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Johnny Manziel recounts connection with Tom Brady: ‘Extremely cool’ 02.21.14 at 1:05 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel said Friday he had made a connection with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Speaking with the media at the NFL combine, Manziel said that Brady reached out to him after he texted the New England signal-caller.

“€œFor him to reach back out to me after I extended a text message to him was extremely cool,”€ Manziel said. “€œIt was kind of really funny conversation at first, and worked our way into a little more serious conversation. It was really nice, and very thankful for him to be able to extend a hand out to me in the situation that I’€™m in.

“The big thing was just enjoy the process. He kind of gave me a little joke — if I can teach him how to run like I can, he’€™ll do anything in the world for me. It was pretty funny hearing it from him.”

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Which QB does best job spreading ball around in passing game? 02.18.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Piggybacking on a column we did last year about Tom Brady‘€™s ability to work in new receivers and spread the ball around — and with another full season in the books — we figured we should take another look at some of the league wide numbers when it comes to ball distribution in the passing game.

Using the 250-catch barometer as the mark for involvement, three over-30 veterans continue to set the standard when it comes to getting everyone involved in the passing game, as Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have managed to make stars out a variety of pass catchers on the way to record-setting seasons.

Using numbers culled from Pro Football Reference — which utilizes stats dating back to 1999 — the three are head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacking field when it comes to finding equilibrium in the passing game:

- Since 2001, Brady has completed at least 250 passes in the regular season to four different pass catchers over the course of his 13-year career as a starter: Wes Welker (563), Deion Branch (328), Troy Brown (323) and Kevin Faulk (310). Providing they stay healthy — and, in the case of Julian Edelman, return for 2013 — two more receivers could be added to the mix: Rob Gronkowski had 39 catches in an injury-shortened 2013 season, bringing his total of receptions via Brady to 223. And his 105 catches in 2013 boosted Edelman to 166 career receptions from Brady.

For those of you asking about guys who just missed out on the 250-catch mark with Brady, two jump off the page: one, Randy Moss caught 192 passes from Brady while the two were together in New England, including 98 catches in 2007 and 83 in 2009. And two, Aaron Hernandez finished with 166.

- In that same span, Manning has completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Reggie Wayne (779), Marvin Harrison (677) and Dallas Clark (387). Depending on how long he plays, Denver’€™s Demaryius Thomas could also be part of that group as well — he has 185 catches from Manning over the last two seasons, and could reach 250 in 2014 if he and the quarterback can both stay healthy.

To be fair to Manning, that time frame of 2001-2013 does cut off the first three seasons — from 1998 through 2000 — of his career. As a result, some of his early numbers aren’€™t included, particularly the formative years with Harrison, who had 276 regular-season catches with the Colts in that span. Our cutoff also means the work of an excellent pass-catching back like Edgerrin James goes unrewarded. He caught 230 passes from Manning from 2001-2005 before he departed Indy for the Cardinals. In all, James ended up catching a total of 355 passes from Manning while the two were together from 1999-2005.

- While Brady and Manning have impressive totals, when it comes to finding a variety of targets, they’€™re nowhere near Brees. When you combine his work in San Diego and New Orleans, the 35-year-old has complied at least 250 passes to six different receivers: Marques Colston (605), Lance Moore (346), Jimmy Graham (298 over the last four seasons), Reggie Bush (294), Pierre Thomas (284) and LaDainian Tomlinson (254). And a seventh — Darren Sproles — can hit 250 receptions from Brees in 2014. He’€™s already at 235 catches and counting.

When it comes to the next generation, it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to connect with six different pass catchers for at least 250 receptions. Among the quarterbacks who have been in the league for 7-10 seasons, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has Greg Jennings (324) and Jordy Nelson (252), but just missed out when Donald Driver (241) called it a career. However, his two wild cards are free agents James Jones (216) and Jermichael Finley (214) — if they both return and are healthy, Rodgers is seemingly a lock to get four pass-catchers to 250-plus receptions.

Ben Roethlisberger also has a good chance of getting to four — he’€™s completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Hines Ward (513), Heath Miller (420) and Antonio Brown (250), and could make it four if free agent Emmanuel Sanders (146) ends up sticking around Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Atlanta’€™s Matt Ryan has three, having connected for 250-plus with Roddy White (520), Tony Gonzalez (383) and Harry Douglas (205). And New York‘€™s Eli Manning has Hakeem Nicks (306) and Victor Cruz (241) — he appears to have just missed with Plaxico Burress (244) and Steve Smith (213).

As for the quarterbacks who have between two and five full years in the league, Detroit’€™s Matthew Stafford has found tremendous success with Calvin Johnson (353 catches from Stafford), but Brandon Pettigrew (215) and Nate Burleson (154) are also within hailing distance of the 250-catch mark, providing Burleson somehow makes it back to Detroit. In addition, Indy’€™s Andrew Luck has Wayne (145), T.Y. Hilton (133) and Coby Fleener (78), while Cincinnati’€™s Andy Dalton has benefitted from working with AJ Green (256), Jermaine Gresham (165) and Andrew Hawkins (85).

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Tom Brady’s approach shot sets up nifty eagle at Pebble Beach 02.09.14 at 11:11 am ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have spent the week at Pebble Beach playing golf, and the quarterback was able to connect with a nice approach shot the other day to set up an eagle.

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Rodney Harrison on D&C: Peyton Manning ‘clearly looked rattled’ in Broncos’ Super Bowl loss 02.03.14 at 10:28 am ET
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Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss Peyton Manning and the Broncos‘ loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

After one of the best seasons of his career, Manning had one of his worst games as the Broncos fell to the Seahawks 43-8.

“I think the pressure was just too much,” Harrison said. “I think it was overwhelming for the entire team. You saw from the very first play of the game. When you have two weeks to prepare for a team, you should come out and be able to handle the pressure, especially having that experience.

“I don’€™t know if the expectations were too high or they were just trying to play a perfect game. It was just really sad because to see something like that. I mean as a fan, I’€™m watching, I want a good, competitive game, and it was just flat-out embarrassing.”

“That was a prime example of what Peyton’€™s been struggling with,” Harrison added. “You know, in those big games, those big moments, not being able to come through, and he clearly looked rattled.”

Manning’€™s night started off with a botched snap that went sailing by his helmet before landing in the end zone.

“He didn’t look like the same Peyton Manning that was throwing the ball all over the place this whole entire season, and he just looked different,” Harrison said. “That’€™s what people are going to remember him by.

“People say, ‘€˜OK, the MVPs and the record-setting year he had this year,’€™ but at the end of the day, they’€™re going to look back at this game, and this game is going to haunt him. … This game will haunt him as well as the rest of those guys. The rest of those guys will be fine, but this is something that’€™s going to stick with Peyton.

“This is going to be tattooed next to Manning’€™s name if he doesn’t win another one.”

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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Quarterback 02.01.14 at 11:08 am ET
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Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC championship game for the third consecutive year. (AP)

Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC championship game for the third consecutive year. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Now, it’s time for the quarterback.

Depth chart: Tom Brady (380-for-628, 61 percent, 4,343 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), Ryan Mallett.

Overview: It was perhaps the singular most complicated and complex season for Brady in his professional career, as the New England offense went through multiple looks and different schemes. Wave after wave of different personnel were shuffled through, and some were incredibly important one week and completely irrelevant the next. As a result, it stands to reason why Brady may have had an uneven year — few quarterbacks could have handled the constant rotation, series of injuries and flat-out different looks as well as he did. Because of injuries, week-to-week game-planning, weather conditions and the surprise emergence of some new faces, the Patriots went from an offense seeking an identity to a pass-first group to a run-heavy set, and the quarterback was able to handle it better than most.

There are a lot of reasons why this New England team was able to overachieve on a fairly consistent basis over the course of the year, but if Brady’s not there, there’s no way this team gets as far as it did. There were sizable stretches over the course of the season where he was dominant — November 2013 was one of the finest months of his career — and it’s a tribute to his skills that he was constantly in the MVP discussion despite a relatively subpar statistical year. He had just as many late-game comebacks as he had at any point in his career, and even as he entered his late thirties, he proved his flair for the dramatic was just as keen as it was a decade before.

That being said, there were also large portions of the season where the frustration got to him. No one outside of Gillette Stadium is completely sure how much of the issues were tied to the quarterback, or rookie receivers doing the wrong thing. But stripped of so many of the offensive options he had grown accustomed to over the course of previous year, there were times where he was easily flustered, and other times where he appeared overwhelmed as he was unable to jumpstart an occasionally sluggish New England offense that had a nasty habit of slow starts. And when the team needed him to lift his game to the next level in the AFC title game, he was inconsistent, missing key throws early to Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Austin Collie. That led to an early deficit the Patriots were unable to bounce back from.

Brady leaves a mixed legacy when it comes to the 2013 season. Was it his best year statistically? Certainly not, at least when it comes to his own occasionally ridiculous standards. And there were fits of Marinoesque rage that made him appear small and petty. But at the same time, he was truly great for several key stretches, showing an ability to lift his team through key moments. And despite all the personnel changes, he was able to work the controls of an offense that actually outscored the Broncos over the second half of the regular season. In addition, he played a major role in infusing the 2013 team with a level of mental toughness that hadn’t been seen around Foxboro for the better part of the last decade.

In the end, it was a year of personal and professional growth for the quarterback, who — by his own admission — had to take on a new series of responsibilities in 2013, holding weekly film sessions with the rookie receivers and working as a mentor to several members of his own offense. (It’s odd to think that Aaron Dobson was just 10 years old when Brady and the Patriots beat the Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI.) If he and his charges can learn from the hard lessons of 2013 and apply them going forward, buoyed by the return of Rob Gronkowski, there’s no reason to think that the quarterback and the rest of the offense can’t be even more competitive in 2014.

Best moment: Brady’s four-game stretch — from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1 — was as good a period as any period (statistically) as any series of games over the course of his career. Against the Steelers, Panthers, Broncos and Texans, Brady went 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions — a per game average of 29-for-41 for 358 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.5 INTs. In retrospect, it wasn’t coincidental that this was also the best four-game stretch of the season for Gronkowski.

Worst moment: The Oct. 6 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati was the statistical (and offensive) nadir for Brady and the New England offense. The quarterback was 18-for-38 for 197 yards and a pick. In the midst of a monsoon, a last-minute drive by Brady and the Patriots fells short when he misfired on a late pass attempt. The contest marked the end of Brady’s streak of games with a touchdown pass at 52.

By the numbers: 5. Per Pro Football Reference, Brady led five game-winning drives in 2013. It was tops in the league in 2013, and tied with 2001 for the tops in his career in a single season (As defined by PFR, game-winning drives are defined as an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime led by the quarterback that puts the team ahead for the last time.)

Money quote: ‘€œIn my opinion, [it'€™s] by far the most impressive performance in any season that Tom has had. I know the numbers are not Tom Brady-like numbers. But based on the situation, the cast around him, the fact he is more of a player-coach, which is always tough; you’€™re teaching in the huddle, at the line, getting guys lined up. It is a testament to how good he really is.’€ — Former MVP Brett Favre, speaking with NFL Network on Brady’s 2013 season

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Steve Young on M&M: Postseason record would drive Peyton Manning ‘crazy’ if he loses Sunday 01.31.14 at 1:52 pm ET
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Steve Young

Steve Young

Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss quarterback legacies. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Many in the media have argued whether or not Peyton Manning will solidify his spot as the best quarterback of all time if he wins the Super Bowl this weekend.

“You can say, ‘€˜Oh, it’€™s just perception and truly teams go to the Super Bowl,’ ” Young said. “It doesn’t matter. That’€™s what it is. … I think Peyton at this point recognizes he laid it all out here in the seasons he’€™s had, but I think that he’€™s getting sick of hearing about his postseason record. The Super Bowl championship would stop that part of it.

“That’€™s the part of life that never goes away, even 15 years after I played, there are things that happened that I still hear about because they happened and I can’€™t stop it. Peyton would not want to retire and always hear about his postseason record. It would drive him crazy.”

For Young, Tom Brady is a great quarterback because of the way he plays even without strong weapons on the field with him.

“Tom has done more with less than anyone who ever played,” Young said. “He is a master, and it’€™s remarkable. Literally during the season, there are games I can’€™t believe what he just did with what he had. You can say that’€™s a fault of the GM or injuries or bad luck. It doesn’t really matter, that’€™s just a fact. That’€™s part of the equation when you talk about greatness — what did you do with the guys you had?

“To me, this season was one of the more remarkable ones that I’ve seen Tom over the remarkable career he’€™s had, and it’€™s unfortunate because if you have those steady weapons, you look at what Peyton’€™s doing with his steady weapons and you have consistency and you’ve got not a lot of turnover in the era of free agency.

“It’€™s hard for me to watch the greatest generation not get the support they really need.”

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Peter King on M&M: ‘I think they owe it to Tom Brady to get a lot better at the receiver position’ at 1:12 pm ET
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Peter King

Peter King

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King checked in with Mut & Merloni from Super Bowl Radio Row to preview Sunday’s game and discuss Patriots offseason news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“I picked the Broncos, but look, if [the Seahawks] pick [Peyton] Manning off two or three times, they’re going to win,” King said. “I think one of the things you’ll see on Sunday — and I talked to Peyton a little bit about this yesterday, I had a few minutes with him after practice — I think Peyton Manning right now when he looks at this game what he sees is five-wide receiver formations, or five-receiver formations, maybe with Jacob Tamme or Andre Caldwell in the game. Spread, spread, spread. And just challenge Seattle to cover every guy so that he can’t find a window with any of the five guys. In my opinion, I think that’s the way they’re going to play it, and I think that’s smart.

“And then on Seattle’s side, I think Seattle is going to try to get Marshawn Lynch, and they’re going to try to run well and run the clock so that Manning only gets eight possessions. I think Seattle feels like, ‘We cannot give Manning the ball 11 times. If we do, we’re not going to win.’ ”

Touching on the Patriots, King said the primary need is obvious, but he said a trade for a big-name wide receiver appears unlikely.

“I see that it’s much more likely, at least in my mind, for them to draft and develop a receiver,” King said. “But I will say this: There are going to be a bunch of receivers who you can get. I think my feeling is they need to get younger and better at wide receiver, and I’m not sure the way to do that is by spending $12 million a year on a guy.”

King agreed that the team needs to surround Tom Brady with better talent.

“Especially after he did them — and no matter what anybody says, Brady did them a favor last year [by renegotiating]. And Brady will eventually, over the life of this contract, I believe, make less money than he could have — certainly than he could have. And he did that for a very simple reason: He wanted the team around him to be better. And look, some of this is circumstantial. Because there’s absolutely nothing that they could have done about this. Absolutely nothing.”

“And I think when you look at what has happened in the NFL now, you’re talking about a window. You look at what, to me, what the Denver Broncos did for Peyton Manning. He had a great situation going. And they said, ‘Oh, my God, two years [$]12 million for [Wes] Welker?’ ”

Added King: “I’m not saying that the Patriots have to go out and do something splashy like that. All I’m saying is that I think they owe it to Tom Brady to get a lot better at the receiver position.”

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