FOXBORO — Over the last month, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has managed to shake off the inconsistencies that plagued him over the first few weeks of the 2009 season and return to the same familiar pre-knee injury form.
Consider the numbers:
•After throwing for more than 300 yards just once through the first five weeks of the season, Brady has averaged 349 passing yards the last four games, a stretch where his completion percentage hasn’t dipped below 68 percent in any game.
•After throwing just six touchdowns through the first five weeks of the season, he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes the last four games, and is now second in the league in both passing yardage and touchdown passes.
•And after not hitting on a 40-plus yard pass play over the first five weeks, he’s connected with Randy Moss on pass plays of 54, 71 and 63 yards the last three games.
One reason for the improved stats is the overall quality of opponent. After playing nothing but unbeatens through the first five weeks, the Patriots have faced just one opponent with a plus-.500 mark since then, the Colts this past Sunday. (Brady went for 375 yards against the Indianapolis defense.) He also padded those numbers with an epic performance on Oct. 18 against a woeful Tennessee team, where he picked up five touchdown passes in the second quarter alone.
But there’s also the overall evolution of an offense with a lot of new parts to consider. The Patriots were operating without old offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. New faces were shuffling through at the No. 3 receiver position. Wes Welker was hobbled with a knee injury and missed a pair of early-season games. And Brady was still working to get re-acclimated after a year away from the game because of last season’s knee injury.
But veteran Joey Galloway was released, Welker returned from a knee injury and former college quarterbacks Julian Edelman and Isaiah Stanback have stepped in to contribute at receiver. And Brady has continued to make strides in his return from a season away because of the knee injury. Everything finally seemed to click in the Oct. 18 blowout of the Titans, where the quarterback finished with a season-high 380 passing yards, a stratospheric 152.8 passer rating and six touchdowns, which quieted the talk that something might have been wrong with the quarterback.
Since then, the passing game has been reminiscent of 2007.
“I think we’ve made a lot of improvements as an offense,” Brady said Wednesday morning when asked to compare the state of the Patriots’ offense now as opposed to the Week 2 loss to the Jets. “We probably have a better idea of what we do well. I think we’ve shown some steady improvement. Not that we’ve got it all figured out, but I think we’re closer than we’ve been.”
The biggest difference could be the return of Welker. The wide receiver, who missed two of the first three weeks because of a knee injury but is still tied for second in the league in receptions with 64, was sidelined for the first Jets game.
While Edelman filled in admirably in his absence (eight catches, 98 yards in his first NFL game), the absence of perhaps the best slot receiver in the league limited some of the things Brady and the New England passing game could do against the Jets back in September.
New York coach Rex Ryan knows that if Brady has a healthy Welker at his disposal, the quarterback is that much more dangerous this week than he was back in Week 2.
“Wes Welker is back healthy and playing and catching 10 balls a game, so I’m sure that helps him,” Ryan said of Brady. “But I thought [Edelman], who filled in for him, did a great job. But obviously there’s very few Wes Welkers in this league. He’s a tremendous player, and obviously Tom Brady has a great deal of confidence in him.”