FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady usually delivers signature moments with his arm, but it was an uncharacteristic scramble, and the fiery emotion that followed, that sparked an unforgettable "M-V-P! M-V-P!" chant during the team's 42-14 rout of the visiting Houston Texans on Monday night.
Brady for MVP? It's hard to argue with that thought after another stellar effort, this time as he carved up the team with the AFC's best record as the Patriots look primed to make one of their trademark runs deep into the postseason.
Brady's 6-yard dash at the end of the third quarter had everyone buzzing. The Patriots led by 21 and really weren't threatened, but the ultra-competitive Brady was doing what he always does -- playing as if it was a tied score. Unable to find an open receiver, he left the pocket, realized he had reached the first-down marker, and gave himself up with a slide before popping up and pumping his arms in front of him while gesturing to the crowd.
"I don't run too often, so I have to show them that I can still do it a little bit. I was pretty fired up at that point," Brady acknowledged. "That was a big moment in the game. I was happy we got the first down."
A 6-yard run from Brady might as well be 56, considering he seldom tucks the football and takes off.
A quarterback sneak on third-and-1? Sure. But otherwise, when Brady turns from quarterback to running back it usually is a slow-motion film likely to find its way on the team's weekly blooper reel. He entered the game with 15 rushing yards on the season.
"At least there is a little bit of a threat there. Not a big threat; I'm not like RG III back there or anything, but I can make a first down," Brady chuckled.
Let's be honest. Even at age 35, there isn't much Brady can't do on the football field -- he was 21-of-35 for 296 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on Monday night -- and that's why his teammates weren't about to argue with the "M-V-P! M-V-P!" chants they heard after Brady's run.
"That was pretty cool," tight end Michael Hoomanawanui said. "I haven't been anywhere where I've heard that before.
"He's been doing it for years. Just being on another team and watching him, you see the leadership he shows on the field, on the bench, getting guys going, getting everyone on the same page. He makes it easy to play out there," Hoomanawanui continued.
"He's a great leader who gets everybody in sync, and when we're down, he kind of picks everyone up and gives us the kick that we need. So fiery. So intense. It just spreads like a wildfire."
Brady's leadership shined through on the Monday night stage on which he clearly enjoys playing. He's now 13-4 all-time on "Monday Night Football," and when the calendar turns to December, he generally jams the accelerator to the floor and takes his team with him.
Texans receiver Andre Johnson had said earlier in the week that the game was the biggest in franchise history, but for Brady and the Patriots, moments like these are old hat.
"It's always good to win these games; we've played in a lot of big games here. Monday night in December is an important one for us and we came out ready to go," Brady said after directing three touchdown drives on the Patriots' first three possessions as they opened a 21-0 lead and never looked back, sparked by a strong play-action passing game.
"It was a big game because they were 11-1 and leading the AFC, and we had to see where we were at, where we match up against the better teams in the league."
As Brady pointed out, the Patriots now have wins over AFC division leaders Denver and Houston, and a loss to a Baltimore team that seems to be slipping. A first-round bye is within the Patriots' reach, and possibly even home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
And when it comes to how Brady matches up against his MVP competition -- a group that includes Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning -- he has plenty of support in his own locker room.
"If I had a vote, it would go to him," said veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth, who was signed by the team Tuesday and immediately contributed with a 63-yard touchdown catch. "It's typical Brady. You've seen him playing like that, year in and year out. He's been one of the best players in the league for a long time and he works hard for everything he gets. He deserves it."
Monday was Stallworth's first game playing with Brady since the 2007 season and he didn't notice much of a difference. Maybe the only thing was a little bit of a different look inside Brady's helmet.
"He has a few wrinkles, [but] other than that, he's doing really well," Stallworth cracked.
Brady seemed amused when informed of Stallworth's remarks, before backing down. "He's probably right. It's called kids, marriage [and] a few losses over the last five years," he responded.
"Those add some gray hairs and some wrinkles."
With all that comes a different perspective than Brady had earlier in his career, which is what he attempts to pass on to his teammates.
"I've been around for longer than anyone else on this team, I've been around some great teams, and I can see the attitude of great teams, and I can see the work ethic of great teams and that's what I try to encourage," Brady said.
"That's part of my role as a leader, as a captain, as a veteran, as a quarterback. I try to show up every day and encourage the younger players who haven't been a part of those, so hopefully we don't have to go through growing pains; you can listen and say, 'Wow, Tom, you are right. You're not just screaming at me for [nothing].'"
The only yelling on Monday night was the chant that serenaded Brady at the end of the third quarter: "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
Just like the streaking Patriots themselves, Brady's candidacy quickly is picking up momentum.