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The Big Nickel: Looking back at Tom Brady’s big night, wondering who could replace Dallas Clark and … Kirsten Dunst?

11.16.10 at 7:44 pm ET
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The five most things you need to know about the Patriots on Tuesday:

1. With an extra day to take a closer look at Tom Brady‘€™s performance against the Steelers, the guys over at Football Outsiders suggest that given the fact that it came against the Pittsburgh defense, it could be one of the finest single-game performance of his career.

FO’€™s Bill Barnwell writes that Brady’€™s line against the Steelers ‘€” 31-for-43 for 350 yards and three touchdowns ‘€” certainly deserves a spot in the pantheon of Brady’€™s best games. As part of an in-depth look at Brady’s night, Barnwell notes the quarterback was ‘€œdevastating when the Patriots threw downfield against the Steelers,’€ writing ‘€œon passes thrown 15 yards past the line of scrimmage or more, Brady was 5-of-7 for 132 yards and two scores. Before Sunday, the Steelers had 53 such passes thrown against them and allowed just 28 completions.’€

As for Brady, he said Tuesday that Sunday’€™s game came down to some great plays by his pass catchers, singling out tight end Rob Gronkowski on his first touchdown reception, as well as the work of Brandon Tate, Alge Crumpler, Wes Welker and Deion Branch in the passing game and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the running game.

‘€œWe say that all the time, you know, you’€™ve got to go out and make plays. And certainly you go out there not to lose and not to turn it over, that’€™s important,’€ Brady told WEEI. ‘€œBut, ultimately it’€™s got to come down to guys making plays, and we were making plays the other night.’€

2. Peyton Manning has been without his most reliable option since last month, when the Colts placed tight end Dallas Clark on season-ending injured reserve with a wrist problem. (Indianapolis has put 12 players on season-ending IR this year.) The two, who former one of the most prolific quarterback/tight end combos in NFL history ‘€” they have paired for 44 touchdown passes, one behind all-time leaders and former Patriots’€™ Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates ‘€” have tormented the Patriots over the years.

But on Sunday, the Patriots will see an all new offense, including Jacob Tamme, a 25-year-old who has stepped in at tight end in place of Clark this season and has 24 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns. (Tamme was reportedly a little dinged up in Sunday’s win over the Bengals.)

According to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the Colts haven’€™t made many changes to their offense since Clark went down. While they still lean heavily on wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Belichick said they still run the same offense they have in the past, a grouping that includes new faces like Tamme and a handful of other relatively anonymous pass catchers.

‘€œ[Jacob] Tamme’€™s done a good job for them there. They’€™ve really played four different tight ends, primarily three, after Clark, so, they use a lot of different people, different combinations,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œIt comes down to team offense. They’€™re effective moving the ball regardless of who the tight end is or who anybody is. [If] you take something away from them, they find somewhere else to go.

‘€œClark did a great job for them, but Tamme’€™s stepped in and done a good job. They’€™ve gotten production from their other receivers, from [Austin] Collie, [Pierre] Garcon and I know other guys they’€™ve used in there, as well. Blair White‘€™s done a good job for them. They’€™re definitely able to use their other tight ends: [Brody] Eldridge and [Gijon] Robinson. They’€™re able to still continue to make the defense defend everything, take the play and go to the weak spots that the defense gives them.’€

3. ‘€œStats are for losers. The final score is for winners.’€ When Belichick uttered this phrase late last season, it was as close to a Lombardi-like proclamation as you were going to get from the Patriots coach. However, he expanded on that a little bit in his conference call on Tuesday, explaining why it’€™s difficult to look at numbers and know if they have meaning or not ‘€” especially considering the fact that New England is 19th in total offense, but is first in total points and points per game.

‘€œWell, I think [all numbers] have meaning; it’€™s just the priority of the stats,’€ he said. ‘€œWins [are] number one. Points is number two, because that correlates to winning. And then you get to the things that correlate to scoring, which [are] red area, big plays, and third down becomes a part of that because of being able to sustain drives and that type of things. But if you make big plays, then third down becomes less important.

‘€œYou can offset any good numbers with bad numbers. You can offset bad numbers with good numbers, but in the end, it’€™s about getting points on the board and keeping them off.’€

4. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio talked a little bit about the curious case of cornerback Darius Butler, who has slid steadily down the depth chart as the season has continued to the point where he was a healthy scratch on Sunday night against Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old Butler, a second-round pick of the Patriots in the 2009 draft, started the year as a No. 1 corner, but has seen his playing time decrease steadily since a Week 2 loss to the Jets, and was left on the sidelines on Sunday, as New England went with just three cornerbacks against the Steelers.

‘€œIt’€™s a week-to-week thing,’€ Caserio said of Butler’€™s situation. ‘€œCertain players are going to be active for the game, and it’€™s a week-to-week thing. The most important thing is to come in and work hard to prepare for the game. We like Darius. He’€™s on the team. Anybody that’€™s in our program we believe in and have faith in.

‘€œThe reality is you only have X amount of players that you can bring to the game, so I think when Darius is called upon and he is given the opportunity, the most important thing for him is to be prepared. We’€™re happy that we have Darius and that he’€™s here and we’€™re going to continue working with him.’€

5. Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs engaged in a bizarre analogy when talking about the Patriots on Monday, saying they remind him of the Kirsten Dunst-led cheerleading team in the movie Bring It On. Suggs was asked if the Ravens did the Patriots a favor by beating the Steelers, and he went and got all Roger Ebert.

‘€œIt was bittersweet,’€ Suggs told Baltimoreravens.com. ‘€œI was thinking [Sunday] night like, you know, if the Patriots were a movie, they would be Bring It On. The Rancho Cucamonga, the cheerleaders. They’€™d be like ‘€˜Yeah, they’€™re a good team, but their championships are fake.’€

Suggs has never been shy about taking shots at the Patriots. In the wake of New England’€™s win over Baltimore earlier this season, Suggs warned that Brady ‘€œjust better hope he doesn’€™t see us again.’€ Brady, who could be seen jawing with Suggs during the game, took a shot at the linebacker the following day, telling WEEI that Suggs ‘€œhad his chance.’€

‘€œMaybe if he gets another chance he can try to back those words up,’€ Brady said then. ‘€œBut he had a chance yesterday. You know, we’€™ve played guys a lot, and they’€™ve beat us one time in all the times that I’€™ve played them. They talk a lot for beating us once in nine years.’€

Read More: Ben Coates, Bill Barnwell, Bill Belichick, Dallas Clark
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