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Brady's Patriots impress but playoffs will be real test

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts after the Patriots scored a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts after the Patriots scored a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter

By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - Tom Brady has racked up remarkable numbers in the first two weeks of the National Football League (NFL) season but any question marks over his New England Patriots team will not truly be answered until the playoffs.

The Pro Bowl quarterback has an astonishing 940 passing yards, completed 66 of 88 passes and thrown seven touchdowns in his team's opening two games against Miami and San Diego.

What should be truly frightening for those hoping to halt Patriots coach Bill Belichick's team this season is the range of options available to Brady.

Receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch each have over 200 yards receiving while tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have a combined 337 yards and five touchdowns.

"Rob was very productive last year, so was Aaron when he got his opportunities. Now they're primarily on the field for almost all the game," Brady said in an interview with Boston radio station WEEI.

"They've been able to take advantage of their opportunities. Other teams as you go through the season will try to figure out ways to stop them, to slow them down. Then we've got to use other guys. We've got to get other guys opportunities.

"It's a complementary game. If they're covering the tight ends, we've got to throw it outside. If they're covering outside, we've got to throw it inside. It's a chess game. It's constantly trying to take advantage of something that they're not aware of."

One tactic the Patriots have used to their advantage has been the no huddle offense which has allowed Brady to lead fast and relentless drives down field while defenses struggle to catch their breath and reorganize their personnel.

But the Patriots have been less impressive on the other side of the ball - allowing Miami's Chad Henne to throw a career-best 416 yards and then letting San Diego's Philip Rivers put up 378 yards - but they have made crucial plays at the right time to ensure a 2-0 start to the NFL season.

The AFC East, which includes the New York Jets and this season's early surprise package Buffalo Bills, is a tough division to top but it would be a brave man who bet against the Patriots reaching the playoffs this year.

New England's form has carried over from last season when, after losing to Cleveland in Week 9, they won their remaining regular season games to finish 14-2.

But when it came to the crunch time, the Pats fell at the first hurdle, losing to the Jets in the playoff opener and bringing their Super Bowl ambitions to an abrupt end.

The feeling was not a new one for Brady, who enjoyed an unbeaten 2007 regular season and went to the Super Bowl, where they were tipped to emulate the Miami Dolphins perfect season in 1972, only to lose to the New York Giants.

Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the first quarter of New England's opening game to the 2008 campaign and came back the next year to lead the team to a division title but then lost in the first round of the playoffs to Baltimore.

Brady has three Super Bowl rings, was twice named most valuable player of the championship game and his legacy as one of the top quarterbacks of all time is assured.

But this latest incarnation of Belichick and Brady's Patriots needs some post-season success if they are to turn all the impressive statistics and spectacular passing play into a memorable new chapter in the franchise's history.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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