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Brady's performance and hairdo keep flowing

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks during a media availability at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday morning, Dec. 2, 2010. The 9-2 Patriots will face their 9-2 divisional rival New York Jets on Monday night Dec. 6, 2010 in Foxborough. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks during a media availability at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday morning, Dec. 2, 2010. The 9-2 Patriots will face their 9-2 divisional rival New York Jets on Monday night Dec. 6, 2010 in Foxborough. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
By Howard Ulman
AP Sports Writer / December 2, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—The stylist to the Patriots trimmed Tedy Bruschi's black hair. In a nearby chair, Alge Crumpler waited his turn.

Just don't expect to see Tom Brady's locks on the floor of the salon.

"He's too famous," Terrence Manning said with a smile as he snipped away. "Right now, I would never cut his hair because I'm putting him up there like a Samson. He'll start losing his strength if it gets cut in the middle of the season."

Brady hasn't thrown an interception in New England's last six games. His completion percentage has increased in each of the last four. He set a team record for a second half with four touchdown passes against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. He also had a perfect passer rating in that 45-24 win and was chosen the AFC Player of the Week.

The longer his hair has grown -- it covers the back of his neck -- the better he seems to have played.

Coincidence?

"The way you start your hairstyle at the beginning of the year is the way you keep it," said Bruschi, a 13-year linebacker with the Patriots before retiring after the 2008 season. "You just don't change it. They're 9-2. There's not going to be any change now. If they're 2-9, they'll all need haircuts."

Manning began cutting Patriots players hair about 10 years ago. He figures about 20 of them come to his salon in North Attleborough about 10 miles south of Gillette Stadium and some have become friends. He's even given Brady his business card but doesn't expect him to show up. Brady has said little publicly about all that growth.

"The long hair looks good on him," Manning said. "I'd just take an inch off the bottom and give it some kind of shape, just to give it a style. I won't make him look like Justin Bieber."

Brady is concerned with keeping his offense flowing even as the public obsession with his hair intensifies. The leader of the NFL's highest scoring team is focusing on the Patriots biggest game so far this season against the New York Jets on Monday night.

The teams are tied for the AFC East lead with the NFL's best record going into the latest installment of their rich rivalry. It's a chance for Brady to make up for one of his two losses, a 28-14 comeback win by the Jets in Week 2 in which he threw two of his four interceptions this year.

"We need to play a lot better this week to beat a team that has really been playing great football and has really proven they can win in a lot of different ways," he said.

Brady is the NFL's second-ranked passer, behind Michael Vick, and shares the league lead with 23 touchdown passes. His completion percentage of 66.3 is third best. A win Monday would break Brett Favre's NFL record of 25 consecutive regular-season victories in home starts.

Much of Brady's success is attributable to his off-field habits -- study, study, then study some more.

"He's a nerd," wide receiver Deion Branch joked. "This guy studies so much. The thing is, we're in the room studying with him, going over a lot of things: positions, where he wants us to be when he's getting ready to throw the ball. I think guys are, obviously, making sure they're doing what he's asking of them to do and the outcome will be pretty good.

"He's a perfectionist. We all enjoy going to work for him."

Brady has pored over game plans and film ever since he became a starter in 2001, the year after the Patriots took him in the sixth round. Moments after they won their first Super Bowl title in the 2001 season, he exulted on the field with confetti flowing down toward his close-cropped head.

He's won two since then and is a top contender for another as the director of a rebuilt offense. His long hair isn't the only new look.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have emerged as productive running backs. Tight ends Crumpler and rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are big contributors. Branch has played better than the receiver he replaced, Randy Moss, in the seven games since he was obtained from Seattle.

"Every team faces those challenges," coach Bill Belichick said. "There's a lot of things we can do better. It certainly helps having experience at the quarterback position."

What hasn't changed is Brady's intensity, usually displayed out of the spotlight.

But the television camera caught him on the bench during a 39-26 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers exhorting or criticizing teammates -- he never said which -- as his hair waved wildly with each head movement.

"It wasn't as bad as it looked," Branch said. "His hair flying everywhere threw everybody off."

Crumpler, though, takes it all in stride.

"I'm a newcomer," he said Wednesday when he stopped by after Belichick gave players the day off from practice. "His hair was long when I met him. I think I'd become confused if he cut it."

His teammates focus, instead, on listening to him in the meeting room and on the field. Running back Fred Taylor was impressed with Brady when he faced the Patriots twice in the playoffs, losing both games with Jacksonville before arriving in New England last season.

"Oh, that little lanky sixth-rounder or free agent or whatever he was," Taylor said with a laugh. "Man, you've got to be able to knock him out of the games is what we used to say. But he's steady. I think he's the coolest, calmest quarterback in the pocket and you've got to be impressed with his work, how he prepares, just across the board. He deserves everything that he's gotten in his career."

At times, though, news about his hair has gotten more attention than his play.

And that baffles Manning, the owner of SoHo Hair Design.

"The biggest thing across the whole country now is Tom Brady's hair," he said, shaking his head. "People are more worried about his hair than the games."

Manning also is amused by the reaction he gets to his last name

"Sometimes when I tell people my last name they say, `Oh, like Peyton?" he said.

If the Patriots keep winning, both Brady and Manning could end up in the Super Bowl. The stylist was at the 2005 title game, New England's 24-21 win over Philadelphia, where he cut the hair of several Patriots.

"Hopefully, if they get to the Super Bowl this year and all these guys bring me down there and I see him again I'll see if he wants me to trim him up a little bit," Manning said.

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