With his compression sleeve and tendinitis band stuffed in a drawer somewhere, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady went to work on the Eagles' defense for one of his best performances of the season during Sunday's 38-20 victory.
Neither protective element is overly cumbersome, but Brady's decision to ditch them served as a symbol that his elbow was feeling better than it had in recent weeks. As such, he completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Statistically, it was probably Brady's second-best game of the season. But in terms of intangibles and adjustments, it might have been Brady's best work of 2011.
"Tom did a good job of really pressing the issue," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "We felt like we had them on the run a little bit with some of the empty stuff and some of our matchups. We felt good about our running game, too, but we just felt like we had some matchups we could take advantage of. Tom just kept pressing it. He took guys that were open. Everybody got involved there. That's what Tom does best is finds the open guy, puts the ball on the money and he did it many times [Sunday]."
Brady took a beating during the first two series of the game, but rather than looking rushed and rattled — which bit him against the Jets in the playoffs and parts of this season's games against the Cowboys, Steelers and Giants — he started to move the pocket and create space in the chaos of the pressure.
And then, despite a hot start from running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (he had 11 carries for 43 yards and two touchdowns through three offensive possessions, but just one yard on three carries over the rest of the game), Brady started pushing it in the no-huddle. It helped the offense get in a rhythm, and Philly's pass rush wore down with fatigue.
Brady's intensity also showed on the sidelines in the second quarter when he started yelling from the bench after a misfire to Wes Welker on third down and a missed field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. It clearly helped keep his teammates focused on the issue at hand.
"I'd rather him be that way than, 'Aw, shucks,' or anything like that," Welker said. "It's great to have some fire with your quarterback."
Brady's 361 yards were the 17th most of his career, and it was the 38th time he completed at least 70 percent of his passes. It was Brady's 46th game with at least three touchdown passes. And it marked the eighth occasion in which Brady surpassed 350 yards with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions in a victory, making him the only player ever to accomplish that.
Yet, while it was another statistical masterpiece, Brady's work in all phases pushed the offense to a nearly unstoppable level, even if he wasn't fully thrilled with it.
"I thought it was OK," Brady said. "I thought our execution was a little better, but it's good to come on the road and get a win."