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Notebook: Brady Provides Imposing Test

Posted Dec 15, 2010

It would be pretty hard to look at just a few of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s statistics and not be impressed.

He hasn’t lost a regular-season game at home since 2006, an NFL-record 26 straight victories. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his last eight games. He has thrown 29 touchdown passes this year with only four interceptions as the top-rated passer in the league.

While the Packers have been one of the best teams in the league this season when it comes to defending the pass, especially of late, they haven’t faced a quarterback quite like Brady this season.

“Tom Brady is playing at an extremely high level,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Statistically I think it’s the best he’s performed in his career. He’s a champion. He’s their team leader. He’s very impressive on film. You just look at the decisive wins they’ve had the last two weeks, there’s a lot to be impressed by their performance.

“But we are who we are, and we’ve had different challenges, and we’re going to line up and put our best foot forward. That’s our approach. We respect them, but we look forward to playing them.”

Brady sits near the top of every major passing category this year, but it is his play over the past five games that has been especially notable. During that span he has posted a league-high 132.5 passer rating, connecting on 72 percent of his passes (118-of-164) for 1,572 yards, 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady has eclipsed the 300-yard mark in four of those five games, and he has registered a 110-plus passer rating in all five.

“Nothing bothers him in the pocket,” said cornerback Charles Woodson, a one-time teammate of Brady’s at the University of Michigan. “It doesn’t matter how many guys you send at him. He’s as comfortable in the blitz as he is in anything, so that’s tough because we’ve got to throw a lot at him knowing that it’s not going to really affect him much.

“We’ve got to make plays, get him down when we can, and make plays in the back end when we can.”

Plays in the secondary have been hard to come by against Brady, evidenced by his franchise-record streak of 268 straight passing attempts without an interception that he brings into Sunday’s game. That mark is 40 passes shy of the all-time NFL record held by Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar (308 in 1990-91).

In the Patriots’ two losses this season to the Jets and the Browns, Brady connected on just 54.2 percent of his passes, compared to a 69.4 percent mark in victories this year. He was sacked only two times with two interceptions in the two defeats, with both of those picks coming against the N.Y. Jets in Week 2.

As Woodson referenced, Brady has been efficient against the blitz this season with a 97.5 passer rating (No. 3 in the NFL, min. 100 attempts), so the onus will be on the front to get pressure on him.  Of the Packers’ 37 sacks on the season, all but five of those have come from their linemen or outside linebackers.

“We have to get some pressure on him,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “The teams that have had success against him have knocked him down a little bit and have got him rattled a little bit. It’s going to be a tough task, but I think we’re up for it.”

Green Bay comes into Sunday’s game ranked No. 3 in the league in pass defense at 196.8 yards per game, and over the past five games the defense has allowed opposing signal-callers to throw for just 163.6 yards a contest. The Packers sit atop the league ranking in opponent passer rating at 68.1 but have faced just one quarterback this season that currently ranks in the top 10 in that category. That was Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick in the second half of their Week 1 matchup after starter Kevin Kolb was lost for the game with an injury.

Of the Packers’ six losses in 2009 (five regular-season, one playoff), five of them came against proven quarterbacks in Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, Minnesota’s Brett Favre (twice), Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, and Arizona’s Kurt Warner. In those six defeats, opposing quarterbacks combined for a 125.7 passer rating as they threw for 297.8 yards per game and 21 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

Green Bay’s defense is in Year 2 of coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme, and while that experience should help in a game like Sunday, they also know it will take a collective effort to contain Brady.

“Brady has been doing it for years,” said cornerback Tramon Williams, who leads the team with five interceptions. “He has been one of the best since he started starting, so we know it’s going to be a challenge ahead of us.

“We know we are going to need everyone to do their jobs, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Final push
With less a week remaining for fans to vote for the Pro Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains No. 5 in the voting among all NFL players and No. 2 among NFC quarterbacks behind only Vick.

With 690,619 votes, Rodgers trails only Vick (981,687), Brady (947,194), Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning (806,025), and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (736,603) in the fan balloting for the annual all-star game.

Three other Packers lead their positions, with tackle Chad Clifton (136,532), Woodson (292,047) and linebacker Clay Matthews (353,981) all checking in at No. 1 in the NFC in the fan voting.

The Pro Bowl squads are based on the consensus of fans, players and coaches, with each group’s vote counting one-third toward determining the rosters for each conference. The 2011 game will be played on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011, and will be televised live on FOX at 6 p.m. (CT) at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Balloting will conclude next Monday following a Monday Night Football matchup between Chicago and Minnesota. The teams will be announced at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Dec. 28, on NFL Network.

Fans can continue to vote on www.nfl.com, and for the first time, on Facebook by visiting www.facebook/nfl and clicking on the “Pro Bowl” tab.

Injury/participation update
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) will be out for the second straight game.

Rodgers (concussion), guard Daryn Colledge (knee) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

McCarthy said Colledge has made a lot of progress since sustaining the injury early in Sunday’s game at Detroit, and there is chance he will be able to practice on Thursday.

McCarthy said Zombo was a “long shot” to be available for Sunday.

“I know he wants to try to make it this week, but I don’t see that happening,” McCarthy said. “He’s overcome the big ankle injury there in training camp, but this is pretty significant. But he’s giving it a shot, so maybe he’ll surprise me.”

Clifton (knees), Matthews (shin), cornerback Pat Lee (ankle), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) and guard Josh Sitton (knee) were limited participants.

Woodson (tole/ankle), safety Atari Bigby (hamstring), fullback Korey Hall (knee) and safety Anthony Smith (ankle) participated fully in practice.

McCarthy said Lee, who practiced for the first time since injuring his ankle in Atlanta in Week 12, looked better than he anticipated, but he grouped him in with Bigby, Hall and Smith as players whose progress the team would monitor throughout the week before any decision on their availability is made.

For New England, Brady (right shoulder/foot), defensive lineman Ron Brace (concussion), cornerback Devin McCourty (rib), nose tackle Myron Prior (back), defensive lineman Gerard Warren (knee) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

Branch (knee) was limited while cornerback Kyle Arrington (elbow) was a full participant.

Additional coverage – Dec. 15

 
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