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Sorting the Sunday Pile: Tom Brady tops himself somehow

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

You'd think Tom Brady would run out of impressive things to do. Somehow he doesn't and Brady, after an embarrassingly off first half of football on Sunday night, managed to mount the biggest comeback of his career, storming back from 24 points and toppling the Broncos.

Brady entered halftime having gone just 10 of 17 for 81 yards and no scores. He looked lost, the Patriots couldn't stop fumbling and they were basically finished.

Advanced NFL Stats gave the Pats a six percent chance of coming back. You can imagine what the Win Probability Graph looked like:

Previously Brady came back from 21 points against the Bills in 2012 and 21 against the Bears in '02. This was a different animal. Fans were leaving Gillette Stadium, the Pats were getting booed by the ones who stuck around and Knowshon Moreno was doing his best Terrell Davis impersonation.

Moreno didn't slow down but Brady sped things up. In the second half he went 24 for 33 for 263 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Credit some of his success to a little luck: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the game after suffering an injury while trying to intercept a Brady pass right before halftime. The Broncos' game plan changed dramatically when DRC was forced out of the game as they were forced to move away from man-to-man and play softer zone coverages.

But Brady shredded that defense. He looked like a quarterback possessed in the second half Sunday, and when things started going his way they really went his way.

There will be lots of rantings on the narrative of Brady toppling Peyton Manning and there will probably be lots of talk about Manning struggling in the cold and in an important game. Don't buy into that.

Credit Brady for doing what he has done so many times before but somehow managing to do it on the highest level despite the biggest deficit in what very well might be the worst season of his career. Aqib Talib is a lockdown defender in the pass game and Chandler Jones is a terror of a pass rusher ... when they're healthy. But the Pats are too gashed on defense to lean on that unit for the stretch run.

Any success they have this season will be a direct result of the way Brady plays. Based on that second half it's not insane to expect good things.

Conference Power Struggle
For a brief period early in the 2013 season, the AFC surpassed the NFC as the better conference. That notion is laughable now, with the NFC sitting head and shoulders above its counterpart.

The problems start with the AFC's wild-card picture. While it might produce an exciting race for a single slot, there's nothing pretty or impressive about the Titans, Steelers, Jets, Ravens, Chargers and Dolphins -- all 5-6 -- fighting for the sixth seed. Are any of those teams dangerous as a Super Bowl contender? Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Diego all have good quarterbacks -- Playoff Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers -- but they have fatal flaws as well.

The Chiefs have basically locked up the fifth seed, but is there anyone who thinks they won't be one and done? They fell to the Chargers on Sunday and have Tamba Hali and Justin Houston dealing with injuries. Take away their pass rush and things could start to get ugly down the stretch.

It feels like a month since the Bengals have posted an impressive win, doesn't it? With Geno Atkins out it feels like their ability to really do damage in the postseason really hinges on Andy Dalton stepping up his game for a lengthy stretch. Not sure I trust him to do that.

The Colts are fresh off their second pasting in three games after getting blown out by the Cardinals on Sunday. They can't run the ball because Trent Richardson isn't any good, the defense is too banged up to stop anyone and without Reggie Wayne on the field, Andrew Luck is just too short on reliable weapons. They're going to make the playoffs and will get a home game. But red flags are flying over Indy right now. How they close out against a creampuff schedule -- the Titans, Bengals, Texans, Chiefs and Jaguars remain -- will tell us a lot.

The Broncos and Patriots produced an epic Peyton Manning-Tom Brady matchup on Sunday night in Week 12 and they're very capable teams because of their quarterbacks. But if the first and second halves didn't show you that each of them are sufficiently flawed then I'm not sure what you were watching.

Someone from the AFC can certainly win the Super Bowl -- someone has to be there, after all -- and you put Peyton or Brady in a game and their team has a chance no matter what. But the NFC's shaking out like a substantially better conference.

Glennon's Candidacy
Mike Glennon has quite improbably inserted himself into the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. The gangly Buccaneers starter, who replaced Josh Freeman in Week 4, has been an impressive caretaker of the game plan, a capable playmaker and one of the catalysts of the Buccaneers recent success.

For the year, Glennon's now 168 for 269 for 1,782 yards (6.6 yards per attempt), 13 TDs, 4 INTs and he has been sacked 21 times. That's not Pro Bowl material and it pales in comparison with the 2012 rookie class, but it makes Glennon easily the best quarterback out of this draft class so far.

It also makes him a ROY candidate. Eddie Lacy and Zac Stacy are more likely to pull in the honor (or Tavon Austin if he pours it on down the stretch; Giovani Bernard also deserves consideration) but a strong push down the stretch from Glennon could really swing some votes.

Sunday might've been his best game: Glennon tossed a pair of touchdowns and averaged 11.8 yards per attempt against a porous Lions secondary. He utilized secondary targets like Tiquan Underwood and Timothy Wright and made smart throws while stretching the field vertically.

It's a shame that Greg Schiano probably won't be around in 2014 to keep developing Glennon, because he's looking like a pretty competent quarterback at this early stage of his career.

Phoenix Rising
We've been talking about this for a few weeks but I'm going to keep beating the drum: the Arizona Cardinals look like a playoff contender. They're the six seed in the NFC right now pending the 49ers' Monday night game against the Redskins.

Winners of four straight, Arizona has everything clicking right now. Carson Palmer's playing really well and is picking up lots of "chunk" plays in Bruce Arians' offense while cutting down on his turnovers. Michael Floyd is developing into a viable No. 2 wideout on that offense. Patrick Peterson is a shutdown cornerback and the return of Daryl Washington has boosted the pass rush. Karlos Dansby's playing real well at linebacker too and had an INT for a TD on Sunday.

"I think this was a respect game," Palmer said. "I don't think we're well-respected throughout the league and that's not anybody's fault but our own. But I think we're better than people think and when you beat a good team, and a team that's beat good teams, it ups your respect among your peers and throughout the league."

Arizona has everyone's attention now. With a nice little stretch of games -- at Philly, St. Louis, at Tennessee -- coming up before playing Seattle and San Francisco to close out, the Cardinals have a legit shot to keep making a playoff push and getting themselves in contention for a shocking postseason berth.

The #Narrative
Both Cam Newton and Tony Romo have been consistently beat on in their careers for not closing out games. Sunday was a good example of why that notion is silly.

Romo got the rock with 4:45 left in the game and marched Dallas on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal. Romo was 6 for 9 on that final drive and displayed the sort of calm, methodical patterns that make him one of the best quarterbacks in the game. This isn't unusual. It's just that no one screams and shuts down Twitter when Romo does good things. That's the rubber-necking nature of how we roll as a society. Just remember that the next time someone tries to tell you Romo's a choker.

Newton's career is only different because he hasn't been under scrutiny as long. But in the past two weeks he has game-winning drives in the fourth quarter -- once against the Pats in prime time and again Sunday on the road in a game where the Panthers came out in lethargic fashion. Newton's drive was a 12-play, 80-yard jaunt down the field after Miami missed a field goal. Newton was 5 of 7 on this drive and it once again featured the Panthers quarterback being cool, calm and collected while racking up yardage for the Panthers.

NFC West Props
We all spent the offseason chatting up the NFC West and maybe it got out of control. The hype for those four teams -- Seahawks and 49ers specifically -- got pretty intense. It looks deserved now. The Cardinals are a playoff-contending team and the Rams have blown out a pair of quality opponents.

St. Louis isn't going to make a playoff run but it is getting its rookie playmaker going, as Tavon Austin had another long touchdown run Sunday and he's getting into some elite company.

Would you take the Rams as an AFC wild-card team? You probably would, despite the fact that they have Kellen Clemens starting under center.

The division is stacked defensively and while the Seahawks are probably locked into the top spot at this point, the 49ers and Rams are going to do battle for a playoff spot and division bragging rights. The Rams will keep playing spoiler out of the best division in the NFL.

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