By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Since the turn of the century, Tom Brady has strapped on his helmet and participated in a National Football League game 273 times. For all but two of those games, he was the starting quarterback.
He’s accomplished quite a bit in those football games, so it was rather striking to see where the quarterback’s final stat line on Sunday ranked in his Hall of Fame career.
By the end of the Patriots’ win on Sunday in New Orleans, Brady — whose offense entered the game with just three wide receivers in uniform — had thrown for 447 yards. That yardage total was the third-highest single-game yardage total of his regular-season career, and the fourth-highest if you include his postseason career.
Fourth-highest. It might not seem major, and hey, maybe it is not. But the man (as has been mentioned once or twice in some news programs) is 40 years old. He takes hits. He loses receivers to injuries. His tackles get worked for 60 minutes. And yet, he somehow manages to sidestep pressure, patiently wait for a window to open, and deliver strikes all over the field just milliseconds before getting knocked on his behind by charging 280-pound defenders.
Considering how good he’s been for so long, it’s impossible to do anything but take it all for granted. That’s not a knock on the New England region, but a statement of reality. But if you manage to take a step back and breathe in the larger picture with what that man does routinely, you can’t help but still be impressed by his work.
(If you were wondering, the games where he’s thrown for more yards: 517 yards at Miami in 2011, 466 yards at Buffalo in 2015, 466 yards vs. Atlanta in Super Bowl LI. Yet in those games, he needed 48 passes, 59 passes and 62 passes to rack up those yards. On Sunday, he threw just 39 times.)
Yes, a victory in the NFL requires a whole team working together over the course of 60 minutes. But after Sunday’s game, it was impossible to feel like it was about anything other than Brady.
Let’s move on to some more leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 36-20 win in New Orleans.
–There’s plenty to talk about the game, of course, but I feel as though injuries will be the defining story of the week. Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett all got different levels of dinged up in this one, making the new sideline medical tent look like a veritable clown car with the sheer number of bodies filing in and out of it.
The Gronkowski injury is of course chief concern No. 1, and though I’m no doctor, I saw nothing on Gronkowski’s final play that suggested anything happened to his groin. With his back and his history, the mind automatically wonders if it’s either something more severe or some sort of mental hurdle he needs to clear in order to stay on the field. Whatever it may be, that’s twice in two weeks that Gronkowski has stayed down for an extra tick on the turf, presumably worried that he had suffered an injury.
–Speaking of things that get taken for granted, the 53-yard touchdown by Gronkowski shouldn’t be ignored. He outran Alex Anzalone, who ran a 4.63-second 40 at the combine, he never even once considered getting tackled by this human:
And after coming to a complete stop after having the inconvenience of a human tugging at his ankles …
… he outran another professional athlete for the final 7-yard stretch:
The man is a rare force. Maybe injuries will prevent him from reaching the career accolades of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but there’s simply never been as dominant a tight end as Rob Gronkowski in the history of the sport.
–The only quarterback to ever do anything noteworthy at age 40 was Brett Favre in 2009. He completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. So for the sake of comparison, I’ll sporadically throw up a side-by-side comparison of how the horse race between 40-year-old Favre and 40-year-old Brady is looking.
Brady (through 2 games): 46-for-75 (61.3%), 714 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Favre (through 2 games): 37-for-48 (77.1%), 265 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
And for those keeping track of how Brady is keeping up with his contemporaries, well:
–Making Brady’s performance even better was this:
In that Week 1 game in 2006, by the way, Brady completed just 11 passes for 163 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Reche Caldwell and Troy Brown were the only wide receivers to catch passes on the day. More than 11 years later, Brady was a bit better with his limited crew.
–The game was defined by Brady hanging in the pocket with the type of mastery that is exceptionally rare.
From here …
… to here …
… in a matter of about a second.
That was the Patriots’ third play of the game, which turned into a 12-yard catch-and-run by James White on a third-and-5. Brady withstanding a hit to complete a throw became the theme of the day.
That’s the type of performance that allows Brady to openly question the attitude of his team after a bad loss in Week 1. On the matter of attitude, you know what you’re going to get with Brady. And it felt like he was simply going to win this game no matter what.
–Nothing drives me more nuts than when defenses pay close attention to James Develin as a receiver. Develin is a very valuable fullback but when he’s split out wide, you just have to be smarter as a defense. Figure out what the Patriots are doing. Don’t cover him on a slow-motion in-cut …
… and thus leave an entire end zone open for Rex Burkhead:
The Patriots throw Develin out there quite often. Defenses just need to be more prepared than that.
–On that same note, I know that there’s no way to really cover Rob Gronkowski. But sticking a rookie linebacker playing his second NFL game after getting drafted in the third round on him? That is decidedly not how to cover Rob Gronkowski. When that happens, well, this happens:
If I could say anything to Alex Anzalone, it would be this:
–Maybe I’m the only one, but when I saw this on the stadium video boards …
… all I could think of was this:
–There was a classic Bill Belichick moment in this one, and it came when the Saints tried to pull a fast one on the Patriots. Here was the sequence of events:
Third-and-3 at the Patriots’ 25-yard line. Drew Brees throws the ball away when Deatrich Wise has the QB wrapped up by the ankles. A frustrated Brees starts walking off the field, giving way to the field-goal unit.
The offense stays on the field. With 19 seconds on the play clock, Brees leads a huddle.
Belichick, picking up on some funny business, quickly stalks up the sideline with a look of “wait what now” on his face. He scooted about 20 yards in a hurry to get near the line of scrimmage.
After getting a play clock reset, Brees breaks the huddle in an empty shotgun set with five wide. Belichick remains camped out directly next to the official.
Just as Brees calls for the snap, Belichick calls timeout.
Belichick talks to Duron Harmon, makes sure the coverage is right in the event the Saints show the same formation. The Saints do indeed come out in the same formation.
Brees takes the snap. Everyone’s covered. Brees throws incomplete. Turnover on downs.
Belichick: most pleased.
–It took almost six full quarters, but the Patriots have their first #FerociousJuke of the season. This one came courtesy of James White.
As far as #FerociousJukes go, that one was both ferocious and juke-like.
–One thing about Gronkowski is that basically every time he runs a route, we all start watching the NBA. The grabbing, the pushing, the varying levels of contact — nearly every single play turns into a debate, where somebody from at least one team is either pleading with an official or complaining about a flag. That’s not fun.
But it is life, and it was never more clear than on the play ending with a Gronkowski drop in the end zone.
This is all on the same play. A hold:
Contact more than five yards downfield:
Brady ended up throwing to Gronkowski’s inside shoulder, forcing the big man to twist his body before trying to make the catch, which led to a drop. Brady was nonplussed. But he probably had no idea what Gronkowski had just worked through to gain that separation in the first place.
–Be honest: When Brady made the unwise decision to run up the gut before halftime and got tackled with 16 seconds left on the clock, you gave the field-goal unit a 0.0 percent chance of getting on the field in time.
Yet they made it look easy, getting on to the field and getting the snap off with two seconds to spare:
I watch a lot of football. You watch a lot of football. How many teams pull that off?
–A lesson to any children out there: If you attend an NFL game, always wear a helmet and shoulder pads. You never know if the home team might need you.
Though, that facemask would definitely draw a hefty fine from Roger Goodell.
–Wasn’t a great day for offensive linemen on both teams, really. This minor lapse might have been the lowest point:
For the Patriots, Nate Solder was a problem. Brady has to hope it’s just some early season rust after his left tackle missed the preseason. Because if Solder doesn’t improve, Brady is not going to last the year.
–Deatrich Wise is a specimen. Period. Point over. Guy is strong. He pulled Brees down twice when all he had to grab was the QB’s ankles. He got a hold of Adrian Peterson in the backfield:
And he just held him there at a dead stop, like an older brother sitting on top of his little brother until the youngster gave up the fight. Except Wise is 23 years old and Peterson is a 32-year-old future Hall of Famer.
Just look at his sack on third-and-7 in the third quarter. He showed the speed on the outside to get past left tackle Andrus Pete:
And he had the strength to use just one mitt to grab a hold of the QB and bring him down:
That’s a big play. By a big man.
Deatrich Wise: Strong fellow, budding star.
–Speaking of Peterson, he said that he “didn’t sign up” to get just nine snaps in a game, like he did in Week 1. Well, to be honest, Adrian, the Saints probably didn’t feel like they signed up for 3.1 yards per carry through two games. So maybe nobody’s happy.
–Stephen Gostkowski missed a PAT. It was bad. It was kicked just minutes into the football game. His body was likely still warm from all those pregame practice kicks. It was indoors. It should not have been missed.
Clearly, something crawls inside of Gostkowski’s head on these 33-yard PATs, as he’s now missed seven of his 69 PAT attempts since the 2015 AFC Championship Game. And it’s largely a PAT problem, too; he’s successfully kicked 12 of 14 field goals in the 30-39-yard range in that same time span.
Considering how costly his miss was in that ’15 championship game in Denver, and considering how his Super Bowl miss in February would have been seen as a catastrophic mess had the Patriots not succeeded on a pair of two-point conversion, this is surely a concern.
It is worth noting, though, that Gostkowski is hardly the only kicker in the league to miss a PAT this season. Through just two weeks (not counting Monday night’s game), Gostkowksi is one of seven kickers to miss a PAT in 2017. Eight PATs have been missed through 30 games. Last year, 76 PATs were missed across the league. So while a proper or easy-to-understand explanation may still be lacking, there’s no denying that these 33-yard PATs have proven to be a bit of a bugaboo for NFL kickers.
–If NFL referees were capable of feeling embarrassment, boy would the fellas in stripes have been feeling some shame in this one. Tom Brady’s typically the best quarterback on the field, but he’s not usually the best referee, too. But, you know, Tom makes enough money. If he has to pull double duties on Sundays, nobody will feel too badly.
–There seems to be a budding storyline in the decreased playing time/role of Malcolm Butler. Given how good he’s been in the past, that’s sensible. But the past doesn’t really apply to the present, and the fact is that Butler has not looked great this year, and that goes back to the preseason. Bill Belichick runs a meritocracy, and what you did last year or the year before doesn’t really matter today if it doesn’t help the team win the game.
Ultimately, Butler will probably be fine. He’s been exceptional for three years, and he’s got a lot of money on the line. Maybe the whirlwind offseason, during which the Patriots threw piles of cash at Stephon Gilmore and appeared ready to trade Butler to New Orleans, set him back a bit. But I believe he’ll round back into form sooner than later.
–From a Patriots perspective, if Butler’s not going to perform at his normal level, it’s a benefit when Jonathan Jones can step up and break up passes in the end zone.
–Speaking of Gilmore, it’s now twice in two weeks that he’s been involved in what looks like a communication breakdown in the defensive backfield. This one came early, too, when the Saints came out with receivers stacked on both sides of the line. Gilmore stood at the line, with Eric Rowe behind him:
Receiver Brandon Coleman ran straight up the field, while Tommylee Lewis ran a quick out. Both Gilmore and Rowe went up the field with Coleman, leaving Lewis completely uncovered for an easy 16-yard catch-and-run to get the Saints into field-goal range.
That’s not what you’re looking for. Now, without the benefit of knowing the assignments and responsibilities of the players on the field, we don’t know if it was Rowe’s fault, Gilmore’s fault, Matt Patricia’s fault, or Barack Obama’s fault. (He hasn’t been blamed for anything in a while.) But that’s something that needs to get cleaned up in a hurry.
–This was a play that didn’t matter much, but was nevertheless impressive by Dion Lewis, who turned this 3-yard loss:
Into this 1-yard gain:
–Even with Brady picking up a flag for an illegal pick and throwing a flag for 12 men, the officials could have used his help when they missed this painfully obvious hands to the face:
As a football player, you’ve got to feel pretty disrespected when you get turned into the Headless Horseman and can’t get a flag. Tough break for Cassius Marsh (who was employed to his strengths in his second game as a Patriot.)
–I’m just a random man, but in my opinion, this is a pass that you should catch when you’re an NFL wide receiver:
–It wasn’t a great day for Saints fans, but at least these people nailed it with their photobomb on a PAT:
–Much was made — rightfully so — about Tom Brady’s eyebrow-raising comments after the Week 1 loss, when he questioned the team’s attitude. I mentioned that earlier. But in terms of Brady and the team taking that idea to heart and coming out with an “On To Cincinnati” mind-set for this one, they really couldn’t have done any better.
We always talk a lot about fourth-quarter comebacks, which are of course a blast to watch and are difficult to accomplish. But sometimes, a first-quarter beatdown is just what the team needs.
On that note, Brady was ridiculous on Sunday, having arguably the best first quarter of his life. He went 11-for-15 for 178 yards and three touchdowns. With a 20-3 lead just 15 minutes into the contest, the game was all but over.
–It was a much-needed win, and it was a thorough victory over a very bad opponent. That’s established. But still, there are reasons to not feel quite exceptional about the team through two weeks, largely due to injury.
If Gronkowski is OK, then the team will survive, but even still, that wide receiving corps is painfully thin. There’s no guarantee that Danny Amendola will recover quickly from his concussion and knee injury. Chris Hogan said he’s fine, but he walked off the field Sunday looking gimpy. Phillip Dorsett was getting attention from the trainer while lying down on the sideline, like a Pop Warner player who didn’t have a locker room. It got to the point where Brady was targeting (and completing passes to) an undrafted rookie tight end out of Wyoming and his trustworthy fullback in the second half.
With Brady, the Patriots will always be above water. But with some potential challenges on the horizon in the Texans, Panthers and Buccaneers over the next three weeks, it could be a real grind for the Patriots to be able to emerge with a 3-2 record. The Panthers have allowed three points per game, the Buccaneers allowed just seven points in their season opener on Sunday, and the Texans have as frightening a defensive front as you can find in the NFL.
It all makes for a challenging start to the season for the Patriots. And for the rest of us, we should all be witnesses to a rather rare thing: a compelling regular season in New England.