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Tom Brady looks as sharp as ever for the New England Patriots - just in time for one of the biggest games of this NFL season.
Brady threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns, two each to Deion Branch and Wes Welker, in New England's 45-24 win over the Detroit Lions on Thursday. It was the third victory in 12 days for the Patriots, who now enjoy a long layoff before hosting the New York Jets on Dec. 6 in a Monday night matchup between the two AFC East leaders.
New England and New York both won Thursday to improve to 9-2, a half-game ahead of Atlanta for the league's best record.
"I really appreciate what these guys have done so far to be where we're at," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "It hasn't always been perfect or good, but we have a good opportunity here ahead of us."
Brady went 21 of 27 with no interceptions, earning a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 for the second time in his career. The Patriots traded Randy Moss in early October, but they don't seem to have lost any explosiveness. Branch caught touchdown passes of 79 and 22 yards Thursday, and Welker caught eight passes for 90 yards. New England scored at least 31 points for the third straight week.
Brady's first touchdown pass to Branch - the 79-yarder - was a jaw-dropper. Branch was wide open behind Alphonso Smith, and although Smith caught up with him around the 25-yard line, Branch slipped free of the Detroit defensive back twice en route to the end zone.
"He was supposed to run an in-cut and the guy was sitting on it," Brady said. "He threw his hand up and I laid it out there for him. He made a great run after catch. Certainly it's not how we drew it up, but it's just a great play by a great player."
That touchdown tied the game at 24 in the third quarter. Branch beat Smith again for a touchdown early in the fourth to make it 31-24.
"I think these last three games we've been preparing very well," Branch said. "We have a big weekend ahead of us. We have a little off time, but I think mentally the guys need to focus on what we're trying to get accomplished."
The Lions (2-9) are headed toward another losing season after dropping their seventh straight Thanksgiving game. Detroit has actually been pretty competitive this year, and the Lions took an early 14-3 lead against New England. But they couldn't hold off Brady, even after pressuring the quarterback early on.
"We got after him, got him a little rattled," defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh said. "Obviously he settled back down like the veteran quarterback, got his offense under control and made plays."
Brady became the first player to have a perfect passer rating this season with a minimum of five attempts, according to STATS LLC. His first perfect game was Oct. 21, 2007, when he threw six touchdown passes in a victory over Miami.
In addition to Branch and Welker, Brady had help from running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran for two touchdowns. His second one finished the scoring with 3:14 left and led to some pushing and shoving. The frustrated Lions bookended the extra point with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, meaning New England's ensuing kickoff was taken from the Detroit 40.
Maurice Morris ran for two 1-yard touchdowns for the Lions. His first score put Detroit ahead 14-3 with 5:58 left in the first half.
Green-Ellis' 15-yard touchdown pulled the Patriots within four with 45 seconds left in the second quarter, but they allowed Detroit to drive for a lead-padding field goal to end the half.
The Lions looked as if they finally might put together a good showing on Thanksgiving, forcing New England to punt on its first drive of the second half, but Detroit's Shaun Hill underthrew Calvin Johnson, and Devin McCourty picked off the pass. McCourty's 23-yard return helped set up Brady's 5-yard touchdown pass to Welker.
Detroit went back ahead 24-17 on a 1-yard scoring run by Morris.
This program aired on November 26, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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