August 14, 2009
Brady Back, Business As Usual For Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
PHILADELPHIA -- There are beautiful sights, and then there are beautiful sights.
Seeing your sweetie in an evening gown. Bridal Veil Falls at Yosemite National Park. The waves crashing off the rocky seacoast of Maine. The space shuttle coming in for a landing. This 37-foot-high green wall somewhere in the Back Bay section of Boston.
Where does seeing Tom Brady back at quarterback for the Patriots rank on the beautiful scale?
Awfully high, or at least that's what all Patriot Nation should be thinking. Brady saw his first live game action since being injured on opening weekend last year, and led his team to a 21-6 lead at halftime against the Philadelphia Eagle first-stringers. Brady looked totally relaxed and in command in a game the Patriots would eventually win, 27-25 on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field to open the 2009 preseason.
He could have thrown four interceptions and misfired on all his other passes and it still would have looked like the football version of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Brady is back. Just that one fact is great enough, but given how well Brady played, New England should shout in exaltation.
Brady finished with 10 of 15 passing for 100 yards, two touchdowns and a 97.2 passer rating. Other than a first quarter interception on a deep bomb to Randy Moss, Brady seemed to pick right up where he left off, and it looked ridiculously easy at times. The Eagle defense never really challenged Brady, which is really special given the fact that two of his former teammates were in the secondary.
Two external elements must be mentioned before throwing the Eagle defense under the bus. First of all, this is the first Eagle game since the passing of heralded defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Johnson, who died on July 28 of melanoma cancer, was renowned for his blitzing defenses and intricate schemes, and was a coordinator the Patriots were very familiar with. The Eagle defense looked in transition and at times out of sync, but even with the memory of Johnson still clear in their minds, they still have a way to go before a transition is complete.
The other external element stems from a 27-17 pasting the Eagles laid on the Patriots last year in the preseason up at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots treated the first half as a grudge match, a sort of payback for last year, and may have been running more complex packages at the Eagles versus the usual vanilla stuff you usually see in the first preseason game. The Patriot defense, for example, came after Donovan McNabb hard all during the first half, and recorded two sacks, one by rookie Myron Pryor, the other by returning linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. All the Patriot starters played the first half with an energy level you don't usually see this early in preseason.
Brady was the star of the show, but his co-stars were Chris Baker and rookie Julian Edelman. Baker, a tight end who came to the Patriots from the Jets in the offseason, caught both of Brady's touchdown passes, from four and nine yards out. Edelman, who was a quarterback at Kent State but is projected as a special teams star, proved to be just that with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown and five pass catches for 37 yards. Moss did have 3 catches for 54 yards, including a 34-yard grab late in the second quarter which set up Baker's second touchdown catch just before halftime.
Edelman may have been the most intriguing Patriot of the evening. He lined up in Wes Welker's slot position and caught some quick hitch passes in the flat, and was able to make positive yardage in each case. Edelman did a nice job of getting open, and looked almost like Welker in the patterns he was running. On the touchdown punt return, he ran up the right sideline and did a nifty cutback up the middle, then showed great speed in the clear in taking it to the house.
But Brady's performance has to have all of New England feeling absolutely wonderful. He looked flawless in his play-action technique, he found receivers with no problem, and the offensive line protected him well and gave him lots of time to throw. The o-line needs a lot of work on run blocking, but protecting Brady versus opening gaping holes for the running backs was a much higher priority for this game. The Johnson-less defense for Philadelphia was powerless to stop Brady's passing game despite the Patriots not being able to run the ball at all (Laurence Maroney had only 14 yards rushing on six carries).
Brady tried to hit Moss on deep routes, yielding one penalty and one interception. On the Patriots' second offensive possession, Brady tried to hit Moss on a deep right sideline pattern, but former Patriot Asante Samuel was guilty of pass interference. The 46-yard penalty put the Patriots at the Eagle 18, and Brady hit a wide open Baker from four yards out five plays later thanks to a missed assignment. On the next possession, Brady tried to go deep to Moss on the left side on the fourth play, but put too much air under the ball and underthrew it. Sheldon Brown picked it off at the Philadelphia 12-yard line.
The interception proved to be inconsequential, as the Eagles drove only 23 yards and Edelman ran back the ensuing for a touchdown.
Andrew Walter relieved Brady late in the first half and took two kneeldowns, then played most of the second half. Walter managed 5 of 9 passing for 62 yards and led the Patriots on two field-goal drives. The Eagle wannabes outplayed the Patriot wannabes in the second half, and only a missed field goal by David Akers late in the game prevented the second and third units from coughing up the game.
Brady may see less action next week against Cincinnati at home, as Walter may be asked to play more and allow Bill Belichick to see what he really has with his brand new backup. Brady will have more to do in two weeks down in Washington for Week 3, the traditional "dress rehearsal" game. Next week's game may turn into a battle for the number two quarterback slot, because Brady did nothing Thursday night in Philadelphia to suggest that he needs more playing time next week to shake off more rust, and Belichick can afford to rest Brady if he needs to.
Okay, maybe you think your sweetie is more beautiful. Just this one time, perhaps.
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