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Bob Ryan

QB receives more support this season

IRVING, Texas - Week by week, we're learning just how great Tom Brady was last year. He was a champion thoroughbred carrying 130 pounds each and every time he took the field.

"I always said," mused Randy Moss - yes, Randy and Manny Being Manny speaking publicly in the same week! - "Peyton Manning has his receivers. Why can't Tom Brady have his?"

Ladies and gentlemen, he has them now.

You can argue very strenuously that this was an unwinnable game last year. No Laurence Maroney (again). Sammy Morris gets KO'd with a chest injury. This was a battle that would have to be won in the air, and, no disrespect, but Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, and Jabar Gaffney in feature roles would not have cut it against this particular Dallas team.

But this is 2007, and Tom Brady has a smorgasbord of superior receivers. If it wasn't Wes Welker (11 catches, 124 yards, 2 touchdowns) it was Donte' Stallworth (7 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD). If it wasn't either of them, it was Mr. Moss himself (6 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD, one glorious catch in the end zone properly overturned by review and one bogus offensive interference call taking away another TD).

The final score was New England 48, Dallas 27, and whether it was or wasn't really a 21-point game it was a game in which Brady needed the help of great receivers to get the job done and he got it.

Brady's final haul was five touchdown passes, which set a personal high and matched a team high. He could have had seven, and he most definitely should have had six. He has 21 TD passes in six games and people are openly discussing the possibility of him approaching or shattering Peyton Manning's season record of 49.

Is it even remotely necessary to inform you good Patriots fans that this is a topic the QB is not pleased to discuss?

"I haven't thought about it at all," he sighed. "I don't set my goals like that. Individual records are based on the opportunities you get."

And you can be sure Brady will be seen in public with a homely librarian before he engages in any discussion about the difference between the receivers he was forced to work with last season and the ones he has now.

That's my job.

Let's just say that the very fact that Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick went out and got Messrs. Welker, Stallworth, and, of course, Moss represented one of the great public mea culpas in New England sports history. They could have upgraded the receiving corps with pretty good receivers. But they went for it all. They have given Brady two great receivers in Moss and Welker, and one pretty darn good one in Stallworth, who, after being on the back burner as Moss got off to a great start, has emerged as a major menace to opposing defenses. The Patriots brass made up for leaving its noble QB high and dry last year with a big wet offseason smooch.

Stallworth kind of broke the game open yesterday with a 69-yard catch-and-run on which he took a Brady bullet at the Dallas 41, shrugged off a tackle, and blasted into the end zone to make it 38-24 with 12:21 remaining.

Moss caught an early 6-yard TD pass and then receded into the background for about two quarters before reemerging in the second half. And then there was Welker, who is making a very strong bid for Best Supporting Actor in this 16-week pigskin melodrama.

Is it possible the 26-year-old possession receiver/return man is even better than the Patriots realized when they pried him from the Dolphins for a 2007 second-round draft pick?

"Are you kidding?" cooed Belichick. "He killed us last year."

Welker hasn't been asked to play defensive back yet, so he's not Troy Brown, but, you know what? He's Troy Brown. Around our way, there is no higher compliment.

He is exactly every bit the Mr. Third Down Troy Brown was, and, like Troy Brown, he's a quality return man, too. Among his third-down receptions yesterday were catches for 20, 35, and 10 yards, with the 35-yarder a touchdown.

It's evident Brady has total faith in him.

"He's solid and dependable," Brady said. "And he's very elusive. He makes guys miss."

Stallworth is a burner who can turn any quick-hitter into a TD. As for Randy, well, is there anything more that need be said? His very presence on the field makes all the other skill people more dangerous.

If you think that's just sportswriter rhetoric, listen to Dallas coach Wade Phillips.

"Well," he said, "you have to worry about Moss. We get Welker covered and [Stallworth] catches a 60-yard pass on us. We doubled [Moss] some. In fact, we doubled him on the touchdown pass he caught. It's frustrating."

Oops, almost forgot the tight ends. Benjamin Watson, who was off to a great start, wasn't a big factor yesterday because he got hurt. But Brady didn't neglect the position, throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to veteran Kyle Brady.

Someone asked Moss if the passing attack is "unstoppable."

"I really don't know," he said. "I don't know whether to say yes or to say no. We work hard. Tom Brady doesn't let us lollygag in practice. We work hard every day. If we can beat the defense we see in practice, we should be able to beat anybody."

"Tom has done a good job of getting the ball to the receivers," said Belichick. "And they've done a good job of not getting frustrated when the ball doesn't come to them for a while."

It all starts with Brady, who at 30 is at the peak of his career.

"It's amazing a guy as young as he is has such a résumé," marveled Junior Seau. "More important, the guy works his tail off. People don't realize that. But we see it, and it's no surprise what you see on Sunday. The way he prepares is actually a lesson for everyone to look at."

Brady isn't keeping count. He's just enjoying his good fortune. Three TDs, four TDs, or no TDs. There's one set of weekly numbers he's concerned with, and in this case it was the 48 vs. the 27.

"If the coach calls a play that results in a touchdown pass, that's good," he says. "If we run it in, it's great."

Randy's gulping down that Kool-Aid, too. "I can honestly say that coming into this season we didn't talk about setting any records," he said. "We're not paying attention to numbers. The only thing that matters is that we're 6-0."

They wouldn't be without him.

And Welker.

And Stallworth.

They just wouldn't.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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