Three Super Bowl titles in his first four seasons as a starter. Five conference championship appearances in his first seven years at the helm. He won titles with average offensive talent around him. Then, when surrounded by excellence in 2007, he delivered history, throwing 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions during New England’s 16-0 regular season of 2007.
Like the quarterbacks his career most closely resembles — Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana — Brady scratched, clawed and overcame odds to reach those heights. And now, and entering his 10th year in the league, Brady, 32, is battling to stay there.
His past two games have not gone well. There was the stunning 17-14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, which ruined the Patriots’ perfect season and shined a light on the fact that battering Brady is the only hope of stopping him. Then there was the 2008 opener seven months later when Brady’s left knee was blown out on a low hit by Kansas City’s Bernard Pollard.
As the 2009 season begins, Tom Brady is once again gunning for the rest of the NFL. And they are gunning for him.
The book on how to beat — or at least slow down — the Brady-led Patriots was hatched in Week 11 of the 2007 season. To that point, the Patriots were 10-0 and winning games by an average of 26.3 points.
Then came the Philadelphia Eagles. Their defensive coordinator, the late Jim Johnson, had seen the previous 10 opponents eschew blitzing Brady because they were afraid he’d riddle their undermanned secondaries. Johnson saw that led to slow torture. So he blitzed. Heavily. And the Patriots narrowly escaped with a 31-28 win.
With more opponents ratcheting up the pressure, the Patriots won their next eight games by an average of 10 points. And during the final one, when the pressure on Brady was its greatest, New England lost by three.
Pat Kirwan, a former NFL scout, coach and front office man and now a contributor for NFL.com and a host on SIRIUS NFL Radio has gone in-depth on the phenomenon.
Kirwan points out that, in the past 10 games beginning with the narrow win over the Eagles and ending with the season opener against Kansas City, Brady’s been sacked 19 times in 349 attempts.
Aside from the sacks are the hits Brady’s taken after he’s gotten rid of the ball — like the pancaking he took from Washington’s Albert Haynesworth in this preseason that tweaked his right shoulder and caused a wave of panic.
“He’s getting sacked about once every 20 attempts,” Kirwan says. “That’s borderline for safety. And then he’s been hit another 25 or 30 times. He’s getting significant contact once every 8.5 times he drops back. That can’t continue.
“Defensive coaches know what happened in the Super Bowl (when the Giants sacked Brady five times). They are motivated and inspired to go after Tom more than ever before.”
The Patriots know it is coming. How do they counter it?
Brady’s ‘hard to coach,’ in a good way
As he leans against a golf cart in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is asked what surprises him about Brady. The answer comes quickly.
“That he’s improved steadily,” Belichick answers. “Even now. Even on a daily basis. Little things. It might be one thing now, while in his rookie year or second year it might have been five things. But he’s always working to get better and you see that on the field. He takes coaching well and applies it.”
“Just a change to a play or a minor read or detail ... personal training and conditioning. Film study. Visualization of plays or situations. Execution on the practice field. He’s driven to be the best and he takes that seriously in everything he does. Everything is geared to get better,” he says.
“You have to be better prepared than he is because he sets such a high standard with his preparation and his level of understanding,” Belichick says. “As a coach, you’re competing with that, trying to exceed that or else, what are you doing (for him)?
“You don’t want to go into a meeting with him and say, ‘Well, this team didn’t hit a lot of outcuts against (this defense).’ He’ll turn around and say, ‘Well, in the Green Bay game last year they did. They hit five of them.’ You’ll want to have seen that game and make sure you know what happened so that he’s not telling you what happened when you should be telling him what happened.”
Which is interesting because while Brady has mostly embraced his celebrity, he’s also remained largely the same as when he was drafted in the sixth round back in 2000.
“Can he go out to dinner everywhere?” asks Patriots center Dan Koppen. “No. Can he go out to a bar and just hang out? Probably not. You sorta feel bad for the guy in that sense but when he’s around us, he’s just a normal guy. We know that. He knows that. It makes for an easy relationship. From the way he comes across form the first time you meet him, you just see immediately he’s not egocentric. He’s Tom. He’s a normal guy. And guys understand that from the moment he walks in.”
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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