IRVING, Texas -- He'd never admit it in a thousand NFL Sundays, but for more than a few years now Tom Brady has chafed at the only slight he feels he's endured throughout his illustrious eight-year career.
The popular perception is that Brady has won it all, and done it all. And that's close to the truth. But never has the New England Patriots all-world quarterback won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award.
To be sure, Brady has earned a little satisfaction by beating a slew of league MVPs after they bagged the award. Just ask San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, Indy's Peyton Manning, St. Louis's Kurt Warner and Tennessee's Steve McNair. But with the emphasis in New England always, always, always on winning within the framework of the team concept, Brady hasn't amassed the kind of gaudy statistics that earn check marks on MVP voters' ballot.
Before now, that is. Before this season of domination being turned in by both Brady and an offense that looks as close to unstoppable as we've ever seen it.
No more calls, please. We have a winner. Your 2007 NFL MVP winner is wearing No. 12 for New England, and wearing out the rest of the league on a week-by-week basis. The latest round of results are in, and they echo what started becoming apparent from day one of this season. Brady is a man on a mission, and he's taking his Patriots along for the very memorable ride.
"It's truly amazing what he's doing, but the numbers don't lie,'' Patriots veteran safety Rodney Harrison said of Brady's day in New England's 48-27 showdown win against Dallas, the much-hyped duel of unbeatens in Texas Stadium. "I've had a chance to play with Ryan Leaf, and I've had the chance to play with Tom Brady, and every time I see him I want to give him a hug.''
What Harrison is really trying to wrap his arms around are the almost absurd numbers that Brady is rolling up this season. On Sunday against the NFC's last remaining undefeated team, he strafed the Cowboys for a career-best five touchdown passes -- a sixth was called back by penalty -- completing 31 of 46 passes for 388 yards, with no interceptions and a 129.6 passer rating.
With the receiving corps of his dreams on full display -- a feast after last season's Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel populated famine -- Brady found four teammates for touchdowns against the Cowboys. Slot receiver Wes Welker caught a career-high two touchdowns and notched his first 100-yard receiving game as a pro. Brady also connected on scoring throws once each with Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Kyle Brady.
That onslaught gives Brady a staggering 21 touchdown passes in just six games this season (3.5 per game). On that pace, he'll finish with 56 scoring passes, obliterating Manning's NFL record of 49, set in 2004. Brady ducked any thought of chasing Manning's mark when asked about it in the post-game, but it would be sweet revenge for a quarterback who has always wondered what it would be like to have Manning's receivers and Manning's good fortune of having the same offense and the same offensive coordinator throughout his entire NFL career.
"I've always said, 'Peyton Manning has his receivers, why can't Tom Brady have his?' '' said Moss, who finished with six catches for 59 yards against the Cowboys, with a 6-yard first-drive scoring catch that got the Patriots started toward victory. "The only thing we're happy about is we're 6-0 and we came to Dallas and made it happen. There was a lot of hype coming into this week.''
That there was, but it's almost impossible at this point to over-hype the performance level of Brady and the Patriots passing game. Has an offseason shopping spree -- Moss, Welker and Stallworth were all new acquisitions -- ever had these kind of early returns? Brady is playing machine-like, making every throw a quarterback can be expected to make, and his confidence level appears at an all-time high. Even his teammates have run out of superlatives to describe the zone he seems locked into.
"Obviously it's going pretty well so far,'' Patriots offensive left tackle Matt Light said. "He's doing the things he's always done, but you just don't see many guys doing what he does on game days.''
Brady actually did his best work after he and the Patriots were forced to deal with some rare adversity this season. After surging to leads of 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and 21-10 late in the first half, New England actually trailed the comeback-minded Cowboys 24-20 almost five minutes into the third quarter. But there was no flinching by Brady and the Pats, who went on to score 27 of the game's final 30 points, burying Dallas's upset dreams.
New England's final five drives went touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. The exclamation point was the 1-yard touchdown plunge by rookie fullback Kyle Eckel with 19 seconds remaining, a score met with an unusual amount of emotion by the generally business-like Brady. No doubt it was a message sent that the Patriots would show no mercy this season, especially when facing a team that some deemed ready to play on a level field with the three-time Super Bowl champions.
"This team, we're not going to panic when we get behind,'' Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "It's Game 6 of the season. It was a good opponent, but we've won some big games around here. We know how to play in big games.''
The Cowboys sacked Brady three times, as many sacks as he had absorbed all season coming into Sunday. But even though the Patriots had no rushing game to speak of -- they gained 75 yards on 29 carries, a 2.6 average -- Brady and the passing game still did anything it wanted to.
"We work hard,'' Moss said. "Tom Brady does not let us lollygag in practice every day. I'm not saying we're unstoppable, but.....''
But nothing. Brady's five touchdown passes was his sixth consecutive game with three or more to start this season, breaking Steve Young's 1998 record. New England also has scored at least 34 points in all six games this season, and with 230 points thus far, it's averaging a mind-boggling 38.3 per game. If the Patriots keep that pace up, they'll finish with 613 points, which would beat the 1998 Minnesota Vikings' NFL one-season scoring record of 556 points by 57.
For Brady, the history that he's helping write doesn't stop there. Sunday marked his 100th career regular season start, and he's now 76-24 in those games. That tied Roger Staubach's NFL record for the best 100-game start to a career, and Brady did it on the same field that Roger the Dodger made his name.
"It's really early in the season,'' said Brady, deflecting all talk of records and making history. "The reality is that it's a win on the road and we're 6-0. Any time we're wining, I'm doing just fine.''
Brady's doing more than fine. He's the NFL's MVP so far this season, and showing absolutely no signs of letting any one catch up to him or his high-flying Patriots. He's always had the victories. But this year, he has the receivers, and the kind of overwhelming statistics that win MVP awards.
I'd say let's just give it to him right now, but of course Brady won't go for that. He's having entirely too much fun earning it his way.