November 25, 2010 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Tom Brady's return to Michigan is perfect

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady devoured the Lions defense in the second half. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit --He's Mr. Perfect. We all know that.

And yet for Tom Brady, the guy with the GQ looks and the supermodel wife and championship rings to spare, there is always room for improvement.

"I don't think we're at where we need to be at," he said after carving up the Lions on Thanksgiving. "We still haven't played 60 minutes yet."

Maybe not, but half of Brady and the Patriots was a whole lot better than the Lions in a 45-24 runaway victory. And a quick glance at the final statistics shows Brady, the former Michigan standout, was just what you'd expect: He was perfect.

Brady finished 21 for 27 for 341 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, which was good for a flawless 158.3 rating. It's the only single-game perfect rating posted by a quarterback with at least five attempts this season, and Brady became the sixth in history to reach that mark twice during a career.

All of which led to this question from the Patriots media corps after the game: Is Brady back in the zone now?

"When was he out of it?" receiver Wes Welker answered, laughing.

Not lately, obviously. Brady hasn't thrown an interception since mid-October, a streak of 199 pass attempts that broke the old franchise mark (183 attempts) set by some guy named Tom Brady a year ago.

And it's days like these -- Brady was 11 for 14 for 241 yards, with all four of his touchdowns in the second half after getting knocked around early -- that leave everyone marveling, his teammates included.

"I can't even say, man," said Deion Branch, a veteran wideout in his second stint with the Patriots. "I mean, you're speechless. You could sit up here all day and talk about that guy."

That guy found Branch three times Thursday, twice for touchdowns. The biggest was a game-tying 79-yarder in which Branch took a detour and Brady followed suit, undressing Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith in the process.

"He's supposed to run an in-cut, the guy (Smith) was sittin' on it, Deion threw his hand up, I just laid it out there for him and he made a great run after the catch," said Brady, who has at least one touchdown pass in every game this season. "Certainly, it's not how we drew it up. But it was just a great play by a great player."

Practice makes the QB

Brady knows of what he speaks, obviously.

And so does Branch, who spent the last four-plus seasons in exile in Seattle before returning to New England, where he, too, once won a Super Bowl MVP playing catch with Brady.

"It shows in practice," Branch said, trying explain his quarterback's magic touch. "You all just get to see what happens on game day."

His teammates, as they've explained time and time again over the years, get to see it every day, not just every game.

Brady's meticulous approach to preparation -- he's a perfectionist, and it shows -- drives a team that's already driven by the best coach in the league in Bill Belichick.

"Those things that we go over in practice, that's Tom Brady," Branch said. "He's always teaching, always coaching, making sure that guys are in the right place. And if we just do our job, he'll find us. He'll find us."

Brady, ironically, found himself right where it all started Thursday.

It was 10 years ago on Thanksgiving Day -- at the Silverdome, actually -- Brady made his NFL debut, replacing then-Patriots starter Drew Bledsoe in relief in a 34-9 blowout loss to the Lions. The sixth-round pick completed one pass that day -- the only completion during his rookie season.

Less than 15 months later, Brady was MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI, beginning a decade of dominance for the Patriots, who reached the Promised Land four times, winning three.

Polar opposites

And the Lions?

Well, they went out and hired Matt Millen that winter and then ran a franchise fade route unlike any we've ever seen in professional football.

Since that Thanksgiving game in 2000, the Patriots have compiled a regular-season mark of 118-41. The Lions are 36-123 during that same span. This year, the Patriots are 9-2, while the Lions are 2-9.

In short, they're polar opposites. And Brady's triumphant return -- hard as it is to believe, the Lions were the only NFL team he'd never thrown a touchdown pass against until Thursday -- was a perfect reminder of how good some people have it.

"Happy Thanksgiving," Brady said cheerily as he wrapped up a quick postgame news conference, then hopped in a limo waiting with a police escort outside of Ford Field.

"Bye, guys."

Very Brady season

Tom Brady might have had his best game this season against the Lions. His game-by-game totals:


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