Brady scaring AFC again

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – When Tom Brady was overlooked in this year’s Pro Bowl voting, his reaction demonstrated exactly what he is all about.

“There’s only one bowl I’m interested in and it’s not the Pro Bowl,” he said.

After Sunday’s win over the New York Jets, the New England Patriots’ star quarterback is two wins away from getting back to that Bowl for the fourth time. He’s 3-0 in the Super Bowl and now is 11-1 in playoff games, the main reason the lowest-seeded team of the four left in the AFC might be the scariest.

In fact, San Diego, Baltimore and Indianapolis saw what they knew – and possible feared they’d see – in the Patriots’ 37-16 win over the Jets: 22-for-34 for 212 yards and two touchdowns as Brady simply picked apart a team that battered him less than two months ago at the same venue, when New York won 17-14.

That’s classic Brady: resilient and remarkably consistent.

In six seasons as New England’s starter, his passer rating has been between 85.7 (2002) and 92.6, and his touchdown to interception ratio just about 2-1. He was right there this season despite a receiving corps that might have been the worst of any playoff team’s: an 87.9 rating with 24 TDs and 12 interceptions.

That makes the Pro Bowl slight even more curious, although Pro Bowl selections normally are curious by definition. The other AFC QBs are Peyton Manning (automatic), Carson Palmer (OK) and Philip Rivers of the Chargers, who is in his first season as a starter and slid a bit toward the end of the season.

Anyone want to bet Marty Schottenheimer would rather have Brady than Rivers when his Chargers (14-2 in the regular season) play host next Sunday to the Patriots?

One simple stat from Sunday’s game illustrates how good Brady is. Jabar Gaffney, unemployed until October, had eight catches for 104 yards after having only 11 all season and just a single 100-yard game since 2001.

In fact, pedestrian receivers or worse are who Brady has thrown to this season after the departures of David Givens and Deion Branch, his regular targets in the Super Bowl seasons. Reche Caldwell, who led the team with 61 receptions, is at best a No. 2 receiver and probably a No. 3. Troy Brown is 35, the senior Patriot in length of service, but rarely more than a third receiver, return man and occasional cornerback.

In fact, his most reliable pass catchers are the two tight ends, Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham and the third-down back, Kevin Faulk. Graham and Faulk caught his TD passes on Sunday.

“Tom has been harping all year that if we get open, he’s going to get us the ball,” Graham said after the game. “Today it was Jabar’s day.”

Says Caldwell:

“When we need key plays he makes them. Even if he had to run, whatever it takes to get us into position to win the ballgame, that’s what he’s going to do when he’s out there.”

Run?

That’s what happened in the 17-13 win over Chicago on Nov. 26. With the game tied at 10 in the fourth quarter, Brady took off on a third-and-9 from the Bears 14, getting a first down by dodging the fearsome Brian Urlacher, last year’s defensive player of the year and an All-Pro this season. Then he threw a 2-yard TD pass to Watson for the go-ahead score.

Against the Jets on Sunday, it was as much his mastery of the offense as his skills as a passer or runner that won the game.

“As a quarterback you always like it when the defense is off-balance,” he said. “I think we got into a situation where we were forcing them to get their stuff called and lined up the right way or else they were going to have a hard time stopping us. I think, at times, we really forced the issue on them.”

Said modestly, of course. With little hint that few other quarterbacks can get a defense off-balance the way Brady can.

“He’s the field general,” Watson says. “He never sits down when we’re off the field and he’s always rallying the troops. He’s a fiery guy and a great competitor. He was locked in from the beginning. He lets us hear it when we don’t do stuff right, but it’s constructive and we know he just wants to win. When I was in college, he was out here winning Super Bowls, so there’s no quarterback I’d rather have.”

Especially in the playoffs. The Pro Bowl?

Who cares.

AP-ES-01-08-07 1707EST

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