Commentary

Tom Brady is better than ever, Jets say

It's hard to top Brady's '07 season, but Gang Green say he has -- without Randy Moss

Updated: January 13, 2011, 3:36 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Tom Brady's 2007 season has often been called the best year any quarterback has ever had.

But if you play the then-versus-now game with New York Jets defenders who went back to work Tuesday to prepare to face the New England Patriots on Sunday in the AFC divisional playoffs, and ask them which Brady was more impressive -- the 2007 big-play QB who threw for a league-record 50 touchdown passes for a team that didn't lose until the Super Bowl, or today's version who has now gone 355 passes without an interception -- the Jets all quickly said they know which Brady they would pick.

"The streak of 355 passes this year without an interception is probably more impressive," linebacker Bryan Thomas said.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireTom Brady lost his most talented receiver this season, and didn't miss a beat.

"He really did that -- 355 straight without a pick? I mean, that -- that's just amazing," safety Eric Smith said. Then Smith blinked, thought about it a second, and repeated, "His streak is really 355 straight?"

"I'd probably pick the streak of 355 passes too," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "That's hard to do in this league, and he's making it look like a cakewalk."

The idea that Brady may actually be having a better season now than he did in 2007 doesn't get talked about much. But when you look at the big picture -- the quantitative, qualitative and anecdotal evidence -- there's a strong argument to be made that Brady has been even better this season than when the Pats finished the regular season 16-0.

This season, New England went 14-2 even though the offense was overhauled on the fly. Half of the receivers Brady is throwing to now have changed since midseason -- a far cry from when he and Randy Moss were strafing the league for too many NFL records to list in '07. Instead of having his performance dip after Bill Belichick traded away Moss in early October rather than put up with Moss' antics anymore, Brady orchestrated the unexpected.

"I actually think they're more dangerous now," safety Dwight Lowery said Tuesday. "Because they're so balanced they're actually more difficult to cover. They throw to five guys on any given play now."

Brady has now gone 11 straight games without throwing an interception. The Patriots averaged 32.3 points per game this season against the top-10-ranked defenses they faced (which included the No. 3 Jets). Their average margin of victory -- 21.8 points -- is better than any of the four previous Patriots teams that made it to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots also finished this season with eight straight wins, and they topped 30 points in all eight of those games -- tying a record also achieved by the '07 Pats and the 2000 St. Louis Rams.

Still, nobody is calling this team The Greatest Show On Turf, like that Rams team was. Greatest Show of Smurfs? Maybe.

Lowery said 5-foot-7 ex-Jet Danny Woodhead and 5-foot-9 Deion Branch have joined 5-foot-9 Wes Welker to give Brady some of the most maddening underneath threats in the NFL for defenses to cover. BenJarvus Green-Ellis replaced Laurence Maroney at running back and combined with Woodhead to give the Pats a running back tandem that accounted for more than 1,000 yards rushing. Instead of Moss, Brady now is throwing downfield patterns to two rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who have combined for 16 touchdowns.

The Jets said having faced the Patriots just a month ago will help this time around, even though the 45-3 score was as lopsided as it was.

They also said the suggestion that the Patriots offense is unrecognizable compared to the one they've run in recent years isn't quite right. Longtime Jets say the names have changed but the Patriots' concepts haven't.

The Patriots and Brady are always looking to create matchups they can exploit, same as they ever have. The versatility they've shown is another signature of every Brady-Belichick team the Jets have faced in recent years.

And Brady makes it all work.

But, better than 2007? Better than ever, given all the changes and who he's now throwing to?

Nodding now, Lowery said, "You could say that."

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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