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After letdown in crunch time, Browns' defense aiming for redemption against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer

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BEREA: Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo recently joked about possessing an intimate knowledge of all the moves and plays New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has in his arsenal.

After all, the scouting goes back to his childhood.

“When I did play Madden, that was the quarterback that I used,” Mingo said, recalling his Xbox glory days. “Now I get to go play him.”

Mingo won’t be the only one in awe of Brady when the Browns (4-8) visit the Patriots (9-3) at 1 p.m. today at Gillette Stadium. With five Super Bowl appearances and three titles on his resume, Brady is certainly one of the most accomplished NFL quarterbacks of all time and the most successful one still playing. That makes him a childhood idol of young players throughout the league.

“There’s this quote that when your heroes become your opponents, you know you’re doing something right,” strong safety T.J. Ward said.

Added inside linebacker Tank Carder: “When I was in high school, I was watching him kill it. He’s arguably the best ever.”

Brady’s regular-season record as a starter is 145-42, giving him the highest winning percentage (.775) of any quarterback since the Super Bowl era began in 1966. He’s also 17-7 in the postseason, and no one in NFL history has more playoff victories as a starting quarterback.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick (No. 199 overall) in the 2000 NFL Draft.

“I believe he’s the best draft pick in the history of football,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “I might go so far to say he’s the greatest player that’s ever played.”

In other words, Horton’s men will likely face their most daunting task of the season when they encounter Brady, 36, and his top targets, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

“He makes throws that the average quarterback wouldn’t make, that probably three quarterbacks in this league can make,” free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “I think that he’s just the complete quarterback. He can’t run that fast, but besides that, from a mental standpoint, from an accuracy standpoint, from a throwing-power standpoint, he would be your ideal, prototypical quarterback.”

Brady also symbolizes the most important ingredient the Browns have been missing since their expansion era kicked off in 1999 – stability at the most vital position. The Patriots have had four starting quarterbacks since 1994, and Brady has been their man since 2001.

The Browns, on the other hand, have started 20 quarterbacks since their rebirth, including three this season. They didn’t even know for sure that Jason Campbell would start against the Patriots until Friday, when an independent neurologist gave him the green light to return to game action after suffering a concussion Nov. 24 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s been a challenge each and every week, and now you’re going against one of the premier teams in the league and a hall of fame quarterback,” Campbell said. “So it doesn't get any easier.”

Not with an offense led by Brady and a team led by coach Bill Belichick. This season, Brady has completed 286-of-471 passes (60.7 percent) for 3,267 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions, posting a passer rating of 88. It’s not one of his most impressive seasons from a statistical standpoint, but the Patriots are rolling and there’s no easy way to stop Brady.

“You’ve got to give him different looks,” Horton said. “You’ve got to pressure him. You’ve got to play at your best because I’m pretty sure he’s going to prepare, and he won’t take any game, any opponent, lightly. So it’s an ultimate test for me, I think, as a coordinator, this one player. I think he’s everything you want in a franchise quarterback. I think his love for the game is outstanding. I think his ability to read defenses, to throw, and probably one of the best things about this guy from afar, I’ve never been on the same team, is his ability to make his teammates better.”

Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the defensive captain, is using the matchup with Brady as a motivational tool. The Browns’ defense, ranked fourth in the league with 306.8 yards allowed per game, is frustrated with itself after surrendering a game-winning touchdown drive in crunch time last week that resulted in a 32-28 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I think last week was uncharacteristic of how we want to be perceived around the league and how well we’ve been playing from a unit standpoint,” Jackson said. “Yeah, it’s a great test for us. I think every guy has a bitter taste in their mouth right now. You don’t want to end like that.

“We have enough capable guys to win that ballgame toward the end, and when we didn’t, it was a big disappointment on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a great opportunity this week. We win this one, we play great on defense, that’s great momentum to finish the season off.

In Jackson’s mind, a stellar performance against Brady would qualify as redemption.

“One thing you do tell the guys is, ‘This is one of the best you’ll face,’” Jackson said. “‘And if you stack up well against him, you should feel pretty good about yourself.’”

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.


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