Next Gen Stats: Brady dismantles another top defense

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In a season where no truly glaring MVP candidate has emerged from the pack to gain a stranglehold in the race for the award, Tom Brady made a strong move Monday night to throw his name into consideration despite missing the first four games of the season. Brady threw for more than 400 yards, registered three touchdowns and essentially only made just one mistake when he threw a red-zone interception.

Let's be clear, there were some questions about whether Brady could find much success in this game. Some people even went on national television to opine that he would not get over on this Ravens stop unit.

Coming into this game the Ravens ranked No. 1 in the NFL with just 24.8 percent of drives against them resulting in a score. They had allowed just 17.3 points per game (second), the fewest total yards per game (296.1) and were fresh off a 38-6 dismantling of the Dolphins. None of it mattered Monday; Brady rolled over the Baltimore defense with little resistance.

The Ravens got some bad news early on when cornerback injuries mounted up. Cornerback Jimmy Smith doesn't get the fanfare others at his position do, but he's one of the better shutdown defenders in the NFL. He suffered a sprained ankle after just 23 defensive plays. The bleeding didn't stop there, as slot cornerback Jerraud Powers suffered a concussion after 34 defensive plays.

With Smith and Powers out it forced players like Shareece Wright and first-round bust Matt Elam into more extensive playing time. Wright was benched in favor of impressive rookie Tavon Young after he was a liability at left corner early in the year. He was forced to take Smith's spot on the other side at right corner. Elam played seven of his eight total defensive plays in the fourth quarter. He was the nearest defender in coverage on Chris Hogan's 79-yard touchdown catch. Hogan had a whopping nine yards of separation from Elam at the point of his reception.

It was in the second half with Smith and Powers out when Brady felt more liberty to attack the heart of the Ravens' defense. The Patriots quarterback had a perfect passer rating in the second half on throws of 10 or more air yards. He had an 88.7 passer rating on such throws in the first half.

Brady averaged 7.7 air yards on his completions against the Ravens. That was the second-highest mark against Baltimore all season. The highest was Josh McCown's 9.05 in Week 2 when Wright was on the field extensively.

The secondary injuries were certainly a factor in covering some of Brady's new weapons. Emerging rookie Malcolm Mitchell caught four passes, including a touchdown, and averaged 2.7 yards of separation on his targets. Mitchell continues to show striking timing and chemistry with Brady for a rookie receiver, and he creates ample separation. Hogan averaged a full 3.0 yards of separation on his targets.

Those two pass-catchers stepped up while Julian Edelman had one of his slower games of the season, catching just seven of his 15 targets. Edelman averaged just 2.1 yards of separation on his targets, which was his second-lowest mark of 2016. The ability to find a counterpunch when one of his longtime favorite weapons is off his game and his All-Pro tight end is out is one of Brady's best qualities.

Tom Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens. Take a look at all his passes and routes from key players in Week 14.

A wildly entertaining Monday Night Football showdown between two AFC contenders shined a light on truths about both squads. The Ravens' elite defense showed they might struggle to keep the fantastic pace they held early in the season if Smith misses time. Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't know the severity of the injury after the game. Baltimore's painfully methodic offense will need to come out of its shell more often if this team hopes to counterbalance any drop off in defense.

In New England, all remains well. Brady put an accent on yet another fantastic season with a dismantling of a top defense on national television. With the way he and this offense are playing, MVP voters will at least have to consider whether they need to make an exception for the wildly efficient Brady in the voting process. Sometimes, rules and standards are meant to be broken. Brady's been doing it all his career, and securing the NFL's Most Valuable Player title in a season where he was suspended to start the year might just be his next great feat.

Matt Harmon a writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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