FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady is back. The question now is: “How long will it take him to play like Tom Brady?”
The smart guess is “not all that long.” As one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and a 17-year veteran of the league, Brady shouldn’t have much trouble finding his sea legs even after what amounted to a mandatory month-long vacation.
Brady never has experienced a situation quite like his four-game Deflategate suspension, however, and as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained Friday, it’s very difficult for a player to remain in football shape when he’s not, you know, playing football.
“I’ve coached for a long time in this league,” Belichick said. “I’ve seen a lot of players miss practice time for whatever the reasons are — injuries, contract holdouts, suspensions, etc. I would just say in general, it’s hard for a player who’s not playing football to practice playing football.
“I don’t care how many times you run around the track, I don’t care how many sit-ups you do. Put 21 other guys out there on the football field and work on the timing and situational football. If that was the best way to do it, to just not do anything for four weeks and go do pushups, I think then maybe that’s what we’d do. But I honestly don’t think that’s the right way to go. That’s just my opinion.
“So, I think we benefit from practice reps. I think we benefit from game reps. I think not having those is not beneficial. It doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a good performance. It just means if that was the best way to prepare for the game, then that’s what we would do. I just don’t happen to believe that. I’m sure a lot of other people disagree with me, but that’s just the way I see it.”
After missing the Patriots’ first four games, Brady is expected to make his regular-season debut this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, who have yet to win a game this season and whose defense doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses.
Sounds like the perfect setting for Brady, whose stable of weapons was bolstered by the offseason acquisitions of Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett, to go off for about 350 passing yards and four touchdown passes, right? Maybe not, Belichick cautioned.
“In all honesty, my experience with all of those players has been as time goes on, they play better,” the coach said. “Maybe their first game will be the best game. But most likely the third, fourth, fifth, sixth games will probably be better than the first. But again, that’s just based on experience. I don’t know what will happen with a new player who comes back. We have a couple of them (Brady and defensive end Rob Ninkovich, both of whom are returning from suspension). I have no idea.
“I think those guys are preparing well, they’re competing hard. But again, if that was the best way to prepare, then I think you’d see more people doing that. I don’t really think that’s the way to go.”
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images