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FOXBOROUGH — There’s a Clydesdale on the loose, and he’s clip-clopping toward a milestone.
That’s Tom Brady, who has 997 career rushing yards to his name going into Sunday’s game against the Packers, putting him 3 away from the 1,000-yard mark. Fran Tarkenton he is not, and the lasting image of Brady running might be of a gangly kid in dad sneakers and beige shorts completing the 40-yard dash in 5.28 seconds at the 2000 NFL Scouting Combine, but if you keep at something long enough, you’re bound to have some good moments.
“I’ve kind of inched along there for a long time; it really hasn’t been a part of my game, but I’m getting close,” Brady said Friday. “I’ve been at it for a long time. Hopefully we can get it this week, hopefully we can get more than that.”
Prolific he is not, but Brady has given the Patriots some critical plays running the football over the years. His 997 yards have come on 570 rushes, for an average gain of 1.7 yards per rush. He has scored 19 rushing touchdowns and converted 235 first downs. He had his best rushing season by yardage in 2002 with 110 and best season by rushing touchdowns in 2012 with 4.
Brady has run for an average of 3.8 yards per game over the course of his career, so statistically speaking, he should hit 1,000 Sunday night. He actually has scampered for 1,145 yards, but a handful of negative plays and 79 kneel-downs for a loss of a yard hurt his stats.
“He’s killing his rushing average,” Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said through a fit of giggles.
“‘Can’t we run sneaks?’” Fears added, mimicking Brady in a pleading tone.
Speaking of the Brady sneak: He’s done it 157 times in his career, including the playoffs, and converted 133 first downs that way, meaning he’s been successful 84.7 percent of the time. Brady has scored 16 touchdowns via the sneak, four of them in playoff games.
Like the sneak, Brady’s best rushing plays haven’t been about stats, but about doing what needs to be done to win. That’s what stood out when we went through some of the best runs of his career.
You could say this about a half-dozen plays from that game, but the Patriots probably don’t win Super Bowl LI without Brady picking up 15 yards on third-and-8 with 4:49 to go in the third quarter and the Patriots down, 28-3. That drive ended in the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night, the beginning of the comeback, but James White probably wouldn’t have been in the end zone four plays later without Brady barreling up the middle. The 15-yard play ties for the fourth-longest run of Brady’s career.
“Every time he runs, it’s kind of in slow motion out there,” center David Andrews said, reflecting on that play. “It’s just like, ‘Whoa.’ It was a huge play in the game. I know that’s got to be demoralizing sometimes to teams to have guys covered and have him run rather than someone more adept at running.”
Andrews said the linemen just try to block through the whistle on those plays. They’re never anticipating a big Brady scramble.
“If you’re playing it for him to scramble, you’re probably not blocking your guy,” Andrews said. “You try to block your guy and sometimes in doing that and him stepping up, he’ll find his own lane and there he goes, galloping down the field.”
The third-longest run of Brady’s career took place in 2014 during a December game against the Dolphins, and gave birth to Julian Edelman’s “Clydesdale” nickname for Brady. Brady ran for 17 yards, converting a third-and-11 before he was tackled by Walt Aikens.
It also spawned a very funny video Brady posted on his Facebook page, the play intermingled with images of a cheetah and a jet plane, set to the theme from “Chariots of Fire.”
The run Brady says he’ll keep bragging about until he’s old and wrinkled (does Brady wrinkle?) is the one against the Bears in 2006 when he put Brian Urlacher on skates. Yet again it was on a third-and-long — the eight longest runs of Brady’s career have all come on third downs — and Brady juked Urlacher on his way to gaining 11 yards and converting a third-and-9.
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“He juked me out of my shoes in 2006,” Urlacher said on the “Dan Patrick Show” in 2013. “Man, he got me.”
“Yeah, that was a good play,” Brady said two weeks ago, ahead of this season’s Bears game. “You don’t see too many runs like that from me. Against a Hall of Famer. I’m lucky I didn’t get my head taken off.
“But that was pretty memorable. I was pretty jacked up after that. I thought Brian’s a great player and I had a lot of respect for him, how he played. Yeah, going toward the lighthouse and it was third down and every once in a while, I kind of shake someone and I got him. Probably won’t ever happen again.”
In his first game back from suspension in 2016 against the Browns, Brady ran for 5 yards on third-and-5, then mimicked the Fastest Man on Earth, Usain Bolt, doing the sprinter’s signature lightning bolt celebration. The game was in Cleveland, but the only thing audible were the cheers of visiting Patriots fans after that play.
In a 2014 interview on Westwood One, Brady said the hardest hit he ever took came on a run against the Bills in 2001 where cornerback Nate Clements blew him up and knocked his helmet off.
“I was scrambling and he drilled me, and my helmet went flying for like 10 yards away from me,” Brady said in the interview.
Brady has six rushing touchdowns in the playoffs. One of the best has to be his 6-yarder in the fourth quarter of the “Tuck Rule” game against the Raiders. Brady put so much into his celebratory spike that he slipped in the snow and fell on his face.
Another impactful score came in the first quarter of the divisional round victory against the Ravens on the way to Super Bowl after the 2014 season. That game is remembered for the Brady-to-Edelman-to-Danny Amendola touchdown, but it was Brady who found the end zone first, going 4 yards up the middle and diving into the end zone. This was the play Brady brought up when asked which rushes he was most proud of.
“Ray Lewis put his helmet right in the middle of my back,” Brady said. “That’s probably the one I remember the most because it probably hurt the most.”
It’s not the playoffs, but with a big “Sunday Night Football” game against the Packers coming up, perhaps Brady can make a run to reach 1,000 yards that’s memorable too. And lest you think he wouldn’t care about that milestone, he said that if he gets there, you might not see him on the field if the Patriots are in position to kneel at the end of the game.
“I’m sending Hoyer in if I do that,” Brady said.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.