FOXBOROUGH — Now we know why Tom Brady eats all that avocado ice cream and schedules his workouts three years in advance and falls asleep by 9 p.m.
At 37, he’s trying to transform into a dual-threat quarterback.
Usually it’s Brady’s right arm that gets his teammates howling on the sideline and Patriots fans jumping out of their seats in excitement. And there was some of that in Sunday’s 41-13 win over the Dolphins — the 287 passing yards, the two touchdown passes, the two gorgeous throws to Rob Gronkowski down the seam, and the 31-yarder floated perfectly into Julian Edelman’s hands. This was the 10th straight game in which Brady threw two touchdown passes, tying the longest streak of his career (2007).
But for once, the key play of the game involved Brady’s not-so-swift feet. His 17-yard run on third and 11 early in the third quarter put the Patriots inside the 5-yard line, helped erase an ugly first half, and fired up his teammates. They outscored the Dolphins, 27-0, in the second half and cruised to an easy victory.
“Oh man, he looked like a gazelle out there,” fullback James Develin said. “I wish he would tuck it and run a bit more.”
The run didn’t happen by accident. The Dolphins spent much of the game rushing Brady with only three defenders and covering with eight, but none of the defenders were told to spy on the quarterback. And why would they? This is Tom Brady we’re talking about, not Colin Kaepernick. Brady entered with just 20 rushing yards all season.
But the Patriots were ready for this defense. Brady pulled off a similar play against the Dolphins last year, rushing for 8 yards on fourth and 4.
“It’s something we’ve talked about this week,” Bill Belichick said. “Did a good job of seeing that in the pass rush. Alert play on his part, and it was a key first down for us.”
The run was impressive enough. It was the third-longest of Brady’s career, behind a 22-yarder against the Bengals in October 2006 and a 19-yarder against the Colts in November 2007. Both of those other runs, coincidentally, converted third-and-long plays, too.
The end of Sunday’s run is what made this play so memorable, and why it will one day end up on Brady’s career highlight tape.
After stepping up in the pocket, Brady pump-faked linebacker Phillip Wheeler to pick up the first down. Running toward the sideline, Brady had one more defender to beat — rookie safety Walt Aikens, closing in fast. Brady easily could have slid at the 7-yard line, like most quarterbacks do. He still would’ve had the first down and a goal-to-go situation.
But Brady wasn’t having any of it. He lined up Aikens in his crosshairs, lowered his left shoulder and went right after the 203-pound safety.
“I could have slid, but I wasn’t in the best mood at that time,” Brady said. “If he was a bigger guy I would have thought really hard about sliding, but once I was in the secondary, things happen pretty quick for me out there. I’m not the fastest guy out there, so things close down pretty quick.”
The two forces collided, and if we’re going to be honest, Aikens won the battle. Brady went flying out of bounds at the 3-yard line while Aikens stood over him.
Brady didn’t act like the loser, however.
“He got up and he was like, ‘Woo!’ He was excited,” Aikens said.
So were Brady’s teammates, who loved seeing their 37-year-old, three-time Super Bowl champion, supermodel-marrying quarterback lower his shoulder and initiate a big hit, just like a football player is supposed to do.
On the next play, LeGarrette Blount punched the ball in from 3 yards, and the rout was on.
“Huge props to Brady on that run,” Rob Gronkowski said. “That was huge.”
What’s funny is Brady predicted before the game he was going to seek out some contact against the Dolphins. He was out for blood.
“It’s crazy because I actually told him, ‘If you break one today, you’ve got to get down! Don’t try to dip on them, get down!’ ” receiver Brandon LaFell said. “And he was like, ‘Nah, I’m going to try to run somebody over.’ He’s always joking around like that, and he actually did it.”
Brady had some frustration to vent after his performance in the first half. The Patriots led, 14-13, but not because of the offense. Brady was only 8 of 15 for 82 yards and an interception at halftime, with three of his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. The 14 points came from a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and an interception returned to the 8-yard line.
Brady had steam coming out of his nostrils in the third quarter.
“I was going to slide, but I was pretty pissed off at that time, so I figured I wouldn’t slide,” Brady said. “I know we were all pretty pissed off at halftime — 25 plays on offense and terrible time of possession, terrible on third down, just didn’t do anything to help our team win. I’m glad we started to earn our paycheck there in the second half.”
The run helped turn those Patriots frowns upside down, and by the fourth quarter, players were laughing and joking on the sideline as the Patriots wrapped up their sixth straight AFC East crown.
Brady, naturally, took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates past and present.
“I think he’s still running, isn’t he?” Drew Bledsoe, watching the game as a VIP guest of the Kraft family, joked in the locker room afterward. “People give me a lot of grief for being slow, but that seemed like it took a long time for him to make that 17 yards.”
“It was in slow motion, but it was good,” LaFell added.
Brady will never win a 40-yard dash contest out there, and he probably doesn’t have too many more 17-yard scrambles left in his repertoire. But the play exemplified exactly what makes Brady so special, and why the Patriots have been so fortunate to have him for 15 years.
“It’s just, whatever it takes,” Brady said. “I think that’s what matters. I think all our guys responded the way we wanted to, and it was good to go in there and finish them off like we did.”
■ Patriots 41, Dolphins 13: Patriots capture AFC East title again
■ Shaughnessy: Winning AFC East only the beginning
■ On football: Brady’s scramble picked up Patriots
■ Harmon, Patriots defense kept Dolphins at bay
■ Notebook: Chandler Jones plays like he never left
■ Special teams play big role in win over Dolphins
■ Opposing view: Same old losing script for Dolphins
■ Belichick, Patriots adjusted at halftime, and the rout was on
■ Tailgating: Fans add wood-fired pizza oven to party
■ Patriots fan wins $1 million at halftime by picking No. 12
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin