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Brady more valuable than ever

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 3, 2010 08:18 AM

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Occasions like this are really when we should be celebrating Tom Brady and everything he represents, the numbers be damned. This is when Brady’s skills are most evident. This is when his leadership shows. This is when we must wonder whether Brady is simply the most valuable player in the NFL, award or no award, for what he does and what he does not.

The Patriots are 6-1 today thanks to Sunday’s 28-18 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium, a game in which Brady went a fairly pedestrian 16 of 27 for 240 yards and one touchdown. The numbers alone won’t win him many accolades. And yet, as the Patriots have undergone changes, as Randy Moss whined and went and whined again, Brady has simply adjusted his game, expectations and attitude to bring the Patriots where they are today, sitting atop the entire league with the best record in the NFL.

How many players could truly do what Brady is doing right now? How many could sacrifice the touchdowns and the yards in exchange for the wins? How many could accept that it is about them and not him with the grace of TB12?

The Patriots needed leaders this year, remember, and so maybe it is no surprise that the 2010 Pats have lined up behind their two standbys: their coach and their quarterback. The former has asked the latter to play a more conservative style in recent weeks, to store those memories of 2007 along with the photos that were removed from the walls at Gillette Stadium, and the quarterback has nicely complied. Brady is on pace for a mere 3,662 yards and 27 touchdown passes this season, and it as if the QB simply could not give a hoot.

Does everyone understand what is happening in Foxborough these days? In turning back the clock and redefining the Patriots offense in the wake of the Moss deal, Belichick is asking Brady to do more, not less. He is asking him to be more like Chad Pennington and less like Peyton Manning. The Pats are not an aerial circus anymore. During the month of October, Brady ranked 19th among NFL quarterbacks in pass attempts (13th among those who played just four games) and 17th in yards per game. He threw four touchdown passes, two fewer than he threw in a single game last season against the Tennessee Titans. Brady had just four completions of 25 yards or more, a number that placed him 26th in the league, because the Patriots offense has become a collection of short, dump-off and mid-range passes.

Of course, Brady and the Pats went 4-0. They ran for more touchdowns (six) than Brady threw. Through it all, Brady has said nothing, reminding everyone why the truly great quarterbacks in NFL history are judged mostly by wins and losses.

Purely as refresher, let’s remind ourselves of something here: everything the Patriots do on offense now is predicated on Brady’s ability to make the right decision and the right throw at all times. If the Patriots had most anyone else at quarterback, Belichick might not have traded Moss. The Patriots certainly would not be 6-1. Brady is the consummate winning quarterback, someone whose value is impossible to measure in yards.

In the last five games, all Patriots wins, Brady has thrown one real interception, that coming in the third quarter of win over Baltimore. His other pick that day came on a Hail Mary at the end of regulation, something that becomes even more impressive when one considers that the Patriots have played Miami, Baltimore, San Diego and Minnesota in their last four games. Combined, those teams have 23 picks this year; all have average to above-average defenses.

You want more? On three occasions Sunday, the Vikings scored either a touchdown or a field goal. On all three, the Patriots responded by scoring a touchdown. Following the Vikings’ lone turnover, a strip and interception by Devin McCourty, Brady led the Pats to another TD. Those four possessions accounted for all four Patriots scores, and yet there are undoubtedly those who will still judge Brady and the Patriots offense but what he did not do on the game’s other possessions, as if those really mean anything.

At times like this, especially, it is important to remember who the Patriots were entering this season and who they are now. Following the third preseason game, against St. Louis, the Pats defense looked utterly inept. Three weeks into the regular season, following the Buffalo game, nothing had changed. Belichick’s defense now seems to be making considerable strides as the calendar turns to November, but let’s not forget how much the offense has protected them. Opposing teams are not working on short fields because the Patriots aren’t turning the ball over. Brady hasn’t been throwing any interceptions. The Patriots almost never fumble.

And so, with a very controlled attack, Brady has been protecting the Patriots defense and leading an offense that ranks 11th in the league in scoring since the Moss deal, which is no easy trick. Brady's management of the offense has resulted in long, time-consuming drives that let the defense rest so it can go full-tilt when it does take the field.

Three years ago, after the Patriots added Moss and Wes Welker, Brady had a season for the ages. He threw 50 touchdown passes and a mere eight interceptions while racking up 4,806 yards, totals that earned him his only career Most Valuable Player Award. We all know how that season ended. Brady’s totals this year will not come close to rivaling those, not at this rate, and yet one cannot help but come to a simple conclusion as the Patriots enter a Week 9 affair against the better-than-you-think Cleveland Browns with the best record in football.

Statistically, Brady has had far better seasons than the one he is having now.

But he has rarely, if ever, been more valuable to the Patriots operation.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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