By: Bob George/
August 26, 2008

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The Patriots are up the creek if Tom Brady cannot play. Otherwise, what's the big deal?

The Patriots are 0-3 in the preseason thus far. In none of the games do you see a team which is poised for still another Super Bowl run. In none of the games do you see something which whets your appetite for the season opener against Kansas City. In none of the games do you see Patriot Football, even August style.

All you have seen is a varsity defense which can be run on and which cannot defend third down. All you have seen is a team which runs the ball worse than they did in February. All you have seen is a team which misses Damon Huard and John Friesz, and either of which could step in and play a better backup quarterback than any of the three guys who are vying for the spots behind Brady right now.

To which we say this: Take a Valium, calm down and don't worry.

Let's first concede the obvious: If Brady is indeed hurt to the point where he stands to miss playing time in the regular season, woe are the Patriots. The real battle in camp this August is the backup quarterback job, where Matt Cassel is doing everything possible to hand his job over to either Matt Gutierrez or Kevin O'Connell, and flushing his NFL career down the toilet. Otherwise, except other than some secondary jobs which are still up for grabs, you basically know who is starting where. Thus far, no backup quarterback looks ready to assume the reins of the Patriot offense and come off looking like the next Earl Morrall or the next Frank Reich.

A little bit needs to be said about Brady and his offseason. Nothing needs to be worried over regarding Brady thus far. Since the Super Bowl loss to the Giants in February, he has behaved totally different than he has in any other offseason. He didn't win the coveted parking space for the hardest offseason worker. He has instead been running around Europe with Gisele Bundschen, when he's not seeing his baby son.

The bottom line on Brady is that he is perhaps burned out and needed to completely get away from football. This debriefing process is still perhaps ongoing, with all these missed preseason games. Brady gave an interview where he admitted doing things differently this offseason, without coming out and giving exact specifics. Brady simply needed to clear his head and get rid of the unbelievable angst he must had been suffering in the wake of an 18-0 team failing to win the Super Bowl over a team they were favored to beat easily.

Bill Belichick may have taken this to heart and told the rest of his team to approach training camp and the preseason accordingly. With very few jobs on the line, there is really no need to drive up anxiety in camp. Those who are returning from last year perhaps need the same therapy Brady needed. Belichick himself joined in this sort of occasional leisure; he was frequently seen at courtside with a female companion at several of the Celtics postseason games this spring. Perhaps even the head coach himself needed a little debriefing of his own.

The Patriots still remain in uncharted waters right now, even with their iconic 2007 season almost a year in arrears. They were the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season and the first to enter a Super Bowl 18-0. To sustain perhaps the most damaging and devastating loss in NFL history, one might understand that returning players might need a different approach in order to close the book on last year and begin 2008 in the exact right frame of mind to try and make another Super Bowl run.

Super Bowl runners-up traditionally do poorly. The Patriots have been exempt from such problems, as in each of the previous two Super Bowl losses, they came back and won the division the following year (1986, 1997). This could be different, given how agonizing the finish of last year turned out. The Patriots were the second team in 75 years to go into the NFL championship game undefeated and then suffer its first loss. Belichick may be trying to incorporate how best to work beyond the cataclysmic Super Bowl loss.

Thus far, the Patriots have lost a one-pointer at home to Baltimore, been embarrassed at Tampa Bay, and looked lackluster in a home loss to Philadelphia. Defensively, the Patriots have employed vanilla schemes which come off looking completely indifferent, the only real focus being on top draft pick Jerrod Mayo. The defensive backs are laying completely off wide receivers and giving cushions softer than your average pillow. Offensively, the only thing that really matters is seeing how each backup quarterback candidate can do his level best to hand his job to the other two.

That's pretty much it. Zero emphasis is placed on winning, and it shows. All Belichick wants out of this preseason is to size up the backups, minimize injuries to his starters, and to help the veterans ease back into a football routine which will help them re-energize and to re-focus on a successful 2008 season. This is still a team which can contend for another AFC title in '08, it could be that Belichick is tweaking the preseason to help bring that about as the team recovers from the Super Bowl loss.

The only real serious issue remains the backup quarterback. Cassel is likely out the door at the end of camp, like it or not. Gutierrez and O'Connell have shown flashes of excellence, but neither has shown the kind of consistency which makes you feel comfortable if Brady is to go down with an injury for any length of time. Cassel is in his fourth season but really isn't playing like it; he has a 50.9 passer rating for the three preseason games and zero touchdown passes.

Speculation is that Belichick may add a veteran backup at the end of camp, which would be a slam-dunk if Cassel is let go. If that be the case, then O'Connell and Gutierrez would be playing for the number three job. It is painfully clear that none of these three players are ready to step in and get the Patriots to the postseason if Brady were to get injured in games that count.

All things aside, there really isn't a whole lot to worry about. Brady is still resting and recharging. This is somewhat akin to a contract holdout in the 1970s involving Celtic great John Havlicek. Red Auerbach let an aging Havlicek take one training camp off so he could go fishing, then signed him right before the regular season. Though Brady isn't as old as Havlicek was when this happened (1976), it may be much the same thing.

And let us not forget that Belichick is the master of not telling the opponent anything. Vanilla game plans always work well for Belichick in the preseason. It is all the better if opposing defensive coordinators have no idea as to how healthy Brady is right now. The more guessing the opposition has to do, the better for the Patriots.

So, unless Brady is a scratch on September 7th, worry not. Let the Giants smuck the Patriots again in the preseason finale. Then your boys will finally get down to business.