By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Tom Brady is ridiculous. Tom Brady's been ridiculous.
You know this. You've known this.
And yet, I can't help but shake the feeling that as a whole, we are all doing a poor job of properly digesting what he is doing on the football field this year. Thursday night provided the emphasis.
Just four days after Brady single-handedly defeated the No. 1 defense in the NFL, Brady took the wind out of the sails of the hyper-confident Dolphins in a 36-7 smackdown at Gillette. Brady topped 350 yards passing for the fourth time this season. He threw four touchdowns for the second time. And for the sixth time in seven games, he threw zero interceptions.
Through seven games, he's averaging 344 yards per game, and he's thrown 20 touchdowns to just one interception. He's averaging 8.3 yards per attempt ... which is exactly what he averaged back in 2007. While there's still a lot of season left, and while he'll play six games in cold weather after mid-November, he is averaging 44 more passing yards per game now than he did back in '07, when he was 30 years old.
The fact that he's doing this at 38 years old is one thing, and the stats are another. But it's really just the dominance in games that is most remarkable. You could pluck somebody out of the northernmost tip of Finland who's never watched football and doesn't know the rules, and you could show that person a Patriots game, and even he would know that Brady is by far the best player on the field for either team.
Lately, it's essentially been "Brady Versus," and Brady's undefeated.
It's about the singular ability of one man to take over a sport where he shares the field with 21 other people.
And this shouldn't discount the work of the people catching the ball for him, as Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and others did a bulk of the work Thursday night with their yards after the catch. But if it was simple as just throwing short passes and letting receivers do the rest, then wouldn't every quarterback do it? Couldn't every coach figure that out? Aren't the results ultimately a product of everything that goes into a play, from its conception, through the moment it's called, to the pre-snap read, to the post-snap execution?
And isn't Tom Brady, right now, the greatest to ever do that?
That point will always be argued, and nobody can say how the rest of the season will go. Truly anything can happen. But in the meanwhile, as difficult as it may be to fully conceptualize, it's time we start making an effort to fully appreciate what the greatest quarterback of all time is doing right now. It's likely that we'll never see it again.
Now, onto the leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 36-7 thrashing of the Dolphins.
--All of that about Brady is true, but still, the defense might have had a better night than the offense. At various points, the following players all made noticeably impactful plays at or behind the line of scrimmage: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga, Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Malcom Brown, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Dominique Easley.
Lamar Miller entered the game having averaged 144 yards per game over the past two weeks. He managed 15 yards against the Patriots.
Ryan Tannehill threw six touchdowns and two picks in his previous two games. Against the Patriots, he matched that interception number and didn't throw a touchdown.
The only lapse from the defense came when the Dolphins geared up to deliver their biggest punch on the opening drive of the second half. But the New England D responded by stuffing Miller on a third-and-1 on the Dolphins' next drive, forcing a punt and essentially ending the game.
Obvious questions remain about the Patriots' secondary, but if the front seven can play as relentless as they did on Thursday, the issues on the back end become much less relevant.
--Dion Lewis was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. In two seasons with Philly, he rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns, and he caught three passes for 21 yards in 24 games. He accumulated zero stats in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Yet in six games with New England, he's rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and he's caught 32 passes for 349 yards and two more touchdowns. Again, that's in six games.
Bert Breer says this is the magic of Tom Brady, and that's certainly a part of it. But Lewis has been absolutely dynamic on his own this year. His elusiveness is next-level, and his willingness and ability to drop his shoulder and steamroll tacklers has been shocking for a 5-foot-8 running back.
For example, that catch-and-spin move that left Koa Misi diving into space with empty arms? Filthy.
And the way he picked up 17 yards on a screen pass on third-and-16 on the opening drive, and the way he casually turned this play ...
... into an 11-yard run. It's all incredible.
He's the best thing they've had in that role since Kevin Faulk. That's not to say he is Kevin Faulk, but if he can stay at a level like this for an extended period of time? There's no doubt.
--Minor thing, but I was entertained by Dont'a Hightower hitting Lamar Miller here:
And Miller ending up here:
I know that Hightower is only 25 years old, but he's got some old man strength. Between manhandling Chris Ivory on Sunday and nonchalantly hitting Lamar Miller like a truck on Thursday, I think he's reached "frightening" level for opposing running backs. In fact, "Dont'a Hightower" just became the scariest Halloween costume in New York, Miami and Buffalo.
--Is it asking too much to want teams to play the Patriots and not puke all over their shoes? Can we just get a straight game for 60 minutes? Please?
I know the Dolphins aren't great, but they should be able to snap a football.
They should have a punt returner who doesn't stand still like a statue upon catching said punt. They should have running backs who can keep their feet before hitting the line of scrimmage. They should have at least one player on defense who's willing to at least try to tackle Rob Gronkowski or Dion Lewis instead of allowing them to score the easiest touchdowns of their lives. For that matter, they should be able to prevent a simple screen from being successful on third-and-16 on the fifth play of the game. And the quarterback should know better than to throw a lazy pass to a receiver running a lazy route on the boundary.
Alas, that's what we got on Thursday night. For all their Oklahoma drills and ol' fashioned helmet smashin', the Dolphins couldn't play a fundamentally sound football game. In doing so, they simply joined the list with the rest of the Patriots' opponents this season.
--This is going to become a weekly thing, I guess.
--On the smash mouth football point, I'm just left to ask ... what the hell? Dan Campbell is this supposedly crazy dude who used to rock long hair and crush Red Bull and drive a 1991 Chevy Blazer with 36-inch tires and yell "extreeeeme!" all night long. He runs Oklahoma drills with professional football players, for God's sake.
Yet his team came out, won the toss, deferred, and then proceeded to get rolled. Eight plays, 80 yards, touchdown.
So much for that.
--Look, everybody wants so sit here and say, "Oh, look at 5-year-old Rob Gronkowski catch the candy out of that pinata! How funny! Ha ha, he's grabbing all the candy!" Frankly, I find all those sycophants to be pathetic. They're all just blatantly ignoring the cheating ways of the future Patriot.
But listen. We are a nation of rules. The rules apply to everyone. And when 5-year-old Gronkowski catches the candy before it hits the ground, it threatens the very integrity of our great nation.
I won't stand for it. I'm suspending Gronkowski for four games.
--It is kind of funny, though. Gronkowski has been breaking the hearts of Bills fans since kindergarten.
--The Dolphins should use this photo on their promotional material to sell season tickets this winter:
SAFETY FIRST! SECURE YOUR SEASON TICKETS TODAY!
--Tre' Jackson's injury looked kind of bad. Any time a knee bends a way it's not supposed to, and any time a 320-pound man reels in pain, you know it's not good. But it's pretty wild that the Patriots had Ryan Wendell waiting in the wings, and Bryan Stork will be available to return after next week. All of that offensive line rotation early in the season is paying off ... though they might want to keep the six guys they have left healthy.
--One thing from Tom Brady that you have to love came with 8:03 left in a 29-7 game and with the Patriots on the doorstep of adding more points. On first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Brady took a shotgun snap, looked right, looked left, looked middle and pumped before getting sacked by Olivier Vernon.
Brady hit the ground and immediately slammed the football to the turf. He pounded his fist to the turf and screamed, "Damn it!"
Mind you, the Patriots led by 22 points. And they were guaranteed to at least add a chip-shot field goal. And only eight minutes remained on the clock. But, because a football game was taking place and because he was not perfect, Brady was pissed.
So he popped up, lined up in the shotgun, moved Lewis from his left to his right, took the snap and delivered a strike to Edelman for a touchdown.
And then, finally, Tom was satisfied.
(After he finished that smile, he likely got very angry while mentally moving on to the Redskins.)
--The Dolphins beat the Titans and Texans by a combined 46 points. The Patriots beat the Dolphins by 29 points. Bear with me here through some rough math, but I think that means the Patriots will beat the Texans and Titans in Weeks 14 and 15 by a combined ... 300 points? Did I carry the one properly there? I think I did.
--In the opening weeks of the season, it was too early to say "The Patriots will go 16-0." It's really never a good time to say that, considering, you know, it never happens, except for that one insane time it happened. But after the past five days, it's fair to say this absurd statement: The Patriots should go 16-0.
Their remaining nine opponents own a combined record of 29-31. Only three of them have winning records. The Broncos still represent the biggest challenge left because of their defense, but Brady just threw for 355 yards and the Patriots put up 30 points on the league's No. 1 defense. (Also: Peyton Manning can't throw, and it'll be a lot more difficult for that Denver defense to bail out the quarterback when facing the Patriots as opposed to facing the Browns or the Chiefs or the Lions or the Raiders.)
A month ago, the thought was, "Surely, the Patriots will put forth a dud along the way, and they'll take one or two losses that way." Well, I thought Thursday night was kind of a dud for them. And yet they won by 29 points.
It's a combination of being very good and the rest of the league being quite bad. The Patriots are head and shoulders above roughly 90 percent of the league, and they only have one game remaining against that top 10 percent.
If they lose a game or two between now and Jan. 3, it won't be shocking, and it won't be a terrible disappointment. But it's now become difficult to make the case that they should lose any one of their remaining games.
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