Somehow, Tom Brady manages to keep surprising us.
He entered this year with a Hall of Fame resume and almost unlimited expectations, and he's managed to exceed them. He's on pace to destroy the record books. He could break his unbreakable record of 50 touchdown passes in a season. He's looking even better than when he was the unanimous MVP a year ago.
Brady's always had an ability to make playing quarterback look easy. This year, he's making it look effortless.
And as a result, every passing record in the book is on red alert. And it's not a trend. This will keep going. This is a march on history.
Brady will be at the top of the passing marks by the time the season is done. It'll be another season for the ages for No. 12. Then he can get to work on getting rid of that nagging three-game losing streak in the playoffs.
Here's why the records will change after this season.
Brady is as accurate a quarterback as there is in the league. His precision shows itself in his season stats (66.7 completion percentage) but is best viewed in specific cases, like his impeccable placement on a throw that barely eluded Miami Dolphin cornerback Benny Sapp and landed right in Wes Welker's hands, in stride, enabling a 99-yard touchdown pass in Week 1.
Brady is a master at hitting receivers in the spot where they are able to both make the catch and gain yardage afterward. He hardly ever sails throws, throws behind receivers or skips passes into the ground and seems to be even better on plays the team has to have.
It's because of this precision that Brady is a serious threat to the record books. He throws often but doesn't throw the ball recklessly. Each throw is carefully delivered to arrive at a specific target, which enables him to beat even the toughest coverages.
WIth that accuracy, Brady has success with 3rd-and-long completions. He's able to hit Rob Gronkowski 25 yards down the field with the same success rate as an average quarterback throwing five-yard slants. Accuracy like that enables a team to keep drives going on third down, which gives the quarterback all the more instances to pile on yardage and touchdowns.
Inaccurate quarterbacks struggle to keep drives going. Brady racks up yardage in his sleep.
Don't let last week's four interceptions fool you. When it comes to protecting the football while still leading an offense down the field, Brady's the best around.
Brady's always been careful with the ball, but his ability to avoid mistakes and bad throws has improved as he's been asked to handle the offense more. He threw either 12 or 14 interceptions per season between 2001 and 2006 but tossed just eight while racking up 50 touchdowns in 2007. He "slumped" to 13 picks in 2009 but was nearly perfect with only four a year ago.
Brady has said that interceptions haunt him for days afterward. He backs that up on the field. He takes chances downfield but never seems to make that boneheaded mistake.
Of course, there's always an outlier last week but even that was misleading. Of his four picks, one took a crazy bounce off a lineman's helmet into a defender's hands, and another deflected off a receiver's hands. Still, the other two picks suggest that Brady was wildly out of sorts.
Even with the bad game, Brady could still very well finish the season under 10 interceptions. That ability to keep possession of the ball on every drive helps his stats as much as anything. Brady doesn't get cheated out of drives. He doesn't give you the ball. You, as a defense, have to stop him.
So far, that hasn't happened often, and his stats have risen as a result. His numbers are out of control, because he is exactly the opposite.
When the Patriots are operating correctly, they're as close to a machine as there is in the league. They roll out a plethora of options at the tight end and wide receiver spots that are all dangerous, either because of their talent or their chemistry with Brady. Or both.
It's a cast that (when healthy) any quarterback would dream of having. At receiver, there's Wes Welker, the best slot in the game, and Deion Branch, whose shared mind with Brady makes him a deadly presence on timing routes and third-down completions. There's shifty Danny Woodhead out of the backfield, who's a weapon on screens and passes in the flat.
But the best options may be the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski is a menace with outstanding size and terrific hands, while Aaron Hernandez runs and catches like a wideout despite lining up beside the tackle.
Sometimes Chad Ochocinco shows up to participate. And sometimes he doesn't.
It's a group that consistently keeps defenses guessing as to whom Brady is targeting and a group that is able to spread defenses and coverages out and draw mismatches. As a result, Brady almost always has an open receiver to go to.
It's an offense that perfectly suits Brady's strength, as opposed to the 2009 offense, which relied on him to force the ball over and over again to only two options. Brady has always been at his best when he is analyzing the coverage beforehand and finding the open receiver. In this offense, there's always a good option available. Brady just has to locate it, and no one's better at doing so than he is.
With so many receivers with such a variety of talents, Brady often has little trouble making the plays to extend drives. When it's rolling, this offense can be near impossible to stop, which equals statistical heaven for a quarterback.
For Brady to have a chance at setting passing records, he'll have to remain efficient even when the temperatures at Gillette Stadium fall near or below freezing late in the season, as three of New England's five games in between Dec. 4 and Jan. 1 are at home.
Fortunately, Brady's shown he's just as good when the weather outside gets frightful. In fact, it can be argued that he improves.
It's become a priority for teams around the league to avoid playing the Patriots in cold and snow. The team seems to gain an edge when it plays in the elements, and Brady's a big reason why.
The Patriots are 37-5 in the month of December since 2001, and in New England, a lot of those games are played in tough conditions. That doesn't bother Brady. His list of bad-weather gems is extensive, from throwing for 369 yards, two touchdowns and no picks a year ago in the snow and wind in Chicago to tossing six touchdowns in snow and sleet against Tennessee in 2009 to the game that got the legend started, the Snow Bowl against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs.
In the "A Football Life" documentary on Bill Belichick that aired recently on the NFL Network, Brady called the wet and cold conditions "a quarterback's dream." For most quarterbacks, that's sarcasm. For Brady, it's just the truth.
If Brady gets to the bone-chilling months of December on the verge of rewriting the record book, the weather won't slow him down. He'll stay as effective as always.
A ha, the main reason Brady will break every major passing record this year. And why the Patriots could be in trouble.
The Patriots defense is bad. Awful. Historically awful. New England could have the worst defense in the history of football.
That sounds like an exaggeration. Incredibly, it isn't. According to Judy Battista of the New York Times, the 1981 Baltimore Colts set the record for yards allowed in a season with 6,793. Not to be outdone, New England's stifling defense is on pace to allow 7,499.
You don't need to be an MIT graduate to know that that is a difference of 706 yards. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens allowed 730 combined over four games at one point.
New England can't stop anybody. A two-score lead feels like a tie game. So the Patriots need Brady to throw. And throw. And throw.
Brady hasn't thrown for an average of 442.3 yards because he's padding stats. He's done it because it's what's been needed for the Patriots to survive.
Until New England gets a defense, it'll have to win by playing Arena Football. Brady has to put up these obscene numbers just for the Patriots to win games. Fortunately, if there's a man for the job, he's it.
Passing yards, touchdowns, attempts, completions, Brady will pass all of those marks. The Patriots just might need him to.