By Sally Jenkins
Monday, October 29, 2007
Perfect Tommy is chasing perfection. You can see that in his perfect eye black, so straight it looks like he puts it on with a ruler, and those perfect passes traveling along their javelin-straight paths downfield. But never mind the perfect jaw, and the perfect hair, and the perfectly modest and self-effacing attitude. Those are just the externals. It's the internals that make Tom Brady so good, and frankly what he has in his guts isn't nearly so handsome. It's a taste not just for perfection but for total defeat, and it's something that his opposite, young Jason Campbell, will learn from, once he gets over the humiliation. "It wasn't a pretty feeling," Campbell said.
The Redskins want to win Super Bowls, or so they say. They spend and trade restlessly in the name of winning one. Well, this is what a Super Bowl organization looks like. This is how it plays, how it dresses, how it behaves. These are its tastes, and habits. No one personifies the ruthless excellence of the New England Patriots more than Brady, with his chilly precision and his killer's heart, and a taste for scoring impossible to satisfy. Deep in the fourth quarter, he was still lunging for the end zone. Think there was a touch of nastiness in what Brady, his backup Matt Cassel, Coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots did, twice going for it on fourth down to set up touchdowns, despite leads of 38-0 and 45-0? You bet there was.
Facing fourth and one at the Redskins 7-yard line with barely more than 11 minutes to go in the game, Brady and Belichick had no intention of vacating the field for the kicking unit. Most starting quarterbacks would have been on the sideline. Instead, a couple of plays earlier, Brady had cursed irately at a false-start penalty. Now he took the snap, put his helmet down and speared forward into the line, picking up a first down. Two plays later, he threw his third touchdown pass of the game, a two-yarder to Wes Welker.
"What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?" Belichick asked curtly.
It's a quality that Campbell and the rest the Redskins have yet to acquire. You could tell that Campbell didn't know quite how to feel about what the Patriots did to him and his team. Asked if he thought the Patriots ran up the score, he said, "I don't know how to answer that question." Three times, he was sacked and stripped of the ball by Mike Vrabel. All day he stood on the sidelines and watched Brady drive that relentless rhythmic offense up and down the field, until they had hung half a hundred on the scoreboard. Three times, Brady led the Patriots on scoring drives of at least 13 plays and seven minutes.
"When we're in those situations, we tend to back off a little bit," Campbell observed. "That's just what we do. Their motto might be a little different."
But Joe Gibbs wasn't about to complain that the Patriots were unkind. "I have no problem with anything they did," he said. "Nothing, no problems from me." Having won three Super Bowls, he was well aware of what he was watching.
For Campbell, it was back-to-school day. He was hurt and confused when it was over, but he understood this much: He had to treat it as a learning experience. "It teaches us a lesson," he said. "It shows us how hard we have to play, and how precise we have to be."
"Precise," was a word Campbell kept coming back to. The guy on the other sideline, Campbell acknowledged, is what every young quarterback should aspire to. Campbell was in just the 14th start of his career, and his opponent was a 30-year-old with three championship rings. Any comparisons were patently unfair. One quarterback is a future Hall of Famer at the height of his career, playing on a team that's among the best ever. The other is just beginning his, in a struggling organization. Still, Campbell obviously envied Brady's composure, and wished he could emulate it. It was a composure that he lacked at times, whether losing a fumble or struggling with glitches in his headset.
"It's not a pretty feeling sitting there seeing them move up and down the field, and we're not making third downs, and not getting in a groove," Campbell said.
Even when Brady was a little less than perfect against the Redskins -- he threw nine incompletions and coughed up the ball once on a blindside sack -- he inhabited the quarterback position with such perfect ease that you hardly noticed his mistakes. He stood so perfectly still in the pocket he looked like a statue as he completed 29 of 38 throws for 306 yards. He preyed on every weakness with such hawkeyed alertness that it led to a team-record 34 first downs, and handed Gibbs the worst defeat of his career. And yet he made it all seem workmanlike, and routine.
"He was very precise in everything he did," Campbell said. "He's very in control, in everything he does. You can tell he's very comfortable. He's everything they say. There's nothing bad you can say about the guy. You just try to grow."
If there is anything a young quarterback can learn from Brady, it's his devotion to routine. The irony is that his extravagant numbers this season are very much a function of habit and routine. Last week he had this exchange with the press when he was asked if he would be rooting for the Red Sox.
Q: World Series Game 1 tonight, you like the Red Sox?
Brady: "I'll be in bed by about 9 o'clock, so you all can tell me how they did tomorrow."
Brady has thrown for 30 touchdowns in eight games, and the Patriots have yet to score fewer than 34 points. By the time he was replaced by Cassel midway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots had outgained the Redskins 451 yards to 157. And yet, he was still nitpicking on the things he and the Patriots had done wrong.
"It's been a good eight weeks, but it doesn't mean anything," he said. "The second half of the season is upon us, and I hope we improve on the first half. It's not even November and we've got a lot of room for improvement."
The Patriots are the benchmark for any organization that aspires to a ring, and Brady is the benchmark for any individual quarterback. If you want to grab the hardware, this is the team to emulate. The trouble is, how do you emulate a quest for perfection?