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QB Tom Brady Has Best Form Of His Life, 'Post' Columnist Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The New England Patriots seek to go 10 and 0 tonight. They're playing the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots are undefeated through nine games thanks in part to the leadership and play of Tom Brady. You know, the quarterback at the center of the Deflategate scandal - that Tom Brady. Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins spent time with Brady recently. She's on the line. Good morning.

SALLY JENKINS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: You know, you wrote that maybe Brady's play is a form of revenge or at least of answering his critics. What did you mean?

JENKINS: Well, I think that everybody questioned whether or not he'd had an illegal competitive advantage in the playoffs last year in the AFC championship game, which sparked the, you know, saga of Deflategate. And it would appear that he's attempting to prove, you know, with every game - the level of his play has been so very high that, you know, it looks - certainly looks like an attempt by Tom Brady to say, well, you know, am I cheating now?

INSKEEP: Is he actually better at age 38 than he was a few years ago?

JENKINS: I don't think there's any question he's playing at the highest level of his life. I mean, his touchdown to interception ratio is ridiculous. It's unheard of.

INSKEEP: Well, I want to mention something I was watching when they were playing the Giants last week. And just as a layman, just as a viewer, this is what's in my head. The Giants are up by 10 and I'm thinking that is not enough with Tom Brady on the other side. Later in the game, it gets close. The Giants kick a field goal. I'm thinking that's not enough with Tom Brady on the other side.

JENKINS: Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, you know, I think the silliness of Deflategate is that it, you know - the inflation level of a football is an utterly insignificant factor compared to what he really does well. And the main thing he does well is what you just described. He has the ability to appear completely unhurried even in the most intense critical situations.

INSKEEP: And do other players have that feeling that I have, opposing players, that whatever they do they know Tom Brady is coming after them again?

JENKINS: Oh, absolutely. I think that's why you saw Eli Manning play the way he did for the Giants. I think he knew that it wasn't enough.

INSKEEP: So what's his relationship with the coach, Bill Belichick?

JENKINS: Well, I think they have a - you know, it's a great partnership, obviously. You know, both of them are very cerebral sort of methodical guys, so I don't think there's a lot of warm and fuzzy. I think (laughter) they hug once a year and that's, you know, after a playoff game victory. It looks to me like - I don't have a great deal of insight into that relationship, but I don't think anybody does. I think they're very closed off characters, both of them.

INSKEEP: And they've worked together for a long time. Obviously, if you're 38, you've got years of experience. You can apply that experience on the field. You mentioned that Brady is playing so well. Is he physically, though, any different than he was at, say, 28?

JENKINS: Yes. I think he's taking much better care of himself. One of the things that he talks about is his commitment to his fitness. He's a nutrition nut. He's become a real health food nut. He eats all kinds of - you know, he drinks a lot of kale shakes. And he'll even tell you that fruit has too much sugar in it right now. He's become a real - almost a fanatic about nutrition. And I think it shows on the field. I mean, he's a 38-year-old man and he's more flexible than he's ever been. He's faster than he's ever been. He's certainly more accurate than he's ever been.

INSKEEP: In about 20 seconds, how would you beat him?

JENKINS: Well, I think you have to hope he has an off day and you have to pressure him. The one thing he's not particularly is, you know, he's not a great scrambling quarterback. He's faster and more agile than people think, but if you can pressure him - well, you know, if the defensive line can really get in his face and throw him down on the ground, that's a pretty good way to beat him.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens tonight. Sally Jenkins, thanks very much.

JENKINS: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: She is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and recently profiled New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.