<
>

Has Tom Brady closed the gap on Panthers' Cam Newton in MVP race?

The MVP race seems to be down to Cam Newton and Tom Brady, but did Brady's performance on Sunday evening tighten the gap at all?

 AP Photo, Getty Images

The NFL Most Valuable Player award appeared to be Cam Newton's to lose a week ago after a five-touchdown pass performance by the Carolina Panthers' quarterback.

It still might be.

But New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at least made it interesting with a big game against the Houston Texans on Sunday night.

We also shouldn't forget Arizona's Carson Palmer, who last week threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota to improve the Cardinals to 11-2. His 107.2 passer rating on the season has been impressive.

But Brady and Newton separated from the pack early and haven't done anything since to fall back.

ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters David Newton (Panthers) and Mike Reiss (Patriots) are here to provide insight with three weeks left in the regular season.

Newton: So Mike, is this a one- or two-horse race?

Reiss: I wouldn't say Brady closed the gap, David, but how about this: If the MVP race were a 17-round fight, Brady avoided the knockout in the 14th round based on what unfolded. He kept the fight alive, giving himself a chance at a late-round flurry to produce the upset or perhaps having Newton make big mistakes that costs the Panthers' quarterback the fight. As unlikely as that scenario seems, Brady was very good Sunday night in leading the Patriots (11-2) to a 27-6 road victory over the Texans, finishing 22 of 30 for 226 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. One thing that stood out to me was his toughness to absorb a late hit from Houston defensive end J.J. Watt early in the game and not have it affect his performance.

Brady reached the 4,000-yard passing mark in a season for the eighth time in his career and for the fifth straight season. He is only the third player in NFL history with at least eight 4,000-yard passing seasons.

Newton: Under most circumstances, I would say the gap was closed by a performance that was vintage Brady, who completed 73 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 116.8. That Brady did this in front of a national audience against a hot Houston team had to impress. But Newton's numbers in a 38-0 win against Atlanta were equally impressive, if not more so. He had a passer rating of 153.3, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

Over his past four games, Newton has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,025 yards and 13 touchdowns with only one interception for the undefeated Panthers. His passer rating during that stretch is 119.6. If anything, Newton solidified the argument for why he should get the award, despite Brady's impressive performance. Newton might have locked up the award in the first quarter, when he threw two touchdown passes and had a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Combine that with a 13-0 record and now the NFL's highest-scoring offense (31.6 points per game), and it's tough to match, even if your last name is Brady.

But you're right, Mike, the fight's not over. If Newton stumbles over the next two weeks, you might even see Palmer creep into the conversation more.