Sunday, October 14, 2007
Even Moss impressed by Brady's five-TD game
By John Clayton ESPN.com
IRVING, Texas -- Randy Moss is no stranger to NFL offensive juggernauts. He played for the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings, a team that set the NFL record for most points in a season. He played with Daunte Culpepper the year he threw 39 touchdown passes.
So when Moss says Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the best quarterback he has ever played with -- a declaration that Moss made, in a rare media appearance, about an hour after Brady had shredded the high-paid Dallas Cowboys secondary for a career-high five TD passes in Sunday's 48-27 win -- you tend to sit up and take notice.
Tom Brady's key targets in Sunday's win included ...
"I don't just say that because I'm here with Tom," Moss said. "I've always been a big fan of his. I've always had the saying that Peyton Manning has his wide receivers, why can't Tom have his?
"Now that Tom has his, we'll see."
What the NFL is seeing is history in the making. Brady has 21 touchdown passes in six games, putting him on pace to throw 56 TD passes, seven more than Manning's record of 49. Brady is completing 72.5 percent of his passes, which could shatter Ken Anderson's completion record of 70.55 set in 1982. Brady's current quarterback rating of 128.9 tops Manning's 121.1 season record set in 2004.
With the Patriots off to a 6-0 start and having just knocked off the NFC's last unbeaten team, Brady is the league's MVP -- hands down.
Of course, it helps that Brady has his bunch of receivers just as Manning has Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark et al. Against the Cowboys, he used them all but used them differently in surgically dissecting a Cowboys secondary that was missing cornerback Anthony Henry.
Instead of using four- and five-receiver sets, the Patriots mixed in mostly three-receiver or two-receiver/two-tight-end formations. Occasionally, they would max protect with extra tight ends or running backs and have Moss as the lone wide receiver.
Whatever they did, it worked. And the kicker? It could've been even better.
Take the game's opening moments. The Patriots started with two tight ends and two receivers and tried a flea-flicker on the first play. Moss went deep, but Brady missed him. It wasn't the only time Brady misfired on long attempts. "I wish I could have hit of few of them," Brady lamented.
Still, that first incompletion set the stage and sent a message. He was going to go deep in Big D.
... Wes Welker (11 catches vs. Dallas), who has emerged as one of Brady's main targets ...
And he was going to get everyone involved.
Sunday afternoon was an example of what Brady can do with all his receivers. Wes Welker was the zone buster, using his shifting moves out of the slot to catch 11 passes for 124 yards. Donte' Stallworth mixed quick screens, crossing routes and some deep throws for a seven-catch, 136-yard day.
"It's just part of the plan," said Brady, who completed 31 of 46 passes for 388 yards. "We do different things each week."
Stallworth talked about the hard work Brady puts into each week. During the week, he studies tape to find tendencies. The idea is to be able to know which receiver will be open based on the coverages. Cowboys coverage dictated that Stallworth and Welker were going to be open more.
On Saturday, Brady holds a players-only meeting with his receivers and the other quarterbacks. No coaches are allowed in that meeting. Brady just wants to be on the same page as his receivers. Obviously, it works. Brady is having the greatest quarterback start in football history.
"We work hard," Moss said. "Tom Brady does not let us lollygag in practice. He wants the best out of us every day. If we can make it happen in practice against the defense that we have, then we can get out there and make things happen against anyone. I'm not saying we are unstoppable, but we work hard at what we do. So expect good things."
Moss said he's having fun being a Patriot. He enjoys the friendship of his new teammates and his relationship with Brady. Although he had just six catches for 59 yards against the Cowboys, he had two touchdowns taken away -- one by replay that ruled he failed to keep both feet in bounds, and another for offensive pass interference. It doesn't matter. He still has 610 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Unlike Terrell Owens, who was spotted on the sideline shouting at his quarterback when things weren't going right, Moss handled everything smoothly. Brady worked a play-action game in which he didn't run much, but he acted out the calls, with Cowboys safeties Ken Hamlin or Roy Williams biting on fakes.
The scary part of the Patriots' 6-0 start is that they really aren't playing their best football. Tackling was a little bit sloppy Sunday. Brady did miss 15 passes. In the third quarter, Patrick Crayton caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to put the Cowboys ahead 24-21.
Only then did the Brady bunch reach another gear the Cowboys could not match, scoring 27 points on the next five possessions -- three touchdowns and two field goals.
So, while Green Bay's Brett Favre is out setting career marks, Brady is chasing Manning's single-season TD record. Not that he cares.
"I haven't thought about that at all," Brady said. "I don't set goals like that. I like team records. I don't set my goals for individual records. That's not what this team is about. What's the difference if you throw it for 1 yard or run it in? It's a touchdown for this offense."
At the end of the game, Brady let backup fullback Kyle Eckel score a 1-yard touchdown instead of notching his 22nd touchdown pass. Eckel is from Navy. It was a tribute to coach Bill Belichick's father, who spent so much of his career at Navy.
There was plenty of hype going into Sunday's duel, but for Brady, it was just another game. Beating Dallas, however, meant a little more to Moss, who was bypassed in the draft by the Cowboys, something he never forgot. But Moss didn't get into TO's silly little battle between Moss' 81 and the supposed real 81 -- Owens.
"For all the negative situations and for all the negative stuff in your columns about what I've done in the past," Moss said to reporters, "and for all the thoughts that I had lost a step, I really didn't think about it during the season. I come to work every day. I love seeing the guys."
Over in the other locker room, the "real" 81, who was limited to six catches for 66 yards, was asked about Moss. "Next question."
Moss shot back with the final words. "We came to Dallas and shut all the naysayers up," he said.
That they did.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.