In 2007, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady had probably the best season ever for a quarterback. He passed for 50 touchdowns, threw only eight interceptions and had a 117.2 passer rating while throwing for 4,806 yards.
That was the season that New England went undefeated all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the New York Giants, of course.
Now Brady is at it again, putting together the kind of season that rivals ‘07 and doing so without as strong a team around him. At least not on paper.Brady and Belichick celebrating, which they do oftenAfter tearing up the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Brady, through 11 games, has passed for 3,398 yards, thrown for 29 touchdowns and had just four passes intercepted. That’s four of 425 attempts. He has a 109.9 quarterback rating and San Diego’s Philip Rivers (103.1) is the only other quarterback in the NFL over 100.
Bradley is throwing only 32.7 passes per game, which seems like a lot but isn’t when you consider 17 quarterbacks are throwing more often. Yet, he has the most touchdown passes and the fewest interceptions. Speaking of picks, he has thrown 268 passes without one.
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Now, let’s examine the Patriots team around him briefly.
Brady’s No. 1 receiver is the diminutive Wes Welker, but he ranks only No. 20 in the NFL in receiving yardage. He has combined with Patriots re-tread Deion Branch to catch 137 passes for 1,547 yards and 13 touchdowns. And Bradley uses tight ends better than anyone in the business.
New England’s top running back, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, ranks No. 17 among rushers with 786 yards. He has scored 11 touchdowns.
The Patriots’ defense ranks 27th among the 32 NFL teams, allowing 375.1 yards per game.
Lately, though, everything has come together. The offense and defense are clicking and New England clearly looks like the best team in the league.
It’s mostly about Brady and Bill Belichick, the Pats’ coach, who designs a roster like no other coach in the league. Belichick doesn’t need the flashiest players around; he just needs players who fit his system. And when he has them, as has been the case more often than not during his 12 seasons in New England, the success rate is phenomenal.
Belichick is 123-50 with the Pats, who are about to win their eighth AFC East championship under his guidance. Since his second season in New England – which just happens to be when Brady became the starting quarterback – Belichick is 118-39. They are also 14-4 in the playoffs.
It’s been a historic coach-quarterback run and it’s not over yet. Not even close.
* All fans of Missouri Valley Conference basketball should be concerned. What fans there are left, that is.
Not only is the Valley off to a rough start in the pre-conference season, people are staying away. Outside of Wichita State, where basketball is king and the Shockers are on the cusp of the national rankings, attendance is down everywhere. In some cases, frightfully down.
Creighton is still averaging 14,764 per game in the luxurious Qwest Center, so no worries there. First-year coach Greg McDermott is solid and the young Bluejays are figuring things out.
Bradley’s average attendance is 8,077 in a building that seats just more than 11,000, the Peoria Civic Center.
Missouri State, maybe the Valley’s No. 2 team, is averaging only 6,313 fans in its new JQH Arena, which seats 11,000. Not good.
Evansville’s 6,033 is about half the capacity of its home arena, Roberts Stadium, which is in its final year.
Indiana State’s Hulman Center seats 10,200; the Sycamores are averaging 5,621.
Northern Iowa, coming off a Sweet 16 run that included an upset of Kansas, is averaging 4,610 fans’ per home game in a nice arena that seats 7,017. That’s nonsense.
Southern Illinois has a refurbished arena, finally, but is averaging only 4,165 fans, less than half of capacity.
Drake is terrible and that’s not going unnoticed in Des Moines, where the Bulldogs are pulling in 3,564 fans per game to the Knapp Center, which seats 7,002.
And finally, there’s Illinois State. Redbird Arena, now one of the oldest in the Valley, seats 10,200. Illinois State’s average attendance is 4,441. That says a lot.
Attendance says a lot about the plight of the Valley, which just five seasons ago was praised as the best “mid-major” basketball conference in the country and sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament.
* Attendance in the Valley reflects the quality of play, I’m afraid to say.
I looked through some MVC team statistics today and was alarmed at some of the numbers:
Bradley is shooting 38.1 percent from the field.
Northern Iowa (29.3 percent); Southern Illinois (28.5) and Illinois State (28.3) are below 30 percent from the three-point line.
Northern Iowa averages only 10.5 assists per game and has just 12 blocked shots in eight games.
Drake’s rebounding margin is -8.1 per game.
Southern Illinois has 115 assists and 165 turnovers.
* Are you keeping an eye on the New York Knicks?
They’re 16-9 and play a big game against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. It’s been a while since the Knicks have played big December games, but this has the look of a team that’s going to be around for a while.
Amare Stoudemire is proving to be a huge acquisition, especially since he brought 26.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game with him as a free agent from Phoenix.
Point guard Raymond Felton is coming into his own, averaging 18.4 points and 8.7 assists. Wilson Chandler contributes 17.3 points and six rebounds. Italian guard Danilo Gallinari averages 15.3 points. And rookie forward Landry Ellis, from Stanford, averages 10.6 points and 7.6 rebounds.
The Knicks are enjoying Coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced style and after nine miserable seasons, which resulted in an overall record of 279-459 (37.8 winning percentage), New York looks like a playoff team. The Knicks, by the way, last won a playoff series after the 1999-2000 season, which capped a run of 14 consecutive seasons in the playoffs.
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R.J. DickensDickensI remember R.J. from the early days, when I was just getting my feet wet at The Eagle and he was working at the Manhattan Mercury. Our paths haven’t crossed in years, until Facebook. Everybody’s paths cross on Facebook, of course. R.J. was kind enough to volunteer for this every-Monday feature here on the blog and here’s what he had to say about himself and about our beautiful FB relationship:
You were there at the beginning of my journalistic career, 35 years ago when I started out as a sports writer at the Manhattan Mercury.The most fun times were covering sports with the likes of (the Topeka Capital-Journal’s) Rick Dean, Jim Ramberg, the late Pete Goering, and you. Hard to believe you’re the last one remaining on the sports beat.I drifted away from journalism, first to real estate, then to insurance, and then to politics as the 1990 Democratic candidate for Secretary of State before landing here in Wichita and writing a weekly column for the Prospector for 14 years.I’ve been at KCTU-TV for 16 years now, where I’m currently the news director and creative services manager. I get to dip my toe back in sports now and then doing color on an occasional high school football game, or being pressed in to play-by-play duty at an overtime East-Southeast game at Koch Arena a few years ago.Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. I’ll be joining you in about 18 months… and 18,000 miles.It’s been great to reconnect with you… even if we don’t agree on the significance of Tex Winter in Kansas sports history.
(Ed. note): OK, it’s not really an editor’s note, it’s Bob. But I believe Tex Winter is one of the most significant figures in Kansas sports history, so I’m not really sure where R.J. is coming from here. And I don’t understand his reference to 18,000 miles; perhaps he’ll clear that up for us here with a comment. Thanks, R.J.