In the first 57 minutes of the Patriots-Cowboys game on Sunday, Tom Brady looked average.
Up until that point, he had completed 19-of-32 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His passer rating was 63.41, which would have been his lowest in a game since the playoff loss to the Ravens following the 2009 season. Most importantly, his team was trailing 16-13.
It took a little more than two minutes for Brady to remind everyone that he's still Tom Brady, and the Patriots still have one of the league's most unstoppable offenses.
On the team's final drive, Brady completed 8-of-9 passes for 78 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. He also had a two-yard run on 3rd-and-1. Rob Ryan succeeded in slowing down Brady and the Patriots' attack, but Dallas' "D" couldn't stop him when it mattered most.
For the second year in a row, though, the blueprint is out there on how to counter New England's offense. Going forward, will teams copy what Ryan did, and what can the Patriots do to avoid needing more late-game heroics from Brady?
The PFW Spin
Sitting there watching the Cowboys completely rattle and befuddle Brady reminded you that he is mortal and the Pats' offense is not invincible. We saw that last season when Ryan's Browns defense held New England to 14 points in a 34-14 win.
How did the Patriots respond to that bump in the road? By winning eight games in a row to end the season, scoring at least 31 points in each game. And it's not like the Patriots were playing poor defenses the rest of the way — that run included wins over the Steelers, Jets, Bears and Packers.
Either those teams didn't get the memo, couldn't execute what the Browns did or maybe they just lacked the personnel. Another possibility — the Patriots sat and watched what Ryan's defense did and made sure it wouldn't happen again.
Now this season, teams have tape to watch as they try to figure out how to contain Brady. The Cowboys' pressure was key, as Brady got hit eight times and sacked three times. The secondary often kept two players on Wes Welker, who had by far his least productive game.
There are several teams left on New England's schedule that could use the Ryan blueprint, and it starts after this week's bye with a game against the Steelers in Week Eight. The Jets, Giants and Eagles all have defenses with the personnel to pressure Brady without blitzing, allowing the secondary to keep his receivers in check.
Like last season, though, all that might not matter. Brady didn't allow Ryan to get the win on Sunday, as he looked like the league MVP in the last two minutes of the game. It was Brady who was confusing the Cowboys' defense and was able to get Welker involved on that last drive.
Going forward, though, the Patriots will need to take better advantage when in the red zone. Luckily for them yesterday, the defense was just as successful at keeping Dallas out of the endzone, but we've seen many teams score points on New England, and points cannot be left on the field. This is the second week in a row that red-zone struggles came to light, and against a defense that is difficult to score against, Brady and company need to take advantage. It appears defenses are bottling up TE Rob Gronkowski. Look for the Pats to get more creative, maybe with the run game, to improve in the red zone.
Brady likely is pleased he doesn't have to face Rob Ryan and DeMarcus Ware again this season, but that doesn't mean he won't face a similar defensive effort. If we learned anything from last season, though, Bill Belichick and Brady often seem to be a step ahead.
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