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Bob Ryan

Not his very best, but QB earns ‘A’

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 28, 2011
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PHILADELPHIA - Of course, we’ve seen Tom Brady do this before. That’s the point.

Any pro athlete can have a good day. What separates the average from the good, and the good from the great, is having good games - plural - day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and even decade after decade.

Was this one of Brady’s transcendent days? No. Was this one of Brady’s great days? No. But was this one of Brady’s countless good-to-very good days, a day the average quarterback would trade a few precious possessions in order to have this performance identified as one of his own? Yes, and that’s the point. It was Tom Brady being Tom Brady, and that generally means the Patriots have won the football game.

It’s news when Brady has an off day. It’s news, and we start to wonder if there’s something wrong with him. And then he dissects an opposing defense as he did at Lincoln Financial Field in yesterday’s casual 38-20 destruction of the shockingly inept Eagles and it reminds us yet again how amazingly fortunate the team has been to have him taking those snaps for the past 11 years.

“I thought it was OK,’’ said Brady with a shrug. “I thought we executed a little better. It was good to get one on the road and getting down 10-0 and rallying, which we did. It showed some mental toughness.’’

I may be guilty of burying the lead here, so here are the Brady numbers: 24 of 34, 361 yards, three touchdowns and, for what it’s worth, a passer rating of 134.6. It was a nice day’s work, but I’m telling you, he’s done better, as he would be the first to tell you.

Hardly a game goes by that Brady doesn’t lament “leaving points on the field,’’ and this one was no exception. What particularly irked him was failing to get a touchdown on an end-of-the-half drive that resulted in a 45-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. He’s got nothing against his kicker, but it really frosts him when he has to concede defeat, if you will, by having to trot off the field so Gostkowski can trot on. He even made a fuss, and that’s not unusual, either.

“That’s Tom,’’ said receiver Wes Welker. “We want to score a touchdown every time we step on the field. I had a drop. It’s inexcusable to move down the field like that and not score. But I’d rather he’d be that way, than saying, ‘Aw shucks,’ or anything like that.’’

Brady leaned on tight end Rob Gronkowski for the big plays last week, but in this game he once again featured his veteran wide receivers, each of whom had in excess of 100 yards. In the case of Deion Branch (125), it was only his second 100-yard game of the season, the other in Week 2 against the Chargers. The Eagles were down a couple of defensive backs, and the Patriots spent a good deal of time last week analyzing just how they could best exploit the young ’uns in Andy Reid’s secondary.

“There were some matchups we thought we could take advantage of,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, who seemed more impressed with the subtler aspects of his quarterback’s performance than he was with the things the rest of us thought were pretty cool.

I would bet a lot of cashola that the mentor could not recite one statistical accomplishment during the entire Tom Brady career. But he has a firm mental picture of his quarterback making brilliant audibles, evading rushes with that sixth sense he has, and creating a lot of somethings out of many very littles.

“He presses the issue, he exploits matchups, he avoids rushes, he extends plays, he avoids the second-and-18s,’’ Belichick said. “It’s not so much the scrambles; he just gives you a chance.’’

It’s not too often we must cite Brady’s legs as a major asset, but this was one of those times. He actually ran for 27 yards, including a 13-yard scramble. He pulled off one of his surprising, they’ll-never-guess-this-is-coming quarterback sneaks for 6 yards in a non-quarterback sneak situation, and he slipped in a legitimate sneak, as well.

“Yeah, that’s a rarity,’’ he said of his tepid Michael Vick imitation. “A few times there was an opening in the middle, and I just took off. I wasn’t moving that fast. It closed up quickly.’’

While we’re on the subject of Brady’s running, let the record show that over the years he really has established himself as a very good, reliable quarterback sneaker. It really is noticeable, because his predecessor may have seen the absolute worst on sneaks that the world ever has known.

But Brady makes his living with his right arm and his brain, and both were in evidence throughout this game. There were times when he was pretty much toying with the Eagles’ defense, looking over their setup and making changes to make them pay for faulty assumptions. In this he was abetted by both Branch and Welker, the former on a 63-yard improvisation that gave the Patriots a first down at the Philadelphia 1, and the latter on a 41-yard touchdown pass on a route suggested by Welker himself.

Throw in some solid running by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a late 24-yard touchdown grab by Gronkowski, and it added up to a well-rounded offense, a true smorgasbord on which Brady was at his feasting best.

“We were more balanced today,’’ he said. “We used the wide receivers and the tight ends. We had sweeps, draws, downhill runs, quick hitters, and all levels of the passing game. We did a good job of maximizing all the guys.’’

It all looked so simple and easy because Tom Brady made it look so simple and easy. “It’s what Tom does,’’ said Belichick.

Yes, it is. It’s what he does, and Patriots fans should never get tired of watching it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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