If it's possible for a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback of a 10-1 team be flying under the radar and quietly having a strong season, Patriots signal caller Tom Brady is that man. The reason for that, though, might just be that 2004 seems to be the year of the quarterback.
Brady is on pace to throw for a career-high 3,800 yards despite a pace that would have him throw only 490 passes as compared to the 527 he threw last year and the 601 he threw in 2002. His 7.76 yards per attempt is almost a full yard higher than any other season in his career and he is on pace to finish with 26 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Through 11 games, he has a career-best 91.3 passer rating and has improved his overall record as a starter to 44-13, which balloons to 5-13 if his 6-0 postseason record is factored in.
But despite those numbers, Brady has only the 11th-best passer rating in the NFL. Guys like Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Brees and Donovan McNabb seem to be stealing all the headlines because of their amazing seasons. And the fact of the matter is that Brady is not having the type of statistical season that those players are having and he has rarely had to lead a fourth quarter or overtime comeback as he did seven times last year. New England has only been tied or behind entering the fourth quarter twice so far this season, one ended in a win at Buffalo and the other a loss at Pittsburgh.
"I think Peyton is having a great year," Brady said. "A guy like Daunte Culpepper, it seems like he is having a great year. Trent Green, Brett Favre - I think there are a lot of good quarterbacks. I don't know why so many are so productive. Some years it's a defensive style. A couple of years ago, the most touchdown passes in the league was 28 and this year Peyton has 41 with five games left. Some quarterbacks are having really nice years."
Coach Bill Belichick claims he doesn't pay attention to statistics all that much, but rather wins and losses.
"I wasn't aware of (that so many quarterbacks were playing better than their normal season)," Belichick said. "I really don't have a big reaction to it. In Tom's case, I'm not concerned about his stats, but our wins. Obviously his performance, and to a degree those numbers, will have a bearing on it. But the most important thing is how he manages the team and is able to lead on game days.
"He does an outstanding job of adjusting to game situations, be it the weather, the field conditions, the score, the specific situation that comes about in a particular game and he handles that extremely well, whatever they are."
Brady certainly has been at his best over the years when the pressure is greatest, which is why he owns a pair of Super Bowl MVP trophies, but this year, as he has changed his game to include more control at the line of scrimmage and more downfield passing, he has continued to produce and win.
It will be interesting to see if Brady is playing in his second Pro Bowl in a couple of months. Manning is a lock and Brees has to go as well. That will leave Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Green and Jake Plummer battling for that last spot.
Asked whether the odds are stacked against a rookie making his first start against the Patriots, 10-1, McCown answered plainly.
"I think the odds are stacked against anybody playing the Patriots," he said. "Those guys are really good. You have to be on your toes every snap. The way they run that defense is mind-boggling.
"You have to be confident in what you're doing as an offense. It's more about knowing what we're going to do than knowing what they're going to do against us."
There is still an outside chance Garcia or Holcomb could play, but the odds of either recovering by Sunday are slim. Holcomb did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Garcia took some snaps Thursday and did some limited throwing. Coach Terry Robiskie said he wanted Garcia to keep the passes short so he wouldn't strain the injured shoulder, but Garcia cut loose with a couple deep throws, Robiskie said.
McCown's only regular season pass was an incomplete Hail Mary at the end of the Dallas game the second week of the season. Statistically he was the Browns' best quarterback in preseason; he completed 24 of 42 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns. He threw one interception and had a quarterback rating of 105.5. His 34-yard touchdown pass to Richard Alston on a scrambling rollout to the right with no time left on the clock gave the Browns a 21-19 victory over the Chiefs in the third preseason game. He threw a touchdown pass to Darnell Sanders with 3:40 left in the game to cut the Chiefs' 12-point lead to 19-14.
McCown's style resembles Garcia's more than it resembles Holcomb's. He won't bail from the pocket as quickly as Garcia does, but if the Patriots pass rush gets hot he is fast enough to run from trouble. The Patriots have 34 sacks. The Browns have given up 27 sacks.