Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We’ll Make It, Tommy

It was Jan. 19, 2015, and life was good. My beloved Patriots just steamrolled the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game, 45-7, and were heading to their sixth Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Belichick Era (which commenced in 2000). In what was a rainy championship game in Foxborough that Sunday evening, the Patriots put a well-balanced attack on display. Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck, was rocked by the Patriots D; held to 126 yards passing and forced into throwing two interceptions. In Brady-esque fashion, Tommy tossed three touchdown passes through the rain. “Blount-force” was the Patriots’ mantra, as LaGarrette Blount ran for 148 yards and three scores on 30 carries in the contest. Life was good! I chanted “We’re on to Arizona” to face the Seattle Seahawks in two weeks at Super Bowl XLIX. 

Let’s just say my joy would be — deflated — rather abruptly over the course of the following week. 

Yes, I’m beating the dead horse that was Deflategate once again. It’s always been humorous to me how sports commentators seem to always apologize at this point for even the slightest mention of Deflategate on their radio segment, podcast, or column, because at the end of the day, we really are just talking about air in balls. Air in balls, people. Good grief. 

Anyways, as infamous as it may be in the eyes of many sports fans, Deflategate will always hold a (troublesome) place in my mind. 

It wasn’t all bad, I mean, remember when Brady stuck it to the NFL and beat his four-game suspension just 10 months ago? Wasn’t it great watching a vengeful Brady terrorize opposing defenses this past season? This was a “Psycho Tom” — a name given to Brady by Skip Bayless — who was doing any and everything possible in his being to not only make it to his seventh career Super Bowl; but to have Roger Goodell hand him the Lombardi Trophy with a grimace on his face. 

Well, that didn’t quite happen. Brady left the 2015-2016 season without a Super Bowl trophy. And entering the upcoming season, Deflategate has reared its ugly head on Brady and the Patriots. 

As Brady and the NFL went to war in the courthouse this summer, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension which had been fended off by Brady less than a year earlier. And that’s where we are right now. After having his most recent appeal rejected by the Court of Appeals, Brady has finally made public his decision to stop battling the (egregious) suspension. I’m going to avoid going on a tangent about what I think was an egotistical move by the NFL — who put in millions upon millions of dollars in legal costs to have Brady punished for his balls’ PSI shortcomings. This “Brady vs. NFL” heavyweight bout obviously went far beyond the pressure in those 11 footballs the Patriots used in the first half of the AFC Title Game. This meant so much more, it was about the players self-perceived power versus the League’s overruling power. The “NFLPA vs. Goodell.”

So, it is what it is. Brady is out for the first quarter of the upcoming regular season. The prospect of not having number 12 under center to open up the season is a naturally-terrifying one for New England fans. I mean, we know it’s going to have to be a reality someday, right? As magical as this Brady-Belichick Era has been, it will most definitely reach its conclusion at some point. 

When Jimmy Garoppolo trots onto the field Week 1 for the Pats, it will be the first time in the past 14 seasons that someone not named Tom Brady receives the Patriots’ first offensive snap of the season on opening day. 

Garoppolo, who was drafted in the second round (62nd overall) by the Pats in 2014, will be the man tasked with navigating the Patriot offense through the first four weeks of the season. We have seen Garoppolo sparingly during his time with New England — which is to be expected when the franchise’s No. 1 string quarterback practically has his Hall-of-Fame bust in Canton crafted already. 

Patriots fans may recall Garoppolo’s mop-up duty in the the Kansas City Massacre two years ago; when the Patriots fell to the Chiefs, 41-14, on Monday Night Football; and chaos ensued the next day as many clamored that the Patriots’ successful run was all but finished. In that game, Garoppolo looked pretty solid against what was likely the Chiefs third-string defense in the fourth quarter. He led the offense to a touchdown on his first possession in the game in what was an abysmal night for Patriots nation. Ironically enough, Garoppolo closed out the 2015 Championship Game that sparked the Deflategate saga. 

While Garoppolo under center still seems taboo to me and many others, I do think that Brady’s surrendering to the suspension was the right move. Should Tommy have taken this battle any further, it would have likely ended up becoming a Supreme Court case. Yes, a Supreme Court case — for football pressure — in a time that our nation is so troubled and tasked with other pressing issues such as gun violence and racial equity. It’s perfectly appropriate to bring footballs and air pumps to the Supreme Court right now.

Continuing to appeal would have definitely been an uphill battle legally for Brady as well. Let’s just say that Brady did continue to enter courtrooms for the remainder of this summer. And let’s just say he won another appeal that would push his suspension away temporarily. Who’s to say that the suspension wouldn't return at the end of the regular season — or even worse, at some point in the playoffs. It’s overall just better for Brady to get this suspension out of the way sooner, rather than later in the season. 

Let’s take a quick look at the Pats’ opponents during those first four Brady-less weeks:

Week 1: @ Arizona
Week 2: vs. Miami
Week 3: vs. Houston
Week 4: vs. Buffalo

So, not a much better time to have a three-game homestand than when you’re bringing in an inexperienced quarterback, right? This scheduling is definitely going to benefit New England early on. Nobody is projecting the Patriots to go 4-0, and that is for good measure. I see the season-opener at Arizona being a tough matchup for New England. The Houston match up in Week 3 could definitely be seen as a pick ‘em contest at this point in time. And while both divisional opponents — Miami and Buffalo — have made several beneficial moves this offseason, I feel being at Gillette for those games helps a whole lot. A majority of commentators have projected the Pats to go either 2-2 or 3-1 during this span, and I’m right there with them. 

Despite the impending suspension, the majority of Vegas still has the Patriots as the favorites to take Super Bowl LI in Houston this season. 

Also folks, keep in mind that this is not uncharted water for Belichick. This is the same coach who plugged Matt Cassel into the Patriot offense and led the team to an 11-5 record back in 2008. If we should know one thing by know, it is to never doubt The Hoodie, ever. 

Brady’s suspension will still allow him to keep in contact with the organization up until Week 1, when he will be officially barred from team activities. It’s safe to say that Tom will likely be at home those first four weeks watching the contests from the comfort of his living room. With Uggs on his feet, supermodel wife beside him, and coffee mug in hand, Brady will intently be following his team from a distance. You can bet that Brady’s inner fire burns more and more with every moment that passes by and brings him closer to his return. 

If the NFL thought it had a Psycho Tom last season, just wait. He wants nothing more than to have Goodell pass him the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 5, 2017, and declare the Patriots “world champions.” 

Brady has the uncanny ability to channel his rage into brilliance on the field. Oh, and what a beautiful, passionate rage this season will hold.