FOXBORO — A couple of weeks ago, Tom Brady postulated that one reason he’s been able to survive the avalanche of hits he’s undergone this season is because he’s learned how to fall down. Well, his line has certainly allowed him ample opportunities to practice a rather obscure skill he argues can be a saving grace for a quarterback under siege.
“You stand in the pocket,” Brady said on Sept. 27. “You do have to learn how to find the way down in a way that you’ll be able to get up and try to play the next play, especially with your right shoulder. I think for me, more than anything, I try to land more on my left shoulder than my right shoulder because you’ve only got one right shoulder and I need this for a lot of throws. And the more hits you take on it, then the harder it is to take.
“I just do the best I can do. There’s some luck involved, but let’s go again, baby. Let’s line them up and play.”
That Sunday they did, and he went down and injured that left shoulder. Four days later it happened again. Better that than the right, obviously, but what’s next? Well, this Sunday against the often hard-rushing New York Jets and for a number of Sundays to come, Brady now will be forced to make a decision that goes against human nature.
If you have an aching shoulder, even if numbed up with elephant tranquilizers like they do in the NFL, do you still believe landing on your left shoulder is a great idea? And even if you do, can you make yourself do it a half-dozen times a game, which seems to be about the minimum amount of times his offensive line is asking Brady to take one for the team these days?
Perhaps, but “protect and preserve” doesn’t just sound like the LAPD motto. It’s also the nature of most human beings (although not apparently the ones playing offensive line for the Patriots at the moment). Last time I looked, most NFL quarterbacks are also human beings.
To date, Brady officially has been hit 28 times and sacked 16, but those numbers seem to be as much opinion as fact because the fact is he’s been hit more than that, although not sacked more than that. To put the numbers in perspective, go back a year ago, when Brady was sacked only 15 times and hit 33 in 12 regular-season games. If one projects this year’s numbers over a full season, that’s 3.2 sacks and 5.7 hits per game or a total of roughly 51 sacks and 89 hits if things continue this way.
The only thing you can be sure of if that kind of assault persists is that Tom Brady’s left shoulder won’t be the only thing separated by the end of the season. So will his mind and very likely his right shoulder as well.
Football is a violent game, as Brady often acknowledges. People get hit, quarterbacks among them. There is no way to avoid that so the question becomes how to minimize the carnage. Landing on your non-separated left shoulder may be one way, but what choice do you make once that AC joint has begun to come unglued?
“You know, it’s a physical sport, so I think everyone is dealing with something,” Brady said this week. “It’s just part of the sport. Everyone’s running around and they’re big and they’re fast and they hit hard. You have bumps and bruises, but you just deal with them the best you can and try to get ready for the next week.
“I’m very proactive with how I take care of myself. I understand part of the position is standing there and taking hits. So I just try to prepare my body as best I can for it, so when you take them, your body can respond and then you can kind of get back to feeling as good as you possibly can as quickly as you possibly can. So, rather than sitting out multiple weeks, maybe it’s a day or two days. At this point, I feel great. I’m not sore. I have great energy. I feel strong. I feel prepared. I’ve just got to go out there and play good this weekend. I’m not worried about it.”
The New York media asked Brady if he was worried when he was told to have an MRI, as happened this week. He said, “not for me.” Of course, that MRI revealed no damage because, well, if there was damage do you think it would be revealed?
You know the answer to that. You also know if Tom Brady is taking time off from practice it’s not because his shoulders are feeling so good he believes he doesn’t need practice. When it comes to practice, this guy is no Allen Iverson.
Running back James White was on point and to the point when asked about what Brady has been facing, which is too many face plants.
“We have to do a better job protecting him,” White admitted. “We’re all accountable for that.”
It doesn’t really matter if the reason is the Patriots offense going more vertical because of the explosive presence of Brandin Cooks and the explosive absence of Julian Edelman or whether it has been mostly his line’s failures. All that matters is that he not too often be asked to make an executive decision involving deciding which shoulder to fall on because, truth be told, no one’s body can continue to be crushed under 300-plus pound men, often from the blindside, and remain the same player. Not Tom Brady. Not Johnny Unitas. Not anybody.
Either your body gives out or your mind does. That is a simple truth. As John Elway once told me, “Turn us upside down and every quarterback looks the same.”
So far Brady has looked like few other quarterbacks but not always like himself. At 40, he may believe his body bounces back from assault and battery faster than at 20, but medical science would argue otherwise, and so do some of those passes which keep sailing behind his receivers or too far ahead of them. I’ll go with the science, as he did this week when he went for an MRI, and with Elway’s assessment of the long-term ravages of pain.
“I am what I am,” Brady joked this week, channeling his inner Popeye the Sailor Man outlook. That’s true, but if he keeps getting hit the way he has been much longer, what he is then won’t be what he is today — which is a quarterback with only his left shoulder aching.
“I’ll be there Sunday,” Brady said this week. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll be there.”
Hopefully while there he won’t too often have to decide which shoulder to fall on, because if it happens once too often his teammates and his coaches will need a shoulder to cry on.