As we've seen countless times, Tom Bradyis adept at sidestepping pressure from opposing defenses.
He's also equally adroit at handling the kind of pressure that we sometimes obstinate reporters like to bring.
Take this week, for example.
Having just won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second straight week, league MVP chatter, which had been at murmuring levels prior, catapulted to a full-blown dialogue around the country, with Brady being the leading candidate.
When asked to evaluate the season he's been having, Brady casually stepped up in the pocket of media surrounding his locker.
"That's really the last thing on my mind," he said, flashing his been-there-done-that grin, as he attempted to change the subject to his upcoming opponent, the Chicago Bears.
But pressed further, the Patriots quarterback relented somewhat, tying his personal performance to that of his offense as a whole.
"That's what I'm concerned most about. I think we've been playing better as of late, and we're going to need to continue to play better. The weather is getting colder. The conditions are getting tougher. Everyone has to be able to execute at a high level, and I think that the guys that are on the field, that are playing play-in-play-out, we're doing a good job of that.
"We're still searching for more consistency for all us," Brady continued, "myself, Wes [Welker], Deion [Branch], the veteran guys, the younger players. The games only get bigger from here. That's really what we're preparing for."
Like a bruising running back who seems to get stronger as a game wears on, Brady and the Patriots offense appear to be getting better, sharper, more lethal as the regular season funnels to a close.
Consider these impressive statistics.
Going into Week 14, New England ranked first in the NFL in points scored per game. Second in goal-to-go efficiency. Third in red zone scoring percentage. Tied for third (with Philadelphia) in fourth down success. And fourth in third down efficiency, just to name a few significant categories.
Strange as it may appear on paper, the Patriots are a better offense since disposing of Randy Moss, who will almost certainly wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.
That New England no longer employs a singular deep threat in the likes of Moss, but has added versatile players with more evenly matched skill sets (e.g., Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead), has paradoxically made the Patriots offense more difficult to defend. And Brady appears to have found his rhythm with this burnished version of the old-school Patriots offense of a decade ago.
"I think that's when Tom's at his best [spreading the ball around], when guys are getting open and he can distribute the ball," center Dan Koppen observed. "No one puts in more time and effort than Tom does. He's a competitor, even when we're up [in the score], he's yelling at us. When you've got that guy behind you, you just want to play hard for him every play."
As Koppen suggested, Brady these days is playing perhaps the best football of his stellar career. And he appears to be thoroughly enjoying the moment and firing up his teammates to do the same. At halftime of the Lions game on Thanksgiving, for instance, his impassioned speech to the team – defense included – helped focus the then-struggling Patriots to drop 35 points on Detroit, en route to a 45-24 come-from-behind victory.
But to ensure that all this encomia doesn't go to Brady's head, his team is keeping him grounded.
"I just think he's a very consistent performer who's playing well right now," Brady's position coach, Bill O'Brien, matter-of-factly told reporters. "And I think that there are a lot of guys that are playing well for us right now. And we just have to keep it going. But, as far as MVP race goes, I have no idea."
He may be one of the few.
Wed12/8 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Wednesday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.