Half­way re­port: Brady bet­ter than ever

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Arnie Stapleton

When Tom Brady fi­nally served his four-game “De­flate­gate” suspension, the reign­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion Den­ver Bron­cos got off to a 4-0 start be­hind their own late-round quar­ter­back.

Trevor Siemian, the 250th over­all draft pick in 2015, out­du­eled a trio of top over­all se­lec­tions in Cam New­ton, An­drew Luck and Jameis Win­ston dur­ing a mag­nif­i­cent first month as Pey­ton Man­ning’s sur­prise suc­ces­sor.

Then, re­al­ity hit — along with Buc­ca­neers de­fen­sive tackle Clin­ton McDon­ald .

He flung Siemian to the turf, bruis­ing his left shoul­der, the first in a string of in­juries that have side­lined the likes of DeMar­cus Ware, C.J. An­der­son, Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe while help­ing to break the Bron­cos’ stran­gle­hold on the AFC West.

With an ane­mic of­fense and a de­pleted de­fense, the Bron­cos (6-3) are look­ing up at both the resur­gent Raiders (7-2) and the Chiefs (6-2) in the di­vi­sion they’ve owned since Tim Te­bow was run­ning the read-op­tion and not the bases.

“We’ve just got to find a way to stay on the damn field,” said coach Gary Ku­biak, whose team leads the league in three-and-outs, putting a back-break­ing strain on its daz­zling de­fense.

Be­hind Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, the Raiders are seek­ing their first play­off berth since 2002, and their 30-20 drub­bing of Den­ver on Sun­day was their big­gest win in more than a decade.

“We know we can’t look at this game as some­thing that’s go­ing to de­fine us or de­fine the sea­son,” run­ning back Latavius Mur­ray said af­ter run­ning for three touch­downs and half of Oak­land’s 218 rush­ing yards.

By dom­i­nat­ing the trenches and con­trol­ling the clock for 41:28, the Raiders were able to ex­pose a weak­ness in Den­ver’s oth­er­wise stel­lar de­fense.

“That’s some­thing that we have to fix,” cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris Jr. said. “It’s been leaky pretty much all sea­son. So we have to fig­ure that out and re­ally put an em­pha­sis on that, and get back to do­ing what we do.”

The Raiders won’t get caught up in their first-half suc­cess be­cause they know hold­ing off the Chiefs, who have won 10 con­sec­u­tive home games , and Bron­cos, who have won five divi­sional ti­tles in a row , won’t be easy.

Plus, New Eng­land is clearly the class of the con­fer­ence now that Man­ning is pitch­ing prod­ucts in­stead of pigskins.

Brady is back and bet­ter than ever.

The Pa­tri­ots man­aged to win three games in Brady’s ab­sence and are 4-0 with him back un­der cen­ter.

At age 39, that speed bump year when most elite QBs have ei­ther traded in two-minute drills for 30-se­cond spots or are just try­ing not to tar­nish their legacy, Brady has thrown for a dozen TDs and not a sin­gle in­ter­cep­tion in four games.

His com­ple­tion rate of 73.1 per­cent is nearly 10 points above his ca­reer av­er­age, and his passer rat­ing of 133.9 would be a ca­reer high if he can main­tain this pace over the se­cond half.

Brady is two wins shy of Brett Favre’s 199 ca­reer vic­to­ries and three wins shy of Man­ning’s record 200 wins, a mark the five-time MVP set when the Bron­cos won Su­per Bowl 50.


New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady (12) passes dur­ing the first half of an NFL foot­ball game against the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers in Pitts­burgh, Sun­day.

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