NFL players seem a bit confused these days. They don’t know whether to call their games track meets or fast-break basketball.

“All I know,” said New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, “is that it’s tiring.”

Either term is appropriate.

The NFL is a passing league now. And fans who cram into Gillette Stadium today will see two of the NFL’s very best passers: Tom Brady of New England and Phillip Rivers of San Diego.

They were among 14 passers who went over 300 yards last week — the most in a single week in NFL history — while Brady had the fifth-best passing yardage performance in NFL history, throwing for 517 yards in the Patriots’ 38-24 win at Miami.

Rivers threw for 335 yards in the Chargers’ 24-17 win over Minnesota.

Opening week also saw five games in which both quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards and four quarterbacks throw for at least 400 — again, the most in a single week in NFL history in each category.

But even as it appears that the NFL is now a gunslinger’s league, both Rivers and Brady said nothing is as it seems.

“You’ve seen this league,” Rivers said. “It’s week to week and year to year. There’s a lot of running the ball to set up the pass (but) obviously the statistics don’t lie from last Sunday’s games

“I still think it’s a week-to-week deal. You never know. That doesn’t mean that’s what it’s going to be the next week. We threw it more times than we normally do. I don’t necessarily anticipate putting it in the air 40 times again this week. We kind of go as the game goes. We have everything ready and we’ll do whatever it takes to try to win the game.”

Brady at least acknowledged “it’s been a passing league for a long time.”

But he added, “I think the running game is very important to every offense. Being balanced is extremely important.”

Sure, until you find the right mismatch.

“Wherever the matchup is, that’s where we try to go,” said Brady. “That’s part of being a smart football team, trying to exploit the other team’s defense.”

Of course, Brady has more threats than the average quarterback. Against Miami last week, he completed passes to eight receivers, led by Wes Welker (eight catches, 160 yards, including that 99-yard touchdown), Hernandez (seven for 103), Deion Branch (seven for 93) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (six for 86).

Yeah, the Patriots ran the ball for 106 yards — there’s the balance Brady wants — but their passing game was, well, phenomenal.

“It wasn’t so much the yards, obviously the yards were unbelievable, it was just a lot of really tight throws in tight areas,” said Rivers of Brady’s effort. “Just to me, again this position is about command and leading your group, he was in full control, obviously, like he is in many games.”

Of course, the Chargers also have a nice passing game. And the Patriots’ defenders know they have their work cut out.

“You’ve just got to try to do the best you can defensively to game plan,” said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. “Your job is to go out there and do the best you can.”

And run fast.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH