FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady is just a few long passes away from throwing for 5,000 yards this season. He even has a chance to overtake Drew Brees for the NFL record.
More importantly, Brady wants to beat the Buffalo Bills. So if he has to keep handing the ball off to accomplish that on Sunday, that’s what he’ll do.
“What I like to think about is our offensive production and if we’re getting the ball in the end zone, if we’re winning games, if we’re building on our performance week to week,” Brady said. “Personal records and anything like that, really, in a team sport, to me, there’s just not any emphasis on those. We’re trying to win team awards.”
Brady is listed as “probable” on the Patriots injury report.
An injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder limited Brady’s participation in practice Friday for a second straight day after he sat out practice on Wednesday. He stretched with his teammates during the brief period open to reporters Friday.
The “probable” designation means that there is a “virtual certainty” a player will be available for normal duty, according to the injury report.
One more win, or a tie, would give the New England Patriots home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They still could clinch that if they lose and both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers lose or tie in their regular-season finales on Sunday.
But Brady’s not focusing on that either.
“We’re not thinking about anything beyond this weekend,” he told reporters. “I keep saying that every week. I know you guys probably think I’m full of crap, but it’s a very short-term focused team. We just try to stay focused on the present and that’s trying to have good practices and ultimately be prepared for our game on Sunday.”
Brady missed practice on Wednesday, an absence the Patriots said was not injury related. He took part on a limited basis on Thursday because of an injury to his non-throwing, left shoulder.
He needs just 103 yards passing to post the fourth 5,000-yard season in NFL history. Brees did it for the second time in his career on Monday night when he reached 5,087, breaking the record of 5,084 set by Dan Marino in 1984. Brees also has one game left when the New Orleans Saints, with a shot at a playoff bye, host the Carolina Panthers.
“Yeah, it’s a great story,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, looking ahead only to Sunday’s game. “Last time I watched Marino throw, I don’t know when that was. I’m just trying to concentrate on Buffalo.”
With good reason.
Buffalo beat New England 34-31 on a last-play field goal in Week 3 when the Bills intercepted four of Brady’s passes. The Bills (6-9) broke a seven-game losing streak in their last game, a 40-14 win over the Denver Broncos.
And they’d love to sweep a division rival that has the AFC’s best record, 12-3.
“It would mean the world to me,” Bills linebacker Chris Kelsay said. “You want to win as many games as you can throughout the season, but if you could pick a handful of games that you want to win, it’s divisional games: the Jets, the Patriots and the Dolphins. To sweep New England would be a sweet thing.”
But the Patriots are primed for payback after blowing a 21-0 second-quarter lead in the first matchup.
“We got embarrassed up there,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “They put it on us good so, hopefully, we can come out here and put forth a better effort.”
New England has won its last seven games, but has struggled at times in the last four, winning three of them by seven points or less.
Buffalo was a surprising 5-2 in its first seven games, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing for 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But during the seven-game slide, he threw just eight scoring passes and 12 interceptions.
He improved in his last game, completing 15 of 27 passes for 196 yards with no touchdowns and, more importantly, no turnovers. On Sunday he faces a defense that has allowed the most yards in the NFL, but just the 14th-most points. And the Patriots are third in points scored.
“For us, it’s going to be about trying to control the ball and trying to keep their offense off the field,” Fitzpatrick said. “We can’t settle for field goals versus these guys. You’ve got to get touchdowns because they score so many points.”
Two of the Bills’ biggest threats are wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who needs 36 yards receiving to become the first player in team history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and C.J. Spiller, coming off his first game with 100 or more yards rushing, gaining 111 against Denver.
But can they overcome Brady’s production?
“It’s not just the quarterback’s success,” Spiller said. “There are guys out there catching the ball and there’s guys blocking (but) to have a guy in our own division that’s throwing the ball the way Brady does … when he does it against other guys it’s an amazing play. You just hope for him not to do it against you.”
Brady’s production has been boosted by his receivers’ ability to run after the catch. Wes Welker is tied for first in the NFL with 649 yards after the catch and Rob Gronkowski is fifth with 588.
Keep that up and Brady’s chances of going well over 5,000 yards improve.
“You try to throw to the open guy,” Brady said, “but ultimately it’s about production. It’s not about passing yards or rushing yards or third-down percentage. It’s about points.”
And he’s the biggest reason the Patriots score so many of them.
“When you look at their team, obviously it starts with Tom Brady and all the success that he’s had,” Fitzpatrick said. “They light up the scoreboard.”