A few things I wonder (and care) about . . .
■ Protect Tom Brady!
The next-day conversations about Brady’s play this season are sure to last more than a day, the combination of Brady’s struggles in Sunday’s loss in Tennessee and the bye week leaving plenty of time for dissection of what’s going wrong with the 41-year-old quarterback.
Well, here’s one easy move that might make things better, or at the very least, not worse.
Stop making Brady an open-field target.
I’m not normally in the business of NFL play-calling, and I count myself among the believers in Josh McDaniels’s prowess in doing that job. But the trick plays that leave Brady running free as a blocker or receiver, exposed for all defenders to have at him? Rip those pages out of the playbook, coach, and throw them away forever.
It’s been three weeks in a row now that we’ve seen Brady put at unnecessary risk, the ugliest of all coming in Sunday’s loss to the Titans. When Brady found himself on the receiving end of a Julian Edelman double pass (and he made the catch this time, unlike in the Super Bowl) only to stumble and fall about a yard and a half short of the first-down marker, who didn’t cringe?
Between the fear of injury from the awkward fall and relief at him hitting the turf before absorbing a penalty-free hit from a defender, the Patriots were lucky to see their star QB emerge unscathed.
Bill Belichick didn’t sound like a man eager to split his quarterback wide again this season, saying in a conference call Tuesday, “If that happens once a year, it’s a lot.”
But the pass play isn’t the only time Brady has found himself exposed. It’s one thing for him to become a runner on a quarterback sneak (he has proven himself one of the best, if not the best, in NFL history at getting short-yardage first downs), but at least there, he has the protection of his offensive line.
Not so much the game two weeks ago in Buffalo, when he became the lead blocker for Edelman after tossing him the ball on a third-and-2 first-quarter play. Brady managed to disrupt linebacker Lorenzo Alexander long enough for Edelman to gain 6 yards, but holy mismatch, Batman.
And don’t forget the week prior to that, in the big Sunday night win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, when Edelman completed a pass to James White that also left Brady in blocking mode.
“I think we’re certainly aware of that,” Belichick said. “But there’s certain things that I think you have to do sometimes to win the game
— and if quarterback sneaks in short yardage, something like that where the quarterback’s going to get hit on a play like that, but it’s an important play and he’s very good at it.
“So, yeah, we’ll just have to evaluate those things going forward. Not looking to do an excessive amount of them, that’s for sure, but if there’s a situational play or something that comes up, then I think we’d consider it.
“But, I mean, look, it’s a contact sport out there. Quarterbacks get hit in the pocket and quarterbacks scramble and a lot of people converge on them in a hurry. So, nobody knows that better than Tom does.”
There have been no complaints from Brady. Rather, the veteran has had a little fun at his own expense. After the play in the Titans game, he called himself “a fish out of water,” and in Buffalo, he was “a speed bump.”
After the Packers game, he was even more jocular, not too difficult given his team’s convincing 31-17 win.
“That was a great play,” he said that night. “But I mean, I had no idea. You get out in space, I have no idea what the hell’s going on. I don’t know what’s illegal to hit or dive or cut.
“I thought, ‘No way the ball is getting to me.’ And next thing you know, James is running by me and I said [expletive] just as he’s running by me because I probably could have made a play to get him a touchdown. But you live and you learn.”
Even at 41, Brady does not want bubble wrap, insisting up in Buffalo that he was comfortable doing his job.
“It’s my assignment, actually,” he said. “It was just good to get Julian around there. I think that was a third-down play, too. Anything you got to do to gain yards, get third-down conversions, and win the game — that’s what is most important.”
So maybe it was the loss in Nashville and Brady’s largely uninspired play that makes this more urgent. But that doesn’t change the bottom line. There’s no need, no good sense, in putting him in those dangerous positions.
■ One of the more important questions to be answered over the bye week and the season’s final six games is the status of tight end Rob Gronkowski. It’s obvious how much Brady misses him (at least the prime version of him), but do we really know what ails him? If it is a lingering back issue, seems strange that he made the trip to Tennessee just to stand on the sidelines.
■ The decision by the US Olympic Committee to open the process of decertifying USA Gymnastics is both long overdue and enormously justified. Still, hard to feel overly confident in the decision-makers at the USOC, who were/are part of the authority and decision-making that failed to move on accusations against Larry Nassar for so long.
■ Outrage Meter overload at New Jersey college. How’s this for idiocy? Rowan University banned its women’s cross-country runners from practicing in sports bras because it was distracting for the football team, which was using the field inside their oval at the same time.
Kudos to runner Gina Capone for bringing the ridiculous double standard to light in an essay on The Odyssey and for spawning the eventual course correction by Rowan officials. But shame on those administrators who thought it was OK to shame the female runners for their appearance and blame their attire for the impact it had on football players who should have no say in the matter.
■ Book notes from a book nerd. Well, if you know me at all, by now you know I devoured Michael Connelly’s latest Bosch novel, “Dark Sacred Night,” and loved the pairing of Bosch and fellow detective Renee Ballard.
Now a couple of sports books recommended by others: “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy,” by W.P. Kinsella, as recommended by esteemed New York Times baseball columnist Tyler Kepner during the epic 18-inning World Series game in Los Angeles, and Richard Sandomir’s “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic,” as recommended by my esteemed colleague Scott Thurston.