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QB chic: Brady leads league in style - and respect

FOXBOROUGH, Mass

You could almost hear the gears turning in Tom Brady's head Thursday as he listened to the question and pondered the fallout if he answered the way he would have liked to.

Someone wanted to know if he still hates the Jets, having publicly said so in August.

Hmm. "Do I still hate them?'' he said, repeating the question. "Well, I promised coach Belichick that I wouldn't say anything derogatory. So I have no comment.''

Crisis averted in Patriots-land, but message delivered.

The playful exchange illustrated one of the peculiarities of the Patriots' decadelong run of excellence: the seemingly odd couple at its core.

Central casting would have sent Peyton Manning to be Bill Belichick's quarterback, a no-nonsense, grimly determined football wonk in the coach's image.

Instead, Belichick got a jet-setting, married-to-a-supermodel fashion plate who at times seems as if he would have fit right in - and been a lot more interesting - on the longer leash of, say, Rex Ryan.

But no one in New England, least of all Brady, is complaining about how it turned out.

Monday night's game against the Jets merely is the latest in a long line of big ones for one of the most successful partnerships in NFL history.

Brady and Belichick are 106-32 together in the regular season, a .768 winning percentage that is best for such tandems since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

"I can't think of a quarterback and coach like this in history over this period of time and what they have accomplished,'' said Ron Jaworski, who will analyze Monday's telecast for ESPN. "They are literally joined at the hip . . . The one thing that jumps out at me as you watch games and if you know Tom and you know Bill, they are fierce competitors that hate to lose.''

Brady and Belichick are not literally joined, of course. That would severely hinder Brady's mobility. But Jaworski had the other part right.

For all his off-field glamour, Brady, 33, now more than ever can both dish out and take criticism in the pursuit of winning.

He has been seen on the sideline berating teammates. And he has heard it himself from the boss.

Last year, Brady told Details magazine, "I know what [Belichick] expects and I know what his idea of leadership is, and that's what I focus on.''

Brady also added this about the experience of watching practice video with the coach:

"The video comes up and he says, 'Brady, you can't complete a -- hitch.' I'll be sitting there thinking, I'm a -- nine-year veteran, I've won three -- Super Bowls. He can kiss my --.

"That's what you're thinking on the inside. But on the outside I'm thinking, 'You know what? I'm glad he's saying that. I'm glad that's what he's expecting, because that's what I should be expecting.' ''

Brady's brilliance never has been more evident than this season, with a patchwork set of weapons on offense having had to carry an inexperienced defense that ranks 31st in average yards allowed.

The challenge has tested his well-known dedication to video study, and also his ability to balance the role of veteran leader with fitting in a locker room full of lesser - and much lower paid - lights.

Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is tied for the team lead with six touchdown receptions, said working with a future Hall of Famer "was cool at first, awesome. But now being a teammate, we just have to go out there and prepare like it's anyone.''

Brady, he said, "teaches a lot'' but also is someone young players relate to. "He's out there working hard with all of us, getting the timing down there with rookies, the veterans, everyone.''

The numbers are extraordinary this season. He has 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions - two in the Week 2 loss to the Jets. His passer rating of 105.8 leads the NFL.

With results like that, Brady can do whatever he wants.

But still, the off-field fit is odd, the latest evidence coming this past week with news that he is endorsing Ugg boots, a product most commonly associated with female wearers.

"Initially, he was exactly the kind of guy we love in Boston,'' ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons, a prominent voice among Patriots fans (even though he now lives in California), said Friday. "But then, gradually, he started dating an actress, moved to New York City, bought a house in L.A., he is dating a supermodel. Now he's got long hair. Now he's got a deal with Uggs. Boston is very traditional, blue collar, mainly, and he's pushed the envelope with that a little bit. But he's playing so well.''

And with no end in sight. As long as he has his health, and his coach.

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden listed some of the star assistant coaches and receivers who have come and gone in the past decade, then lauded Belichick and Brady for keeping the flame alive.

The former is notoriously single-minded. The latter is more so than most give him credit for.

"Where did all this come from?" Gruden said. "[Brady] looks like he's more emotional and passionate about football than he's ever been. That is a unique combination. I love watching these two guys go to work."

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