By Mike Chappell
Tom Brady is back, picking up where he left off after missing virtually all of 2008 with a devastating knee injury.
Once again, the New England Patriots quarterback is pocket poise personified, the director of one of the NFL’s elite offenses, the co-star with Indianapolis Colts counterpart Peyton Manning in Sunday night’s prime-time showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Looks like the same guy to me . . . moving around in the pocket, not taking a lot of hits,” Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said Wednesday afternoon.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick insisted Brady has “really been back from Day 1. He really hasn’t missed anything all year . . . and hasn’t had any limitations.”
That Brady has recovered so seamlessly from the injury — two torn ligaments in his left knee, including the dreaded anterior cruciate, in the Patriots’ 2008 opener against Kansas City — is nothing short of amazing.
Manning required two procedures on his left knee during the ’08 preseason to address an infected bursa sac. He missed all the preseason games and needed a half-dozen regular-season games to regain his rhythm.
Asked to compare his knee situation with Brady’s, Manning balked. Compare Brady’s injury, he said, to one sustained by Carson Palmer. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback also tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in a 2005 wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“My injury’s completely different from his,” Manning said.
“He had major, major reconstructive surgery. Months and months of rehab. Mine was a unique type deal. I just can’t relate to the injury that he had.”
Manning paused, then continued.
“What he’s been able to do, coming back this year . . .” he said. “We’ve seen film of the Patriots playing other teams, other defenses, and you can’t tell he missed last year with major knee surgery. He’s picked up right where he left off the year before.”
Brady is among the NFL’s top 10 in every meaningful statistical category: No. 6 in rating (99.2), No. 3 in yards (2,364), No. 8 in completion percentage (65.8), tied for No. 3 in touchdowns (16) and No. 8 in yards per attempt (7.63).
He has the Patriots humming along at 6-2, the front-runner in the AFC East and a team that undoubtedly will be in the pursuit of a spot in Super Bowl XLIV come January.
“He sure seems to have handled (the return) pretty smoothly,” Manning said.
Brady and Manning talk occasionally, and Brady sought Manning’s advice when he developed an infection in his knee during the rehab process. Before that, he talked with teammates — safety Rodney Harrison, tight end Benjamin Watson — who had suffered similar injuries that required intensive rehab.
When his rehabilitation allowed, Brady returned to the practice field.
“Physically, I’ve felt great for a long time,” he said in a Wednesday conference call with Indianapolis media. “The rehab process is what it is. It’s pretty straightforward at this point.
“Pretty much January of this year I was out throwing the ball and running around and I participated fully in all the minicamps and quarterback camps and I’ve done every practice this season. So the health of my knee is great and I feel great physically.”
Brady got more work in preseason games than normal as he sought to regain his timing. In three games, he completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 307 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
There was no doubt in his mind he was ready for the Sept. 14 opener against Buffalo. He was right. He went 39-of-53 for 378 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Any trepidation heading into that game?
“No. I didn’t feel that at all,” Brady said.
“I felt very positive about where I was at. Physically, I felt great and it was just a matter of getting out there.”
QB matchup, by the numbers
The quarterbacks widely heralded as the two best of the past decade are showing no signs of slowing down. Halfway through the 2009 season, the Colts’ Peyton Manning and Patriots’ Tom Brady are posting nearly identical numbers as they prepare to match wits and their strong right arms Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:
*Yards per attempt
Targets, long and short
Both quarterbacks spread the ball among a number of receivers but have three favorites: a deep threat, a possession receiver not afraid to go over the middle and a running back out of the backfield. The prime targets:
» Deep: WR Reggie Wayne (59 catches, 753 yards, 6 TDs).
» Possession: TE Dallas Clark (60 catches, 703 yards, 3 TDs).
» RB: Joseph Addai (34 catches, 209 yards, 2 TDs).
» Deep: WR Randy Moss (49 catches, 712 yards, 5 TDs).
» Possession: WR Wes Welker (55 catches, 568 yards, 4 TDs).
» RB: Kevin Faulk (23 catches, 192 yards, 1 TD).
Two productive offenses
Comparing the teams’ offensive statistics, with their NFL ranks in parenthesis):
|Points|27.1 (6)|28.1 (3)|
|Yards passing|315 (1)|295 (2)|
|Yards rushing|85.4 (29)|114.2 (16)|
|Total yards|400.4 (4)|409.2 (2)|
Additional Facts Colts vs. Patriots
8:20 p.m. Sunday, Lucas Oil Stadium, WTHR-13