Bill Belichick has always had a knack for timing, another recent example coming last Thursday night, after his Patriots beat the Giants to improve to 6-0. That’s when the coach surprised his quarterback with the game ball, recognition Belichick tied in part to Brady’s latest statistical milestone, passing Peyton Manning for second place all-time in passing yardage.
As Belichick himself would later point out, the 42-year-old Brady could easily garner a game ball a week, given the way he breaks records with regularity. So it’s natural to wonder: Why now?
Because this year, Brady deserves all the trophies. And with one timely acknowledgment of the difficult position Brady is in amid the ragtag cast of offensive characters around him, Belichick made sure his quarterback knows it. Even more, he made sure his quarterback knows the coach knows it.
Anyone paying attention has felt the heat of Brady’s flashes of frustration, has heard how uncharacteristically blunt he has been in assessing his team’s offensive shortcomings. But why should he hide what is so plainly true? With an offense struggling to keep pace with its standout counterparts on defense and special teams, it’s a new world for a quarterback who is accustomed to being the center of the Patriot universe, who is used to being the driving force behind this continually surging Super Bowl engine.
Surely, he wants to do more. But the truth is it may be better if he could be content doing less.
With a rebuilt offensive line, a debilitated fullback corps, no real tight end threat, and as thin a wide receiver group as he has ever played with, this doesn’t look like the year for offensive fireworks. This looks like one for the defense to lead the way, with an offense that just doesn’t mess up too much.
For Brady to get a game ball on a night he had an 88.9 passer rating (31 for 41, 334 yards, no passing touchdowns, one interception) was a reward not so much for the numbers themselves, but for compiling them across a second half that saw his offensive unit reduced to one healthy personnel grouping, for doing just enough to win the game while not doing anything to lose it.
“We, offensively, had to kind of keep it together here with some limitations in the second half,” Belichick said Monday when asked about the game ball. “I thought he showed a lot of leadership and toughness and just passing ability and accuracy that helped us win the game.
“Tom’s got great poise on the field and he’s been in a lot of critical situations with various elements: ahead, behind, weather, so forth. He’s on the road, at home, you name it. He’s been in pretty much every situation you could be in, so his experience and decision-making — we have total trust in him in all those situations and he’s come through for us so many times before.”
Maybe Brady’s vast résumé will be enough to lift this offense to yet another title, his internal bank of vast football experience enough to offset the relative lack of it among his offensive teammates. If that happens, if Brady somehow lifts this thin-as-lettuce group of weapons to a seventh Super Bowl win, this season could go down as his greatest accomplishment yet.
What a dividend on his leadership and experience that would be.
Both Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were asked multiple questions about Brady Monday, particularly about what responsibility Brady has in the ongoing development of the least experienced players around him, guys such as undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, two of the players that made up that last-man-standing grouping Thursday night. Neither coach seemed interested in laying anything especially heavy or different on the quarterback’s shoulders, other than to point out it’s always on him to find rhythm with his receivers.
“The quarterback and the receivers need to work on their timing, execution, and recognition,” Belichick said, emphasizing the “and” in the first part of that sentence.
“I mean, they need to see the same thing from two different vantage points and that’s really what it comes down to is the quarterback needs to be able to see what a receiver sees, and the receiver needs to see what the quarterback sees and be able to make the right decisions on different routes, against different leverage and coverage.
“Same thing that linemen have to be able to see, only they’re a little bit closer together on that, but they still have to be able to see the same thing when five guys are blocking five guys to get the right five on the five and handle whatever stunts, or twists, or however the play unfolds after the snap. So, that’s what execution is.”
Asked if Brady’s 20 years of experience naturally tilt the responsibility scales toward him, Belichick didn’t waver.
“We have to see it together,” he said.
Brady isn’t looking to do it alone; he has never been prone to hero ball in the ways of say, a Brett Favre or an Aaron Rodgers. But this year, more than ever, he might be tempted to try to do too much. (Two rushing touchdowns on 1-yard sneaks Thursday? When Brady is the best short-yardage rushing option, you know the pickings are slim.)
As last week’s game ball should remind him, though, sometimes there is reward in doing just enough.