WASHINGTON — One by one, our old friends are gone. Injury — natural or not — prison, deported. Tom Brady is the only one left because he always made money for his partners.
OK, so maybe that spin on the famous scene from the Godfather Part II doesn’t exactly apply to this young NFL season, but boy is it close.
Right now Brady is on a record-setting pace at a time when his contemporaries are starting to fade to black. Age and injury have regressed Peyton Manning into a game manager. Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are currently hurt.
Yet there was 38 year-old Brady Sunday, throwing his 400th career touchdown in New England’s all out mauling of Jacksonville, and joining an elite club that includes only Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino. Brady’s 358 yard, 2 TD performance came a week after he threw for 466 yards in Buffalo and more than two weeks after a near flawless, 4 TD performance in the season opener against Pittsburgh.
All after spending the offseason in court for being an alleged cheater. Let’s gets this out of the way: Forget Deflategate. (I had another F word in mind but this is a family show.) It is — and always was — a low impact, non-story that was purposely blown out of proportion. Brady (and to an extent, his coach Bill Belichick) haven’t been caught doing anything I would say exceeds a high level of gamesmanship, and there are way worse examples of such from respected coaches in the past. The collective attitude about such matters are the only thing that’s changed from the early days of Don Shula to now.
And the courts agree.
So really, the only thing Commissioner Roger Goodell accomplished this offseason is to piss off the defending Super Bowl champs and give them unprecedented motivation to repeat.
Brady is the driving force for that mindset. Not since Michael Jordan have we seen a professional athlete so effectively use negative external energy as fuel to dominate. Brady has been so good to start this year, it’s got us calling to mind the last time the Patriots got singled out by the league. New England took the Spygate controversy and parlayed it into a 16-0 regular season in 2007, a season that saw Brady notch career-highs in touchdowns (then NFL-record 50), completion percentage (68.9), and QB rating (117.2).
Through three games this season, he’s on pace to better all three categories. Brady enters New England’s bye week completing 96-of-133 throws for 1,112 yards, 9 TDs and no interceptions (only Peyton has thrown more TDs without a pick in the first three games of a season). Nobody this season has thrown for more yards than Brady, and only Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton (no, that’s not a typo … Andy Dalton) have a higher QB rating. Brady’s bigger than US Steel right now.
Brady is still throwing at the end of blowouts like he was 8 years ago and he’s not just looking to win — he’s looking for blood. That should scare the cleats off the rest of the league. The Patriots have already scored 119 points, which is five more than they scored after the first three games of their 2007 squad that set the NFL record for points in a season. Unlike 2007, Brady isn’t just playing catch with Randy Moss. He’s got an arsenal. If you take away Rob Gronkowski, he’ll simply go to Julian Edelman. If you pay too much attention to Edelman, fine … there’s Danny Amendola. Spread out and cover them all if you want to. He’ll simply hand it off to Dion Lewis and/or LeGarrette Blount.
Look, if you have him pegged as a cheater and think that somehow cheapens his accomplishments, that’s your prerogative. But the sins against him are so marginal and his body of work is go great that it’s about time to stop looking to tear down what he’s doing and simply appreciate this rare, unprecedented level of excellence.
I’m far from a Pats fan (in fact, I’ve been patiently waiting to eulogize their epic run for years), but sometimes I think we as sports fans are spoiled by dynasties. In reality, winning in the NFL at the highest level is extremely difficult, no matter how great you are. Tony Gonzalez was 36 when he won his first playoff game. One could make the case that Marino’s claim to fame is being one of the greatest players in pro sports to never win a championship. Yet here’s Brady clutching four Lombardi Trophies at a time when winning one Super Bowl is amazingly elusive.
And if Brady continues on this tear, he might just become the first QB to own a fifth ring. No amount of perceived cheating can make that look any less incredible.
Now catch up on the Week 3 Recap. If you don’t, you’re just cheating yourself.