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BEN VOLIN | SUNDAY FOOTBALL NOTES

Meet the receiver Tom Brady targeted during suspension

Ryan McManus.
Ryan McManus.John Risley photo/John Risley

It hasn’t been easy for Ryan McManus, the third-most productive receiver in Dartmouth history, to keep his NFL dream alive.

He’s been staying in shape this fall in case the Patriots or any other team calls for a workout, but “now that all the guys at Dartmouth have started their season, it’s harder to find a throwing partner,” said McManus, who still lives near campus in Hanover, N.H.

Fortunately, one quarterback in New England was available.

Yup, when Tom Brady needed to throw with a receiver during his four-game suspension, he called upon McManus, a 5-foot-11-inch All-Ivy first-team receiver, to help keep him sharp. McManus was the receiver catching Brady’s deep pass in the video that appeared on TMZ a couple of weeks ago, and McManus estimates they worked together four or five times over the final two-plus weeks of Brady’s suspension.

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“It’s hard to find a better throwing partner than that,” said McManus, 23.

Count McManus among those not surprised that Brady played so well in his return last week. Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 33-13 win over the Browns, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“Maybe that was just because I’ve been working with him, and saw that he was ready to go and in shape and looking good and was eager to get back out there,” McManus said. “Wasn’t surprising to me by any means.”

Ryan McManus had 172 receptions and 2,268 receiving yards at Dartmouth.
Ryan McManus had 172 receptions and 2,268 receiving yards at Dartmouth.John Risley photo

So how did McManus receive the call-up of a lifetime? The native of Mendota Heights, Minn., who finished his college career with 172 catches, 2,268 yards, and 11 touchdowns, received a tryout to the Patriots’ rookie minicamp this past May.

The Patriots said they liked McManus but didn’t have room for him on the roster, but said they’d keep him on a short list and encouraged him to stay in shape. Then a few weeks ago McManus received a phone call from Alex Guerrero, Brady’s body coach and business partner at TB12 Sports Therapy Center.

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“It’s not too glorious of a story,” McManus said. “They just reached out and I was happy to help out.”

Except there are about 5 million Patriots fans who would die to take McManus’s place.

McManus didn’t get paid for his efforts, but gladly made the two-hour drive down to the Boston area to work out with Brady. McManus crashed on a friend’s couch so he could make the early-morning or late-afternoon workouts, and brought his laptop so he could still work at his day job. McManus is the director of marketing at a company called Mobile Virtual Player, or “MVP,” a small company started by Dartmouth guys who make and sell robotic tackling dummies that are being used by at least seven NFL teams, including the Steelers, Ravens, and Cowboys.

“Being able to balance both worlds sometimes makes for some long days,” McManus said. “But it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass on. No complaints by any means.”

The one-hour throwing sessions at various fields near Brady’s house in Brookline were mostly private — just Brady, McManus, and Guerrero — except for the session at Dexter-Southfield School, “because it caught the eye of a couple kids, then a couple kids turned into a lot of kids and some parents,” and eventually ended up on TMZ.

McManus called the workouts “pretty intense.”

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“Since it was only me, an hour of running sprints is tough for anybody,” he said. “[Brady] was definitely focused and intense. It was the first time I had met him. He was very nice and cordial and complimentary, easy to work with, very focused, and paid attention to detail very well.”

McManus said it was unlike any other throwing session that he’s had, calling it more “game-like.”

“We would mix it up between short and long, and usually it would be, I’d run a route, catch it, and then stand where I caught it, then he’d throw another one there and then I’d jog back and then run a different route, and then so on,” McManus said. “I guess it was, stay in the same spot and get two reps out of one route.”

And true to Brady form, he obsessed over every minor detail.

“Each drill he’d analyze himself,” McManus said. “Making sure he gets his torso involved and brings the torque into his throwing motion. Also the position of his head, how close his chin was to his shoulder, arm angle, and stuff like that.”

No offense to the quarterbacks at Dartmouth, but McManus could tell the difference with Brady throwing him the ball.

“It was a little easier to catch the ball when it’s perfect every time,” McManus said. “Most of them were right on target, basically right under the chin, perfect spiral.”

McManus chuckled when I gave him credit for keeping Brady sharp.

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“I don’t know about that,” he said. “He’s a hard worker and he has a lot of other things going on — a full day of workouts, and staying in shape and healthy. I’m happy I could pitch in a little bit and be able to run around and be a kid a little bit, too.”

Now that Brady’s back, McManus returns to his day job at MVP and staying in shape in case the Patriots or any other team needs a workout.

“Just keeping the fingers crossed and hoping an opportunity comes up,” he said. “I’m not really one to get starstruck, but that was definitely a cool experience and one I won’t forget.”

HOT TOPIC

Owners aware of ratings decline

The NFL owners will hold their quarterly meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston. And while you can bet that the league will put on a happy face and downplay the significance of the league’s sliding TV ratings this season, behind closed doors an important discussion will take place about why this is happening, what can be done about it, and how can the league prepare for the future of television and distribution. According to Yahoo Finance, the NFL’s ratings are down about 10 percent on the whole, though the primetime windows have decreased much more significantly than the Sunday afternoon windows.

We wrote last week about how the TV ratings already have the attention of Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, the co-chairman of the league’s digital media committee, and that the NFL already is tinkering with new distribution models for the future (like live-streaming Thursday night games on Twitter).

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The NFL’s TV deals don’t expire until 2022, so the league has some time to figure it out.

But as further proof of the seriousness of the declining ratings, Bloomberg reported last week that CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC have had to provide free commercials on other programming as a make-good for the ratings shortfall.

The networks’ advertising rates were based off the league’s ever-climbing ratings from the past two years. Per Bloomberg, the networks have missed their ratings guarantees by as much as 20 percent.

Again, this might just be a unique season for the NFL, going head-to-head with a contentious and unprecedented presidential election. But the ratings slip is undeniably bad press for a league that has generated a lot of it over the last few years.

Also in Houston, expect the topic of Las Vegas to be discussed, both with the media and behind closed doors.

A bill to subsidize a new NFL stadium with a $750 million public contribution received approval in the Nevada Assembly on Friday by a 28-13 vote, and now heads to the Senate for final approval before going before the governor. The funds would be raised by increasing hotel taxes in Clark County.

But even assuming the Senate and governor authorize the project, there is still one major hurdle before the Raiders can move to Vegas — the approval of 24 of 32 NFL owners.

And it is unclear how much internal support Raiders owner Mark Davis would have for leaving the supremely wealthy and tech-savvy Bay Area and moving to the country’s gambling capital.

THE BEAT GOES ON

Patriots QBs a winning trifecta

A few interesting tidbits on the Patriots:

■  The Patriots have now had three starting quarterbacks win a game this year —Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett. The feat itself isn’t too rare — the Ravens did it last year and the Cardinals in 2012, for example — but it is in these parts. The last time the Patriots had at least three quarterbacks win a game in a season was 1989 — Tony Eason (1-2), Doug Flutie (1-2), Steve Grogan (2-4) and Marc Wilson (1-3).

■  Speaking of quarterbacks, the Patriots are one of three teams not to have thrown an interception this year. The other two are Minnesota and Dallas. (On a related note – jinx!)

■  The Patriots are burning through a little money with their recent roster releases. They released tight end Clay Harbor Oct. 3 even though, as a vested veteran, his entire 2016 base salary became guaranteed once he made the Week 1 roster. Harbor received a $400,000 signing bonus in April, made $211,765 in salary for the four weeks he was on the team, and $37,500 in per-game bonuses. And per NFL Players Association records, Harbor will also collect his final $688,235 in base salary in termination pay (a player is only allowed to receive termination pay once in his career). Harbor was signed by the Lions Oct. 4, and will double-dip this year, earning almost $45,000 for every game he is with the Lions.

And the Patriots spent $1.87 million to get nothing out of Jonathan Cooper, who was released last Saturday to make room for Brady. Cooper never played a snap because of injury, but the Patriots paid him a $1.714 million bonus on the third day of training camp, plus 4/17ths of his $675,000 salary. The Browns assume the final 13/17ths of Cooper’s salary, and the Patriots cleared $476,471 off his cap number by releasing him.

■  Monday marks the first day that Dion Lewis, Tre Jackson, and anyone else on the physically unable to perform list can start practicing (officially it’s six days before the seventh game). PUP players have until Week 11 to return to practice, and teams then have three weeks to determine whether to put the player on the active roster. It is unclear when Lewis will come off PUP, but we hear he’s extremely motivated to return this year.

Monday is also the first day that anyone who was placed on injured reserve to start the season can start practicing. One IR player per team can return to practice after six weeks.

■  For everyone stressing about why the Patriots haven’t signed any of their premier free agents to contract extensions — Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Martellus Bennett, among others — we hear that the Patriots have made offers, but none of the players are biting. The NFL salary cap continues to rise each year, and the players haven’t had the appetite to take one of the Patriots’ team-friendly deals.

ETC.

Romo could be the backup plan

Tony Romo wants to return from his fractured back in Week 8 or 9, but will he get his job back? Jerry Jones said on his weekly radio spot that “there is nothing simple about this,” but the answer is obvious. Assuming the 4-1 Cowboys don’t tank between now and then, the Cowboys need to ride with Dak Prescott, who has the Cowboys at No. 2 in total offense, owns a sparkling 101.5 passer rating, and has thrown 155 passes without an interception, on the verge of breaking Brady’s all-time record to start a career (162 passes).

It’s one thing if it were an all-timer like Brady coming back from an absence. But the Cowboys would be foolish to choose the oft-injured Romo, who might need time to get his timing back, over a rolling Prescott.

“You just don’t mess around with that. You try to keep it really good and keep the momentum going,” Cowboys Hall of Famer Roger Staubach said.

Extra points

One quality that will make Randy Moss a good analyst for ESPN is his honesty. In an interview with Sports Illustrated last week, Moss admitted that he has felt depression in his post-NFL life. Moss, who last suited up in 2012 for the 49ers, started a Randy Moss Football Academy in Charlotte, N.C., runs a CrossFit bootcamp, trains for Spartan races, and attends his son’s football games at North Carolina State to help keep his mind occupied. “When you’re sort of bored with life you really start to have negative thoughts and think about negative things,” Moss said. “It took about a good year or two to finally let [football] go. And it’s hard. And that’s why I try to stay busy. You get depressed. You do get depressed.” . . . Got to love Michael Lombardi, the former Patriots executive in 2014-15 who now does work for Fox Sports and appears on Bill Simmons’s podcast. “Classic Baltimore — Complain and Change rule,” Lombardi tweeted last week in response to an article about the Ravens suggesting that a fumble rule might need to be changed. Everyone in New England thinks it, but it’s funny to see that sentiment coming from someone who was inside the Patriots’ organization during Deflategate. As an aside, the Ravens are right. If a player fumbles the ball out of bounds at the 1-yard line, his team retains possession at the 1. But if the fumble goes out of the end zone, the ball is awarded to the other team at the 20. How does that make any sense? Fumbles out of the end zone should go to the offensive team at the spot of the fumble . . . Hope Washington tight end Jordan Reed takes a good, long look in the mirror before deciding to return to the field. The ultra-talented 26-year-old tight end suffered at least his sixth career concussion last week in just three-plus NFL seasons. “As a friend, I’m extremely concerned for his health,” left tackle Trent Williams said . . . Did Adam Gase know what he was getting into when he took the Miami job? The Dolphins let several talented young players walk away in free agency, replaced them with cheaper veterans, and then did a little midseason housecleaning last week by releasing offensive linemen Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas. The Dolphins’ season is already on the brink at 1-4, and they host the Steelers Sunday.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.