Halfway report: Brady better than ever
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.