moss's fingers.
"Tom's played well," Belichick said. "He makes good decisions. He's accurate. He's gotten rid of the ball quickly in the pocket, gotten it out on time. I think he's read things well in the first two games."
As it turns out, the Patriots' defense has had the most success against Brady.
After Rosevelt Colvin intercepted a pass in the first quarter Sunday night, Brady was slightly caught off guard at the quick change of possession, and was a bit late getting onto the field. He ended up taking a delay-of-game penalty after uncharacteristically losing track of the play clock.
For Brady, it was one of the few blemishes to a sterling start.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.