Playing mistake-free at the heart of Brady's tear

Tom Brady is on a run. Like, a Hall of Fame run. A Forrest Gump ping-pong run.

He's playing as good or better as any quarterback has ever played. Well, at least since 2007. That year boasts as maybe the greatest statistical season out of a quarterback ever, and that was from Brady, too.

If the Patriots' near-perfect season was his best, then this one is shaping up to be a close second. In its own way, Brady's 2010 campaign is completely unique to any other in NFL history.

Last Sunday's 36-7 drubbing of the Bears was typical for Brady: Crappy conditions, tough defense, different looks from that defense, but no worries. He's been remarkable in cold weather games, as well as clutch late in the season, running his career record in December to 31-5.

What makes this season so amazing is how productive he's been without the mistakes. Oh, he's still taking risks, but he keeps coming up with mostly rewards. On Sunday, he threw for a season-high 369 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. And really, he could have gone for much more if the Pats hadn't tapped the brakes in the fourth quarter.

"Jacques Brady," as NFL Network's Jamie Dukes has dubbed him for his artsy Frenchmen's 'do, was on point all game -- and not just in the accuracy department. Anytime a receiver had a mismatch, Brady isolated, then exploited it. You're not seeing throws into crowded phone booths with this guy. The story of his season has been one-two-three-four-five steps ... look ... read ... fire away. The spot-on decision-making has been 90 percent of his game, and when he's had to make a throw into a small window, the ball arrives where it needs to be.

The decision and precision is most reflected in his lowest statistical category: Interceptions. Brady has now thrown 268 straight passes without being picked. That streak spans eight starts, and it's a stretch that's also included 19 touchdowns. Another team hasn't caught one of his passes since Oct. 17, almost two months. His tear is nothing short of incredible.

How about efficiency? He leads the NFL in passing with a 109.9 rating. Delving into the subtext of that number brings about stats even more bloated than John Candy after he ate the Ole 96er in "The Great Outdoors." Brady's passer rating has eclipsed 110 in each of the last five weeks. The only guy in league history to do better was Steve Young, who went on a seven-game rip of similar proportions in 1994. In case you're under 18 years of age, the 49erswon the Super Bowl that year -- handily.

So where do 110 ratings, 19 touchdowns with no interceptions, as well as five wins in a row, come from? Start with a ground attack that has put up more than 100 yards in each of those five wins. That includes three games against top 10 defenses in the Steelers, Jets and Bears. Deion Branch has been productive without being a distraction, including making Detroit's Alphonso Smith do unplanned 360 on Thanksgiving. Wes Welker has been very Welker-esque.

And, of course, Brady is maturing as a quarterback.

"Tom Brady is the guy, he's the leader," NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said Sunday. "He's not relying on that great defense he used to rely on for the Super Bowl wins. He is now the leader of this football team."

While his leadership will always be there, maybe the most impressive nugget to come out of Brady's private little war on the rest of the league has been how much production he's getting without the negative offshoot. Throwing touchdowns and averaging eight yards per attempt requires throwing down the field. He's gone vertical without taking a lot of sacks or, as mentioned, throwing interceptions.

Only three quarterbacks in the 91-year history of the NFL have gone five straight games throwing multiple touchdown passes with no picks. You-know-who is one of them. He just got his sixth straight in the snow in Chicago. Joe Theismann did it in 1983. And the late Don Meredith went for six straight over the 1965 and '66 seasons.

What's significant about that? Meredith, despite getting little respect from fans, led the Cowboys to a 10-3-1 record and the NFL Championship game in 1966. Theismann commandeered a Redskins squad that made it to the Super Bowl in 1983.

Where will Brady end up? I know where I'd put my money.

'Toxic Differential' update

Last week I wrote about Brian Billick and Jim Mora's favorite stat, the "toxic differential," or "double positive." Simply put, it's adding a team's turnover differential (turnovers forced minus turnovers given up) to its big-play differential (big plays produced minus big plays allowed). This quirky little stat may be the best playoff predictor out there.

Week 14's games showed a little movement in the rankings, but perhaps the most notable change involved the Steelers. Pittsburgh, who was already leading the pack in "toxic differential," went from plus-37 through 12 games, to a whopping plus-44 after their 23-7 win over the Bengals. Think about that for a second. Better yet, think about Dick LeBeau for a second. His defense has given up 30 less big plays (20-plus yards) than the Steelers' offense has created. That's a nearly two-and-a-half per game difference.

Throw in the fact that LeBeau's unit has created a league-leading 30 turnovers, and it's no wonder they're 10-3 and maybe the Super Bowl favorite -- if they can get past Brady.

News and notes

»Andy Reid only gave LeSean McCoy five carries in last year's 34-14 wild-card loss in Dallas. That day, with Cowboys linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer completely unconcerned about the running game, and just sprinting toward the quarterback, Donovan McNabb spent the afternoon running for his life.

Fast forward to Sunday night, and Reid showed he could, and would, lean on his running game. Philly toted the rock 27 times for 171 yards in the 30-27 win over Dallas. McCoy had 149 of them.

» Speaking of Sunday night's game, you gotta catch that ball in the second quarter, Miles Austin. While fantasy football fans may still think Austin is money, he's not having a very good year in real life. He will likely get 1,000 yards receiving, but his eight drops have been killers.

» With Brett Favre's streak ending, it made me recall his first start back in 1992. It was at home against Pittsburgh on NBC. Favre and the Packers prevailed 17-3 over the Neil O'Donnell-led Steelers. I remember the color announcer giving gobs of credit to Merril Hoge. He had moved to fullback so Pittsburgh could start Barry Foster at tailback. This was back before Hoge frosted his tips for ESPN's "NFL Live." Few people remember Foster, but he was a beast that season, running for 1,690 yards while setting a record for 100-yard games in a season with 12 (since broken.)

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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