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Tom Brady and the definition of greatness

09.18.11 at 10:40 pm ET
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Tom Brady leads the NFL with 940 passing yards. (AP)

Tom Brady leads the NFL with 940 passing yards. (AP)

“I mean, he’s a good football player. Period. Brady is Brady, I’m not going to sit up here and stroke the player, you know? He’s exactly what we thought he was going to be – nothing more, nothing less. That’s Tom Brady.”

- Takeo Spikes

Measuring greatness is a tricky thing. It’s almost impossible to define.

But here’s a pretty good rule of thumb: If a guy completes 31-of-40 passes for 423 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions and it isn’t anything close to a surprise to anyone we’ve officially entered Quarterbacking Greatness.

There is that rarefied air of greatness with quarterbacks (we know the names) and there is something else. And Tom Brady is now at Somewhere Else, Population 1.

In his last 10 regular-season games Brady has thrown 29 TD passes and one interception. We’re spoiled (seven titles in 10 years will do that) but we all understand that isn’t supposed to happen, right? Forty-three touchdowns against five interceptions since the start of the 2010 season? His passer rating in those 10 games? 117.4, 123.1, 158.3, 148.8, 113.4, 110.2, 107.0 (his worst rating came in a game where he had three TD passes and zero INT’s — did I mention Population 1?), 145.6, 121.6 (Miami on Monday) and 135.7 (vs. San Diego on Sunday). Put it another way: This isn’t Luke McCown we’re talking about (McCown had four interceptions in 19 attempts on Sunday, or one fewer than Brady in his last 580 attempts).

Brady was the unanimous MVP last season, and was it ever an easy choice. As great as he was in 2007, you could make the argument that he was better in 2010 (winning 14 games with two undrafted guys at running back, a couple of rookie tight ends and nothing approaching a 2007-level Randy Moss as an option at wide receiver).

And as great as he was in 2010, he has made another leap in 2011.

Brady is the first player in NFL history to follow up a 500-yard passing game with a 400-yard passing game (his 940 yards after two weeks is the most in league history, obviously). Look, Miami is on a collision course with 2-14, so you can write that performance off if you want, but the Chargers led the NFL in total defense last season and held Donovan McNabb to 39 yards passing in Week 1.

By any conservative standard, this was a top 10 defense Brady was readying to face at 4:15 on Sunday. He had the scalpel and scrubs on from the start, leading the Patriots on a 92-yard opening TD drive (he was 6-of-7 for 78 yards and the TD pass to Aaron Hernandez).

Pretty Good Rule of Thumb II: When your quarterback starts a drive at his own one-yard line and you expect him to go 99 yards, we’ve again had a smooth landing in Immortal City. Come on, did anyone expect the Patriots to go three-and-out after the Jerod Mayo goal-line tackle on Mike Tolbert? If you want to see the best player at his position at the absolute peak of his powers, watch that second-quarter 99-yard drive again. Brady completed all six of his passes (to five different receivers). He connected on the short stuff, the deep ball (a 30-yard bullet to Ochocinco), made plays with plenty of time (which to be fair has been almost the norm to this point in 2011) and with pressure (see the TD pass to Rob Gronkowski).

“The sky is the limit,” said Deion Branch (eight catches, 129 yards) when asked how the work of Brady over the first two weeks of the season. “Tom puts us up for the challenge in practice, so the expectation is what’s going on the football field during the game.”

We all know that Brady is at the point of his career (and place in history) where he will only be judged by how many more Super Bowls he wins. All that separates him from Joe Montana is one Lombardi Trophy. What we’ve seen so far this season is awe-inspiring (sorry, Tedy — I’ll get into my playbook right after this is done) but he could throw for 7,520 yards and 56 TD’s this season (his current pace) and it really won’t mean much if it ends the way the last two seasons concluded. We get that, and so does Brady — that’s life on Mt. Rushmore.

But when it comes to 2011, all we have are two games, 940 yards passing and seven touchdown passes. The greatest two-game stretch of quarterbacking in NFL history.

Turns out that wasn’t so hard to define.

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