NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Efficient and prolific are seldom seen in the same sentence.
Tom Brady was both against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. The 37-year-old quarterback operated a short-tempered New England Patriots offense with brevity on the way to completing 30 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns.
In doing so, the 14-year pro crossed all three passing thresholds for the third time in his career and first time since 2007, according to Pro Football Reference.
Brady could have crossed more had he stayed in for the final 5:15, only New England’s collective performance at Gillette Stadium did not require him to. The offensive line preserved ground, the rushing committee gained ground, and the defense broke ground, affording second-round quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a call from the bullpen with a 25-point lead in hand.
And with that, after 68 snaps of command, No. 12 headed to the dugout just shy of pitching all nine innings. He headed off without that final strikeout to seal it all into memory. But he didn’t need it; Brady’s 100th regular-season start in Foxborough was a near-perfect game to those who saw it.
Five incompletions over his 35 attempts were all that stood in the way.
Brady worked the short game, going 4-of-5 on quick screens that began behind the line of scrimmage. He worked the intermediate, going 17-of-21 on throws that traveled under 10 yards through the air past the line. And he worked the ball beyond the markers, going a perfect 9-of-9 on throws over 10 yards.
The six recipients amassed the rest, picking up 162 yards after the catch.
Yet there is something to be said for the position they were put in to do so. Brady threw his targets into their respective runways down the field. He led them in their routes, even when the yards after weren’t necessary on four touchdowns down in the red zone.
It was there, inside the Chicago 20-yard line, that Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for two of the “Y” tight end’s three scores. And it was there that he hit “F” tight end Tim Wright and “X” wideout Brandon LaFell for two more. All of which took place from the left hash marks to the boundary line, yet all of which were rooted in the same anticipation and touch to connect.
It was a similar case for the ones that didn’t connect.
Brady’s 30-of-35 game brought an 85.7 completion percentage along with it. Even so, those three digits also bring context. And it’s because even the five throws that weren’t there almost were.
The first of which arrived with under six minutes to go in the first quarter, a 1st-and-10 throw to Shane Vereen out of a play-action fake reverse. The tailback swung up the right sideline, and Brady found him six yards deep.
Chicago’s Tim Jennings closed from four yards deep as Vereen harnessed the football.
But before the cornerback could make his presence felt physically, he already did visually. Vereen’s eyes glanced up as the ball fell down, ending Brady’s completion streak at four with a drop.
He and the offense would start another one, landing the next five throws before a defensive pass interference call on Bears corner Al Louis-Jean wiped out an incompletion to LaFell.
In the books, however, Brady and the offense went on to complete nine straight, prior to a 2nd-and-14 with 4:38 left in the second quarter. Under those circumstances, the Patriots turned to three receivers and “11” personnel, while Brady turned to Julian Edelman.
Yet the flanker receiver did not turn back to him. Whether it was a miscommunication on the depth of the comeback route, or an early throwaway after less than two seconds in the pocket, the result was the same.
Three plays later, following a 17-yard toss to Gronkowski and a 17-yard run by halfback Jonas Gray, Brady was looking for different results when he went back to Edelman.
On a 1st-and-10 from the 50, the nine-time Pro Bowler handled the snap and immediately released it to the 100-catch, 1,000-yard receiver, who was slipping out of the slot on a quick screen.
Yet as that screen got underway and the ball got into Edelman’s upward palms, it soon flipped out.
Even so, the drop did not stall New England’s movement. Brady proceeded to find his route-runners for two touchdowns before one of his passes found the turf again.
It was 1st-and-10 with 13:26 remaining in the third frame when one did. Brady took the shotgun snap at midfield after making a check at the line. Concurrently, Edelman released from the slot on a five-yard out.
He planted back to the ball as he crossed the numbers, clutching the pass at his waist as he lifted his front leg to point upfield.
The order of operations hindered Edelman from holding onto the ball. It dropped out of his grasp before Louis-Jean and linebacker Shea McClellin intruded.
Two plays later, Gronkowski broke across the middle and caught a pass 12 yards past the line of scrimmage, ultimately taking it 34 more yards for his second career three-touchdown game.
The Patriots took a 45-7 lead with 12:32 left in the third as a byproduct. It wasn’t until the score read 45-15, with 10:08 to play in the fourth, that New England would concede another incompletion.
It was 3rd-and-6 inside Chicago’s own 10.
Vereen, aligned wide right, motioned inward as Brady retrieved the snap from fourth-round center Bryan Stork. The back slanted up and in between the hashes, thenceforth, and the QB went his way.
Bears rookie linebacker Christian Jones followed, undercutting the route. The 6’3”, 240-pound Florida State product would not keep the ball from reaching Vereen’s hands, but he would keep it from staying there.
The collision sent the ball out and New England’s field-goal unit in.
The next time the offense appeared on the field for another drive, Brady’s final one had been played. His Week 8 was complete. It would soon be for his teammates in all three phases, even if it wasn’t perfect.
There were three drops, an in-traffic incompletion and a miscommunication that glared offensively along the way, but all five of the lapses gave way to points in the 51-23 victory.
They were efficient. They were prolific. And in the process, Brady and the Patriots’ passing game proved that sometimes, they’re the same thing.