FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots shook things up Friday morning at training camp, holding an intrasquad scrimmage in place of their usual rounds of individual and team drills.
While more competitive than a usual camp practice, it still was a significant step down from true game action. Tackling was not allowed, for instance, and coach Bill Belichick served as head referee.
Judging by the way Tom Brady approached it, however, you would have thought the Gillette Stadium practice fields were hosting Super Bowl LI.
The Patriots quarterback brought surgical precision and unrelenting competitiveness to the scrimmage, completing every one of his 25 passes and throwing for two touchdowns as his blue-jerseyed team beat a white-clad one led by Jimmy Garoppolo 17-9.
And truly, the game was nowhere near that close, as Ref Belichick showed leniency toward Team Jimmy by calling both Matthew Slater and rookie Malcolm Mitchell down inside the 10-yard line after they hauled in bombs from Brady.
Brady’s team also picked up huge yardage on throws to Brandon Bolden, who burned linebacker Kevin Snyder along the right sideline, and Martellus Bennett, who left safety Patrick Chung in the dust over the middle.
Each of those big gains was punctuated by an emphatic, fist-pump-filled celebration from Brady, who also dished out more than a bit of trash talk during his time on the sideline.
Brady’s will to win, even in an ultimately meaningless August scrimmage, surprised nobody. Not even those who only recently joined the Patriots.
“Not surprising at all,” said wide receiver Nate Washington, who did not play in the scrimmage. “I don’t care if it was a race tying your shoe, I think Tom would compete with you.”
?Oh man, it?s contagious,” added wideout Chris Hogan, who hauled in one of Brady’s two touchdown passes. “Him out here — really everyone just out here being so excited. It?s really practice for us, but we?re out here competing every single day. Tom was fired up. A lot of guys were fired up. And it really is — it?s contagious. It was a lot of fun out here today.?
Hogan was Brady’s favorite target, finishing with eight catches on the day to lead all receivers. Bennett and Bolden each had five, with four of Bennett’s coming on four consecutive throws. Mitchell had three, James Develin had two, and LeGarrette Blount and Slater had one apiece.
“It’s a very competitive game,” said Brady, who will miss the first four games of the regular season as he serves his Deflategate suspension. “It’s a competitive sport. You’ve got to bring it mentally every day. You’ve got to have an attitude about you. We have a lot of guys on this team that bring that, and trying to push their buttons, I love to do that.
“And they push it back, and I think that gets the best out of everybody.”
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images