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On balance, Brady's play is off

TD-interception ratio troubling

FOXBOROUGH -- What impressed Bill Belichick most two years ago about Tom Brady, you may recall, were his game-management skills.

Today, on the two-year anniversary of his first pro start, and two days after throwing two incompletions on a four-play, potential game-tying drive in the final two minutes of a 20-17 loss at Washington, Brady doesn't seem to be managing things quite as well. At times this season, some of his decisions with the ball have been questionable.

Which prompts the very difficult question:

Is something wrong with Tom Brady?

Well, duh. Anyone who has seen the pictures knows there's plenty wrong with his right elbow. But Brady refuses to use persistent arm pain as an excuse. He'll stand in front of his locker and swear for the (pick a large number) time in the last two weeks that the subject itself is more sore than his arm. But that's not what we're getting at. We're wondering what's happening in that mature mind of his.

Statistically speaking, Brady is what they call "upside-down." That means he has more interceptions than touchdowns (seven to five). Brady's quarterback rating is 70.8, placing him 21st in the league; his career rating coming into this season was 85.9. He and the Chargers' Drew Brees have thrown the most interceptions among AFC QBs.

In Washington, Brady endured his second three-interception game this season -- he tossed four against the Bills in the opener -- after throwing three or more picks just twice in his previous 32 games.

Perhaps this is nothing more than an overreaction to one bad ending in one bad game and forgetting the three touchdown passes he tossed without an interception against Philadelphia three games ago. But the fact remains that Brady has thrown half as many interceptions in a quarter of the season as he did in all of the 2002 campaign.

Add to his seven picks the fumble he lost against the Jets, and Brady has accounted for all but one of New England's nine turnovers this season. Not good.

So if you choose to believe there isn't anything wrong with Brady mentally, we'd argue that everything isn't right.

"Look, we can talk about the interceptions, and we do talk about them," said Belichick yesterday. "We talk about them as a team. Every interception is not because the quarterback made a bad throw. That's just a fact. Sometimes it's a combination of the recognition of the route [or] the visual communication between the receiver and the quarterback. Sometimes receivers make mistakes. Sometimes there is pressure. Sometimes it is a combination of things."

Absolutely. Take Sunday. On Brady's second interception, David Givens didn't appear to get adequate separation from Washington's Champ Bailey on a fade route, leaving his quarterback with little place to go with the ball. Admittedly, Brady tried to force it, something he may be doing too much of these days. And on his third interception, Brady was hit as he threw over the middle to Givens, allowing Rashad Bauman to cut underneath and pick it off.

But on the first interception, by Ifeanyi Ohalete on a pass intended for Deion Branch in the end zone in the second quarter, the blame falls squarely on Brady. He would agree, which was evident by his pounding the FedEx Field surface and yelling at himself as he left the field. He said afterward that he saw Branch flash open, but, as would be the case on his final throw of the afternoon, Brady was tardy delivering the ball.

A trend?

Maybe.

Or maybe the league has gotten hip to his and the Patriots' tendencies and limitations. Go back to Nate Clements's end-zone interception in Week 1. Lawyer Milloy likely would not have been able to deflect the pass intended for David Patten had the ball been on time and on target.

Belichick did not appear concerned about the inordinate amount of "that's-not-what-we're-looking-for" plays his quarterback has committed. And three offensive teammates privately expressed no doubts regarding Brady's judgment.

"When you have a play like that, I don't think anybody is going to sit here and say, `Well, yeah, it was a great play. I'm glad we lost the ball,' " the coach said. "That's not what it's about. You make mistakes, the other team makes a good play, and you try to not let those things happen again and you regret that they happen. That's the way we all feel. Anybody who handles the ball or anybody who calls plays or anybody who is involved . . . when they don't work out favorably and when you lose possession of the ball, nobody feels good about them and you would like to have them back. You would like to do it a little bit different."

Which brings us the Patriots' final possession Sunday. On first down, Brady's "high-low" read took him away from primary target Troy Brown underneath and further downfield to Branch, who couldn't find space in the Redskins' Cover 2. Incomplete. On fourth and 3 from Washington's 38, Brady's first read (Brown again) was covered short, forcing the quarterback to go deeper and down the middle to Graham. The ball was behind the tight end, who after the game tried to deflect criticism from his quarterback as quickly as Ohalete had knocked away his fourth-down pass.

"They took away the short routes and we just weren't able to hit the pass over the middle, which we had a shot at but they made a good play on it," Belichick said.

Larry Centers said Sunday that he thought he was open near the first-down marker, but after reviewing the film, Belichick said yesterday, "I wouldn't have thrown it to him."

To his credit, Brady never appeared discouraged, rallying his team from 17 points down to within 3 by completing 15 of 20 passes in the last 20 minutes. It's that kind of poise and resiliency that endears him to his teammates. And he might have seven TD passes had Branch not dropped one in Buffalo and Brady not overthrown Brown against New York.

One last thing about Brady: He hasn't been one to have consecutive horrible outings. Recall that he followed up a four-interception day at Denver in 2001 with a three-touchdown performance in Atlanta. This Sunday, however, he's facing the 3-1 Tennessee Titans, against whom he completed a career-worst 48 percent of his passes last season -- still the only game in which Brady has failed to connect on at least half his attempts.

After the Titans, New England gets the Giants, Dolphins (in Miami), Cleveland, and Denver (on the road).

The wrong teams at the wrong time for a quarterback trying to get himself right.

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