Brady made a statement, but of a different kind.
The Patriots’ quarterback started the game, played the entire first quarter and completed 5-of-8 passes for 67 yards to three different receivers (Randy Moss, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate). He led the team to a field goal on a four-play, three-yard drive in his opening act, then put together a 14-play, 93-yard touchdown drive in his second series, culminating with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running the ball in from six yards out.
All of that was very promising, but the highlight of the game might have been what happened after Green-Ellis crossed the goal line. Brady reacted like the Patriots had scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. He sprinted to Green-Ellis and joined his teammates in the end-zone celebration.
That isn’t the typical response from a veteran for the first touchdown of the preseason. Most 33-year-old NFL quarterbacks entering their 11th year in the league would turn and walk toward the sideline with some been-there-done-that body language. They might give a cool, approving nod to the running back and linemen, maybe slap a few high-fives if they felt especially generous.
Not Tom Brady. Not this year.
He has unfinished business. And it has nothing to do with securing a contract extension. Brady is going to get paid one way or another — it’s not a question of if, but when. He might not be happy that he’s doesn’t already have a new deal in place with the Patriots, but he is never going to show any hint of displeasure or frustration to the media, his teammates or fans.
It’s not in his DNA. He is a winner, a champion, a first-rate leader. And a true leader puts his concerns aside for the good of the team.
Brady wants to win another ring. He wants to show he’s still one of the best players in the NFL and silence all the naysayers who claim he’s washed up, that he’s gone Hollywood, that his best years are behind him, that he’ll never be as good as he was before he hurt his knee.
You think Tom Brady likes hearing how great Peyton Manning is?
You think Brady likes seeing Drew Brees showered with praise?
All of that is motivation for Brady, and though he probably won’t ever admit it, Brady is playing with a big chip on his shoulder this season.
He’s healthy and hungry. That’s a good combination for a future Hall of Famer to have. Brady no longer has to worry about his knee. He can just think about football. He has weapons on offense and can focus on spreading the wealth to Moss, Edelman and Wes Welker. He can focus on hitting Kevin Faulk out of the backfield and turning Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez into reliable tight end targets. He can focus on getting on the same play-calling page with Bill O’Brien. And as long as the line gives Brady some time to throw and the running backs provide a little balance to the attack, the Patriots’ offense could post some big numbers.
“I just want to win,” Brady said earlier in camp. “I don’t want anything to get in the way.”
From the minute he stepped on the field Thursday night, Brady proved he’s putting his money where his mouth is. There was no pretense. He was more fired up than Red Sox fans after Jonathan Papelbon blows a save. Brady could have passed for a 12-year-old Little Leaguer after hitting a walk-off home run. That’s what a team likes to see from its quarterback and captain.
It may be only one preseason game, but the Tom Brady of 2010 looks closer to the Tom Brady of 2007 than the Tom Brady of 2009.
That’s good news for New England’s Super Bowl hopes.
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