Sure, it's fun to watch him throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns and set records and act like he's playing Madden on rookie, but back when the Patriots were winning Super Bowls every February, this is what Tom Brady looked like.
His final stat line, by the lofty standards he's established, wasn't so pretty — 27-for-41, 289 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions — but with the game on the line in the final 2:09, he was a picture of perfection. It was throwback Brady.
We'll get into that, plus all of the other leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 20-16 win over the Cowboys.
–Tom Brady was MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI — you remember that. But do you remember that he went 16-for-27 for just 145 yards and one touchdown? No! Of course you don't, not at first, at least. You remember that oh-so-sweet drive that set up the game-winning field goal, when Brady was calm in the pocket, waited for guys to get open and did what he needed to do to get the ball in field-goal range.
Obviously, you don't want Brady to regress 10 years and throw for 150 yards every week, but to see him have one of those statistically ugly games but still come through in the clutch has to be refreshing.
–If you want to fully understand how excellent Brady is, check out his quote after the game from when he was asked about the game-winning touchdown to Aaron Hernandez:
They had some double coverages on the other guys. They double covered, there was a combination coverage on Wes [Welker] and Deion [Branch] and then there was a combination coverage on that other side. I was reading Gronk [Rob Gronkowski]. They both took Gronk and then Aaron wound up being one-on-one. He had the guy outside leveraged on the in-breaking route. He made it, ran a good route and made a great catch.
Mind you, this was maybe 15 minutes after the game ended. Brady had not seen film on this play; this was all from memory. You often hear about the game "moving too fast" for quarterbacks who struggle, but this is a quote from a man who sees the game in slow motion. Truly incredible.
–Because this is New England, though, let's criticize Brady a little. The interception to Sean Lee was one of Brady's worst passes ever. He scrambled to his left and hucked it at two blue jerseys. Or, in simpler terms, he pulled a Tony Romo.
–Brady also hesitated when given a golden opportunity to run for the end zone in the first quarter. On second-and-6 from the 8, Brady had a ton of space to run, at least to pick up a first down and maybe even a score. You can see in this screen shot:
He's not fast, but with Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins running away from him, the opportunity was there.
–Fear not, though, because Brady learned his lesson. He finished the day with 17 rushing yards, which is tied for his seventh-most ever. Two of those came in the final drive, when Brady gained 78 yards through the air and two on the ground.
Look out, Darren McFadden. Tom is coming for you.
–In all seriousness, while Brady may go down as the best quarterback of all time, he needs to go down as the greatest runner of the quarterback sneak in history. It's literally (probably) worked every single time he's run it, except for that time Rex Ryan called a timeout in Baltimore in '07, so it didn't count.
–Shame on the Cowboys for not knowing the sneak was coming on the Patriots' final drive. With a third-and-1, Brady moved under center to take the snap. He had been in the shotgun for the previous six plays. Have a clue, Dallas. Have. A. Clue.
–I, like you, watched as Welker ran free several times. The best route was when he came out of the backfield on the Patriots' opening drive. A linebacker had to cover him as he ran an out, easily gained separation and gained 13 yards. NFL defenders cannot cover Welker.
–At the same time, Welker finished with a season-low 45 yards. What a bum. Coincidentally, 45 yards is Chad Ochocinco's season high.
–I'm not sure how this played out on TV, but referee Walt Coleman left his microphone on several times throughout the afternoon, and the audio was pumped through the press box. That this mic picked up no swears or discussions will go down as one of the great disappointments of my life.
—Rob Ryan, who is an absolute maniac on the sidelines and even broke his headset at one point, had a great defensive game plan for Brady. However, there were two instances where the Cowboys were simply guessing.
On the first play of the second quarter, they just didn't put anyone on Branch. I don't know if you know this, but you should cover Branch when you're facing the Patriots. He burned them for a 45-yard catch-and-run. The other guess came on Gronkowski's 20-yard screen pass, when he, Brian Waters and Dan Connolly had an entire half of a football field to themselves. Gronkowski motioned in from the outside and blocked for a second, and the Cowboys just gave up on him. Bad idea.
–I found it really interesting that the official didn't give Welker credit for a touchdown on his initial call. With the automatic replay system in effect for all scoring plays, officials have erred on the side of scoring, knowing that if they get it wrong, replay will correct it. As it was, Belichick was forced to use a challenge. He's now 3-for-3 in his last two weeks. The good news on that is that it resulted in one of the best photographs I've ever seen.
—DeMarcus Ware was a big storyline entering the game, and he came through with two sacks. His third-quarter sack was rather impressive, as Matt Light simply swung and missed on a swim move, knowing he could be aggressive because BenJarvus Green-Ellis had his back. Problem was, Green-Ellis wasn't much help, as Ware just went around and over the running back to take down Brady.
—Devin McCourty still has no clue where the football is, as evidenced by his pass interference call in the end zone. I don't know how you just lose that skill after a seven-interception rookie season, but the Patriots' defense is going to continue to struggle until he finds it again.
–Fortunately for New England, Jason Garrett didn't let Romo take advantage, as the head coach seemed intent on not letting his quarterback cough up another game. Nice strategy. Romo said all the right things after the game, but at his postgame news conference, he had the demeanor of a guy who just watched his puppy get brutally murdered in front of his eyes. I think he knew what was going on.
–Wins are great and all, and I don't want to put a damper on it, but when you turn the ball over four times in the NFL, you're supposed to lose. When the other team seems intent on throwing shovel passes on the 5-yard line, though, you get a chance to win.
–For all the great coaching involved — Belichick, Garrett, Ryan — I've never seen more problems with having 12 men on the field. There were three penalties called for 12 men, the Patriots spent a timeout when they had 12 men, and so did the Cowboys. Perhaps this week the coaches will go over the rules of football with their teams.
–While the Patriots are at it, they ought to go over the fundamentals of tackling. Simply put, they couldn't tackle anyone, and they made Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice look like Barry Sanders … if, you know, Barry Sanders ran for just 63 yards. You get the point. If I had seven hours to spare, I'd count exactly how many tackles the Cowboys broke, but I can save time and just tell you that it was way too many.
–This has nothing to do with the Patriots, but Sean Payton, you are one badass man.
—Kyle Arrington leads the NFL with four interceptions. Eight teams have three or fewer picks.
–I've ended two of these columns with a photo of Vince Wilfork making an interception. We came so close to seeing a third.
–Fear not, though, because Andre Carter's happy sack jump can fill the void. Enjoy your bye week, folks.