In what will almost surely be his last career game in Minnesota, Tom Brady is coming to town and, as the game draws nearer, he will become more of the media focus … for good reason. He’s been the primary focus of the Vikings defense since about the time they boarded the plane to leave St. Louis late Sunday afternoon.
Whether you like him or you hate him, you have to respect Brady. He isn’t just in the conversation of the greatest quarterbacks of his era. He’s in the conversation of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Not always blessed with a wealth of receiving talent, it’s hard to argue the success rate.
As the Vikings have been breaking down film, their defensive players have been getting more visual evidence as to why Brady is so good. Several Vikings stated the case why there is legitimate reason for concern Sunday.
As a defensive end, Brian Robison knows that he only has about three seconds from the snap to get to Brady because he has an uncanny ability to process information on the fly, even when the anticipated target of a pass isn’t available to him.
“His knowledge of the game is unreal,” Robison said. “The bottom line is that he’ll make his check-downs so fast. He will look off three or four guys and hit his fifth read within a couple of seconds. The fact that he has such knowledge like that so quickly and so accurately while keeping his eyes off the pass rush makes him an outstanding quarterback.”
No Viking has played against Brady more than defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Between preseason games, regular season games and one epic Super Bowl, he has gone up against Brady more than any other Vikings defender, so he knows from where he speaks. Brady’s talent forced him to elevate his game to the point of needing a couple of days recovery time from the effort he put out – which speaks volumes to the respect Brady has earned.
“He’s such a student of the game,” Joseph said. “I’ve played against Tom Brady six times in my career. Every time we play him, I put everything on the line. By the time the game is over, I’m exhausted. He reads defenses very well and he sees the game in slow motion. There are times when you can do everything right as a defense and he will still make the play on you. There aren’t many that can do that.”
When Brady took over the reins of the Patriots offense, he didn’t have a plethora of elite receivers. He had a bunch of No. 2 and 3 guys. When he got Randy Moss, he broke every existing passing record that was on the books. Over the last several seasons, his receiver corps has undergone significant change as veterans have left and young, lesser replacements have taken their place.
Chad Greenway was the only Vikings defender who was on the team when Brady made his only previous start in Minnesota. He was on the sidelines watching a Halloween eve prime time game at the Metrodome. At the time, the Vikings had the best run defense in the NFL, so Brady and Bill Belichick opted to come out throwing … and throwing … and throwing.
Of their first 18 plays, 17 of them were passes. Brady finished the game completing 29 of 43 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout win that humbled the Vikings and tipped other teams how to attack them. Greenway remembers that night and his respect for Brady has done nothing but grow since then.
“He’s in constant control of what he wants to do with his offense,” Greenway said. “He makes you react and respond to what he’s doing and he has a knack of looking you off your spot and he doesn’t need a big window to deliver a pass and he usually puts it right where it has to be.”
On the flip side are those players who have never faced Brady. Second-year pro Xavier Rhodes took immediate notice of New England on the 2014 schedule and he knows that he will be in No. 12’s crosshairs often on Sunday if he recovers from a groin injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday.
Rhodes has made big strides in his second season, but he is aware that Brady might be the most daunting quarterback he has faced to date.
“Tom Brady is a Hall of Fame quarterback for a reason,” Rhodes said. “He makes the right decisions at the right times. You really have to mind your P’s and Q’s when you play him because if you get out of position, he’ll see it and take advantage of it.”
While he has never been viewed as a gunslinger per se, Brady takes risks and throws passes into tight windows quarterbacks with less confidence wouldn’t even attempt. He’s adept at using play-action, pump fakes and his eyes to get defenders to make one misstep, and linebacker Jasper Brinkley is acutely aware that he will be one of Brady’s misdirection targets.
“He plays the game from the top down,” Brinkley said. “It first starts with the mental (aspect). You can tell he’s a very intelligent guy. He knows where the pressure is coming from, he watches the safeties and he makes offensive adjustments. Any time you have a quarterback that can do that, great things are going to happen for your offense.”
The Patriots of recent vintage have a theory that they don’t lose two games in a row. After losing Week 1 at Miami, the Vikings will be looking to buck a trend most haven’t. In the last 19 games following a Patriots loss, they’ve won 18 of them.
But as the Viking defense looks to make its own mark in the 2014 NFL, players like cornerback Captain Munnerlyn want to face Brady. As wrestling legend Ric Flair famously said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” While Brady is “the man” by any measure given to a quarterback, the Vikings are looking to establish their own legacy and nothing would build their confidence more than to take down a legend and improve to 2-0.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL,” Munnerlyn said. “To me, he is the best. I get excited just to go out there and compete against him. I’m a competitive person. That’s something I like to do – compete against the best. It makes you better.”
Whether the Vikings can take down Brady and the Patriots or not will play out Sunday afternoon, but one thing is certain – they’re going to have their eyes wide open because Brady has left the field a winner many, many more times than he’s left on the wrong end of a football game.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings defenders project respect for Brady
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