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Brady Still a Big Game Performer

November 16, 2018

Quarterback Tom Brady has the Patriots off to a 7-3 record entering the bye week. AP PHOTO

FOXBORO -- Numbers threaten to take all the fun out of sports. So many stats float in cyberspace that it becomes difficult to sort the meaningful from

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the misleading. If you let them, they can strip the faces off of athletes and reduce them to soulless digits on a computer screen -- a major victory for vengeful nerds still smarting from jocks getting all the love in high school.

Every once in a while though, a number pops up that freezes you, makes you wonder how and why that’s even possible.

ESPN’s “NFL Matchup” revealed one worthy of Ripley’s: Reigning NFL MVP, five-time Super Bowl champion and the greatest of all-time Tom Brady has the worst quarterback rating (59.6) against the blitz in the NFL, ranking just ahead of Joe Flacco (63.3) and Josh Rosen (63.7).

The other end of the list vouches for the stat’s validity: Russell Wilson (129.4), Aaron Rodgers (126.8), Drew Brees (124.7).

“Any time you’re last in the league in anything, that’s probably not very good,” Brady said from the Gillette Stadium podium Wednesday afternoon. “I haven’t studied that as much. I think if they blitz, it gives us great opportunities to make plays. If we’re not doing that, then we have to figure out how to do it.”

Brady has exploited blitzes so well throughout his career that defensive coordinators tend not to make bringing extra heat a big part of game plans.

“Hopefully, we can figure that out, get out of the basement, start working our way up,” Brady said.

If and when he does, it won’t take him as long to ascend because the sample size isn’t as big as with most quarterbacks. He always has been so tough to rattle, so quick to exploit soft spots in blitzing defenses. Yet, he didn’t look like his smooth self in most of Sunday’s bizarre 34-10 loss to the Titans in Nashville. Typically a model of accuracy, Brady missed a few throws in not-even-close fashion.

In the past three games, two that formed the final third of a six-game winning streak, Brady has thrown 129 passes, just one of them good for six points, none of them intercepted.

As Patriots mysteries go, it doesn’t quite rank up there with why Malcolm Butler didn’t play in Super Bowl LII, but whatever it is that isn’t quite right with the ageless quarterback does send the mind wandering.

If something ails Brady physically, what possible gain would there be in sharing that with the world, which includes future opponents? If he said that his ankle bothered him, opponents would make sure to twist it. If he complained of a sore elbow, they’d chop at it, slam him on it, bite it when nobody’s looking. Same for a knee or a shoulder.

No football player is dumb enough to draw a bull’s-eye on an ailing body part, and no football player is smarter than Brady, so good luck trying to diagnose this patient.

“Pretty good. Pretty good,” Brady said of how he feels. “Some bumps and bruises, but I think that’s part of football season. I feel pretty good.”

Brady took a pass on sharing specifics of self-study methods during bye week, but did say of his footwork in the pocket: “I study my mechanics every day, and so I feel like I look like my normal self out there.”

Developing chemistry with receiver Josh Gordon, who isn’t performing at the level he did with the Browns, getting by without tight end Rob Gronkowski and injuries at running back all make his job tougher, especially Gronk’s absence.

As for the 2018 numbers, the one that reveals most about Brady remains the “1” under “L” for the Kansas City Chiefs. Brady pinned it on them with a field-goal drive that resulted in the first 43-40 score in NFL history.

Brady’s still that guy, still bigger than the biggest moments.

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