Tom Brady has overcome a depleted receiving corps in leading the New England Patriots to a 2-0 start. His next challenge comes from a defense featuring Darrelle Revis, the best cornerback the two-time National Football League Most Valuable Player says he’s ever faced.
The Patriots on Sept. 22 host the Buccaneers and Revis, who was traded to Tampa Bay during the offseason after spending the previous six years with the New York Jets. Brady faced Revis, a three-time All-Pro, on nine occasions when they were division rivals in the American Football Conference.
“I’ve never played against anyone who is as good as him,” Brady told reporters this week when asked about Revis. “You just have to be careful when you throw his way because you know he’s going to be close.”
Brady said Revis, 28, looks fully recovered from a torn ligament in his left knee that limited him to two games with the Jets last season. The Buccaneers in April sent two draft picks, including this year’s first-round selection, to New York for Revis and then made him one of the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterbacks with a six-year, $96 million contract.
“I don’t think there have been many balls caught on him in these two weeks,” Brady said after watching tape of the Buccaneers’ defense. “He looks like the same guy to me.”
The Patriots are seven-point favorites against the Buccaneers, who lost their season opener to the Jets 18-17 on a field goal with two seconds remaining and then were beaten 16-14 by the New Orleans Saints on a field goal as time expired.
New England has won its first two games by a total of five points, with Brady completing just 52.7 percent of his passes. Brady, who has never had a completion percentage under 60 in any of the past 12 seasons, has had to deal with the loss of his five leading pass-catchers from a year ago.
Receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd left during the offseason, as did running back Danny Woodhead, while tight end Rob Gronkowski has been recovering from injuries and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder.
Danny Amendola -- signed during the offseason as a possible replacement for Welker, who had more than 110 receptions in five of his six seasons in New England -- will be out several weeks with a sports hernia, the Boston Herald reported.
Brady also has had to deal with the struggles of rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Dobson has three receptions and is tied for the NFL lead with four dropped passes, while Thompkins has had problems running routes, with only six catches while being targeted 21 times by Brady.
“Tom Brady is a fantastic player,” Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano told reporters this week. “He is finding a way to get it done. As you do that and win, your confidence grows. I have been there before when the young players start to say, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ I just hope it’s not Sunday that they really catch fire.”
If Brady is able to get the best of Revis and the Buccaneers, the Patriots would be well positioned. Since the NFL went to its current 12-team postseason format in 1990, 75.4 percent of teams that started 3-0 made the playoffs. The Buccaneers odds of winning the Super Bowl have gone to 200-1 from 60-1 since the start of the season.
Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 50 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind a run of 54 in a row by Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
This weekend, Brady also will have to deal with Buccaneers Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson, who is able to play after having a one-game ban for an illegal hit overturned. Yet Brady said he knows his biggest challenge may come from Revis, or from avoiding him effectively.
“He covers big guys, small guys, he’s quick, he’s fast, he’s patient, he’s strong,” Brady said. “He doesn’t have any weaknesses. I don’t think I’ve completed many balls on his side of the field very often. He’s not a guy that you want to test and see how well you’re going to do.”