There is usually no good time for an NFL defense to find itself matched up against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Now in his 16th season, the 38-year-old Brady is still near the peak of his game as he climbs up the list of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.
Pick a category. He's at or close to the top of them all now. Yards, wins, completions, touchdowns, interception percentage. He has his bad days like all quarterbacks, but even those are usually better than everyone else's good days.
No, there isn't a good time to line up against Brady, but some are worse than others. For instance, it wouldn't be good to get the Patriots when they are coming off a loss, or when Brady is mad, or when you have given up 45 points in two straight games. Also not good would be to see him at home under those circumstances, or when a win could clinch another division championship for the Pats, or when your own locker room appears to be fissuring from the weight of a disappointing season.
Welcome to the world that awaits the Eagles on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., and if you thought they were over their heads the last two games, those might have been mere prelude to a tsunami that will swamp them whole.
"It was a very hard loss," Brady said on Boston radio Monday morning after New England's undefeated season went awry in overtime at Denver. "I don't think I've ever been so visibly pissed off after a loss. And I think everyone felt the same way. Hopefully, we can use it as motivation going forward."
The Pats led, 21-7, early in the fourth quarter, but Brady's offense could muster only one first down on the next three series, all of which ended in a punt. The Broncos came back to send the game into overtime and win it there. Brady wasn't pleased.
"We didn't play as well as we would have liked to for 60 minutes," Brady said. "We get an opportunity this week to do that."
Brady's career record is 40-8 after a loss, and the Patriots haven't lost consecutive games since the 2012 season. He also happens to have the best December winning percentage of any quarterback since the merger in 1970. Add it all up and what do you get? Well, it might take a while to add it all up.
If there is a sliver of hope for the Eagles, it would be found in the New England injury report, which listed several of the Patriots' offensive weapons, including Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola.
"Did they lose Brady?" Chip Kelly said, when asked about this sliver of hope. "Because I think that would truly, truly affect them."
No, they did not. He's fine, just kind of angry and motivated.
What did Brady see when he watched film of the Eagles defense, and what did he think? That would be interesting to know. One thing he saw, at least from the Detroit game on Thanksgiving, was a defense that blitzed more than 60 percent of the time (double the league average) but was still unable to lay a hand on Matthew Stafford. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis took a player out of coverage consistently to shake up Stafford and still wasn't able to do so. Stafford was 16 for 24 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, zero sacks, and zero interceptions against the blitz.
"Yeah, we blitzed a lot, but we didn't help ourselves. We were showing our blitzes," outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I showed a blitz. [Brandon Graham] showed a blitz. Other people showed their blitz. What is it, Week 11? Stafford's watched some film. Blitzes are the right call, but we've got to run them."
If Stafford could read what the Eagles were trying to do, then Brady shouldn't have any trouble, either. He's a master of changing plays and protections at the line of scrimmage, of putting the defense at a disadvantage before the ball is ever snapped.
"He really is an orchestra leader out there," Kelly said.
Brady will be waving the baton at a defense that hasn't been able to get out of its own way for two weeks and whose members are starting to snipe at one another. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said he thought some of the defensive schemes were "too predictable," and even questioned how the team conducts its meetings. Davis shot back at him a little bit, and the whole team was privately reminded to shut up and play.
"I don't know, man. You've got to ask Coach Davis," Graham said, asked why the pressure hasn't been effective. "All I know is to keep working. I ain't trying to get myself in no trouble."
"I just play football," said Byron Maxwell, asked the same question. "I don't know nothing about that."
Against Brady, Davis will have to pick a poison again. Limit Brady's time to throw or devote more defenders to coverage. Don't forget to factor in that a rookie making his first NFL start is at one of the cornerback positions, and the inside linebackers have all been hurt this season. Brady will have made note of those things.
There isn't much that slips past Brady, or many games that slip away in the fourth quarter. He might be the best in history at his job, and that means there is never a good time to try to keep him from doing it.
But, boy, does this ever look like a particularly bad one.