The Winning Machine
After a systematic dismantling of the unbeaten Cowboys, Tom Brady and the Patriots are clearly operating on a higher plane than the rest of the league. Can the Colts, or anyone else, stop them?
Posted: Tuesday October 16, 2007 10:51AM; Updated: Tuesday October 16, 2007 10:51AM
He knew precious little about the New England Patriots. There were those three Super Bowl rings. There was the coach in the gray sweatshirt who seemed so imperious and distant. "He never smiled," says Adalius Thomas, a Pro Bowl linebacker who spent seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before reaching the open market last winter as an unrestricted free agent. There were the players, enemies whom he scarcely knew.
Something made them different. On March 3 Thomas signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Patriots. With it came a silver helmet, a blue-and-white jersey and, most important, a key to the inner sanctum.
There he found his answer. "You've got to remember, I'm coming in from Baltimore," says Thomas. "People there wanted the limelight, people sought out the limelight, starting with the head coach. It was a star-studded system. Here it's about as different as you can get. Everybody here shies away from being the star guy. Nobody on this team beats his chest. They just all go about their business. And win."
They won again on Sunday in Texas, pulling away from the Dallas Cowboys in the final 20 minutes and turning an interconference matchup of unbeatens into a convincing 48-27 victory that left the NFC's best team rightly questioning its worthiness. "We wanted to be one of the elite teams, but obviously we're not," said Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. The rest of the NFC should be thinking along those same lines.
Again the central character for New England was quarterback Tom Brady, who passed for 388 yards and a career-best five touchdowns to four different receivers, while getting scant support from a running game that had just 14 yards in the first half. It was a brilliant performance that left Brady with a ridiculous 128.9 quarterback rating for the season, more than 20 points higher than that of runner-up Peyton Manning. Yet Brady's veteran teammates were scarcely moved beyond shrugs. "What can I say?" asked linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "I've seen him do the same thing in much bigger games."
The Patriots are 6-0 for the first time since 2004, their last Super Bowl year, but they will tell you until your ears bleed that it's still early. "The season really starts after Thanksgiving," Brady coolly explained on Sunday in the belly of Texas Stadium. And they're right. Leaves are still clinging to the trees in much of New England, and there is ample time for the Patriots' fast start to be undone by injury or a few bad bounces. But if it is much too early to award the Lombardi Trophy, it is not too soon to conclude that the winner of the Nov. 4 Patriots-Colts game in Indianapolis will become the solid Super Bowl favorite and (if still unbeaten) a serious contender to be the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to finish a season without a loss.