On Football

Outlook on Brady: Cheers

By Albert R. Breer
October 26, 2009

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LONDON - The idea was out there that this would be a chance for Tom Brady’s iconic status to be evaluated on a larger stage.

In the end, the Brits got from Brady just what New England has since the quarterback’s return from reconstructive knee surgery.

Some good. Some bad. And improvement as time wore on during a breezy 35-7 victory yesterday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fact is, anyone who’s waiting for Brady to look like the guy from 2007 probably also waits for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Start by acknowledging that no quarterback ever has put up the kind of numbers Brady did to start that season. Add in the fact that just about every player goes through a reacclimation process coming off that injury, and know that there’s been revolving doors at receiver and running back all year.

Then, you’ll come to the realization that the quarterback never really fell off track in his recovery process. He leaves London with a 308-yard, three-touchdown, two-interception effort that shows that while he’s not all the way there yet, he’s on his way.

“I’m feeling great,’’ Brady said. “I keep rolling. Two wins in a row, and we’ll do some self-scouting, and reflect on what we’ve done, what’s been successful, what hasn’t.

“Certainly, [there are] a lot of good things to take from being 5-2. We played two poor halves of football there against the Jets and Broncos. Those outcomes might’ve been a bit different. That’s why today was exciting. We went out there and put two touchdowns on the board there in the second half.’’

If you want to take the good and the bad from this one, it can be that simple. In the first half, Brady was 11 of 16 for 151 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. In the second half, his numbers looked similar (12 of 16, 157 yards) but he cleaned up the mistakes.

He avoided the interceptions. He suffered his only sack in the first half.

“It was good enough,’’ Brady said of his performance.

The good was the way he piloted two 10-play, second-half drives, the first covering 73 yards, the second going for 89. On 15 of those 20 plays, the Patriots had three receivers on the field - meaning either Sam Aiken, Brandon Tate, or both were out there - and the offense didn’t skip a beat.

The bad was how he tried to feather a throw to Randy Moss in the back of the end zone in the second quarter, a ball that was clearly in peril when he let it go, and Tanard Jackson picked it off. Or how a ball intended for Tate, who took the blame for running the wrong route, was into the area of two defenders, one of whom, Aqib Talib, registered the interception.

The good was the way he consistently calmed the offense in difficult situations, often a result of one of nine penalties on the offense. The Patriots wound up converting on series where they faced first and 16, second and 20, and third and 13.

The bad was the inconsistency revealed by four three-and-outs.

Overall, you’ll find there’s more good than bad. But there’s still room for improvement.

“Any time a player comes off an injury, that’s tough, Tom being no different,’’ said Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson. “I’m sure he feels a lot more comfortable than he did at first. But we still have a ways to go.’’

It was a play by Watson, in fact, that may have shown best just how far the Patriots, and Brady, have come.

On the play, the Patriots were in a five-wide set with an empty backfield.

Before the ball was snapped, coming out in this look showed the Patriots had confidence in Brady’s ability to move in the pocket, since he had just five guys in protection.

He’d have to react quickly, of course. And he did. He immediately saw the matchup he wanted - Watson on linebacker Geno Hayes. So Watson went down the seam, and Brady threw a bullet that hit his tight end in stride for a 35-yard touchdown.

“One of those situations when you talk about Tom Brady being special, and recognizing the mismatch,’’ Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said. “We can make that play, and I’ve seen Geno make it before, I’ve seen him make it on tight ends. It wasn’t like a mismatch we didn’t feel comfortable with, but their guy made a better play and their guy made a better throw.’’

Brady usually does. And that’s why when you really look at it, it’s easy to see how well he’s done.

At this point, Brady’s on pace to throw for more than 4,600 yards and 34 touchdowns. Erase 2007, and his previous career highs were 4,110 yards (in 2005) and 28 touchdowns (in 2002 and ’04).

And look at it like Peyton Manning’s 2008 season. Manning started by struggling through a knee injury early, which led to a 3-4 start for the Colts. He got better and better, and Indianapolis finished the season on a nine-game winning streak with Manning as league MVP.

Manning and Brady are different players in different circumstances. Manning was still rehabbing, a process Brady completed months ago. But contrast Brady’s early struggles this year to Manning’s last year, and see how Manning continually got better, and you might get a picture on where No. 12 could be headed.

“He’s a great leader. He’s a great worker. And I’m glad he’s our quarterback,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “There’s nobody I’d rather have than Tom Brady.’’

Here’s why: As Brady left the field at Wembley, his teammates celebrating around him, he glared up at the video board and focused on a set of highlights of the game he just played.

Already, Brady was looking at what he did, and figuring out a way to do it better.

It’s probably not smart to think he’ll fail in that pursuit.

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