Does marrying a supermodel, modeling men's clothes and carrying around goats make Brady any less likely to push himself and his teammates toward another Super Bowl? Maybe not, but New England fans would feel a whole lot better if Brady was personally killing and skinning the sheep that make up his UGG boots than just wearing the shoes and trying a sidehawk.
Brady has insisted for several seasons that, whatever happens outside of the football world, he is still all business when he reports to Gillette. He reports less frequently — he's not the workout monster he was as a rookie when he was trying to beat out incumbent Drew Bledsoe — but when he's there, he's fighting for every ball and calling out teammates.
But the results leave the fan base restless. Last year's Super Bowl appearance was the fifth of Brady's career, but it was the second loss — in a row. The man clearly has the talent and intelligence to run the team and produce great results. But if wins are built on intangibles, could it be that the crowding of Brady's intangibles with baby carriages and spiffy dress shirts could be what is keeping New England from further glory?
That question won't be answered until Brady and Bill Belichick break out the smiles for another Lombardi Trophy presentation. But on Sunday, as the Patriots began what may be one of their easiest schedules in several seasons, Brady did all that could be reasonably expected to show that his head is still in the game.
Brady put up strong numbers (23-for-31, 236 yards, two touchdowns), and he also led the Patriots in some of the little things that tend to bring wins: an early lead on the road, getting all of his receivers involved, pushing the tempo of the offense and stoking the running game.
But the image from Sunday's game that will linger is of Brady absorbing a hit — a nasty one, at that — and bouncing back up as if nothing happened so he could continue to lead the team with usual play-calling and poise.
Brady is so quick to come back from sacks and hits that it's often easy to forget how often he gets drilled. Last season was full of knockdowns behind a wobbly offensive line, but throughout his career, Brady has taken his share of blows. He's played through ankle injuries and thumb flare-ups and is positively Logan Mankins-like in how he remains silent about his bruises.
On Sunday, Brady was knocked down on another jolting hit, but the real damage came after he fell, when he took a defender's knee to his face. Brady came up bleeding at the nose and needed a creative tape job both during and after the game to take care of the injury.
The nose blow was ironic on at least one level, seeing as it came in an opener the season after the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants. The other time that happened, in 2008, Brady went down with the injury that shall not be named, leaving Matt Cassel to play out the season with Wes Welker and Randy Moss in their Patriots prime. New England missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
This time, coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Giants, Brady merely took one to the kisser. But this injury may have been just as significant to fans — in the opposite way. If the horrible knee injury a few seasons ago took Brady out of the game physically, this type of injury can assure fans that he is completely in the game mentally.
Of all areas where Brady could have been hit, he was literally smacked in his modeling moneymaker. But Brady, as he has said for so long, is a football player first. And the gusto with which he not only took the hit but also kept playing and then gloried in the blood and "BS" afterward — well, that shows Brady is all-in this year, as much as ever.
This is a year that will demand the Patriots' focus. While New England has many needs to address and new players to acclimate, the team is already playing its A-game. The Pats dominated the Titans on Sunday and look to have the right personnel to romp every week. The bad news is that the schedule is not going to get harder — if the Patriots are firing on all cylinders against the powderpuff teams, how will they be ready for the test of a tough playoff run? How will they keep focus or raise their playing level against arguably the easiest schedule in the league?
The answer lies under the hood of Belichick and the helmet of Brady. Each player is accountable for himself, but one of the reasons the Patriot Way is so lauded is because this is a team that demands complete focus and passion every week, no matter who the opponent. The Patriots' readiness depends completely on the team's leadership keeping the players on track.
Some players may be ready to slack off come a midseason tilt against the Bills, but the guy under center will still be barking at them and demanding their full effort. Those that question Brady's commitment and intensity will see it played out week by week.
And now he has the bloody nose to back it up.
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