Before the New England Patriots took the field against the New York Jets Monday night, Tom Brady rated perhaps third or fourth in the league in MVP consideration.
Despite a bad game at an inopportune time, San Diego's Philip Rivers looked like a legitimate candidate.
Michael Vick had tallied 350 all-purpose yards in an Eagles win Thursday night.
Even Troy Polamalu was getting whispers of support after another stellar performance the previous night in Baltimore.
Now, the discussion should be over.
Barring a serious change in the winds before the end of the regular season, Brady ought to be an easy choice for MVP. He carved up the Jets, running up 326 yards and throwing four touchdowns without much effort. The Patriots rolled to 10-2 by winning 45-3, and they suddenly look like favorites to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Brady is the MVP for plenty of reasons, but here are the best.
Monday night was the pivotal point in the season for the AFC East.
The Jets hoped to finish a season sweep of the Pats, which (aside from virtually guaranteeing them a division title) would have sent a clear message to Bill Belichick about the end of the Patriots' reign of terror. New England, for its part, needed the win to stay alive in the hunt for home-field advantage at any point in the playoffs.
Brady threw two of his four picks on the season during a Week 2 loss in New York: He needed to do better.
He did better, all right, completing over 72 percent of his passes and turning the ball over not at all. He picked apart the Jets from the first snap, and the game was never even close.
It was a decisive Patriots win, a statement game, and Brady was at his best when it mattered most.
Brady's hallmark has always been his surgical precision, the way he carries himself at all times as though he will never make a mistake again, and that ruthless efficiency has been on display during his recent hot streak.
In his last two games, he has averaged a staggering 11.91 yards per attempt. His passer rating, touchdown percentage and adjusted net yards per pass attempt all lead the league, making his the most well-run offense in football.
Three months ago, the Jets let Danny Woodhead go for nothing. They released him. In their eyes, he was of little or no utility.
In fairness, that Jets team probably really didn't need Woodhead: They have LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene in place at running back.
The real story there is not that the Jets cut Woodhead loose, but that New England picked him up—and what happened thereafter.
Brady is not known for taking a lot of hits, because he does an excellent job of subtly moving the pocket and avoiding contact. One thing he does exceptionally well, though, is to hold onto the ball (when no one is open) for as long as possible. That allows his check-down receivers (Woodhead, et al.) to find open space in which to operate.
As a result of Brady's excellence in that regard, Woodhead had 104 receiving yards on four catches Monday night. He now has nearly 700 all-purpose yards in 10 games with the Pats, and Brady is the biggest reason.
It isn't all about Woodhead, of course: Brady makes everyone better, the true mark of a great quarterback and an MVP. Woodhead is merely the latest and (for the moment) greatest example.
The Patriots have played a total of six games against the elite teams of the AFC, and have won five of them.
Brady has 13 touchdowns in those games, and although he has thrown all four of his interceptions in those contests, he has helped the Pats eke out three wins by three points each, and he dominated a Pittsburgh defense that (against everyone else, anyway) has been the best in football.
New England remains the class of the AFC, but they are modestly vulnerable to a good offense, as their young defensive squad can occasionally give up big plays. For the team to continue to dominate, then, they must keep the ball out of their opponents' hands as best they can.
That has been Brady's greatest strength this season.
He has thrown only four interceptions, and none since Week 6. He has fumbled only twice all year. He has yet to turn the ball over in the red zone. He has also completed 66.8 percent of his passes, keeping the clock moving, and the Pats are the fourth-most proficient third-down team in the league.
Brady has put the Pats in position to win every week, and that is why they keep winning.