Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees may be front runners for NFL MVP honors but Tom Brady's been no slouch this season. Rodgers led his team to a 15-1 record and Brees broke Dan Marino's 27-year-old single-season passing record, but Brady was the only AFC quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards. He also led the Pats to a 13-3 record, including eight in a row to end the regular season.
And for his accomplishments, Brady has been named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month. New England averaged 31 points per game over the final five weeks, and over that time he was 124 of 190 (65 percent) for 1,608 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Brady has now received the honor in back-to-back months, and for the sixth time in his career.
Not that it needs repeating, but it's a testament to just how important he is to the Patriots' offense. Yes, Matt Cassel was 11-5 in 2008 after Brady was lost in Week 1 with a knee injury, but that team was coming off an 18-1 campaign and one David Tyree helmet catch away from 19-0 and their fourth Super Bowl title this century. What Cassel accomplished was nice and that's about it. Almost any NFL quarterback could've won 11 games with those offensive weapons.
One of the hare-brained criticisms we've heard about Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks is that he's somehow a system quarterback. Look no further than what his backup Matt Flynn did against the Lions' no-show defense in a meaningless Week 17 game, his detractors would point out. Flynn threw for 480 yards and tossed six touchdowns (a team record). A heady performance, for sure, but anyone who think that Rodgers isn't one of the NFL's elite passers is due a drug test.
We mention this because even with Cassel's relative success in New England, the Patriots haven't come close to developing a solid backup, much less Brady's eventual replacement.
Perhaps Brian Hoyer is the former (it's too early to say with any certainty), and maybe the team's 2011 third-round pick, Ryan Mallett could be the latter (again, way too early to know). But since Brady became the starter in 2001, he's been the only show in town.
The three Super Bowl rings, two Super Bowl MVPs, seven Pro Bowl selections and the two NFL MVPs confirm as much. And to a lesser degree, the back-to-back AFC Offensive Player of the Month awards. If the Patriots are to win their first playoff game since 2008, Brady will need to continue to play like one of the league's best QBs. If the first 17 weeks was a guide, New England's defense will necessitate its offense scoring a ton of points.