Monday, December 24, 2012

Worrywarts Are Winners

How fascinating if nor exactly surprising to learn that one person who doesn't believe that "a win is a win is a win" in the National Football League is Tom Brady.

Seen on TV,  Brady's demeanor following the Patriots' slipshod 23-16 win over the feeble Jaguars was somber verging on funereal. In the locker room, Brady was reportedly a bit livelier -- ripshit, in fact, chewing out his teammates in a rant the late Gene Mauch would've been proud to call his own.

Brady's reaction to victory was notable  because it is the exact opposite of his usual role in New England's management structure. After a loss, he's always somewhere within a short stroll of the junction of sad and angry. But on those rare occasions, once or twice a season max, that the Pats win despite playing poorly enough to lose, Brady ordinarily dwells on the bright side, pointing out the plays New England DID make that allowed them to escape their sins of o- and commission. Fretting is Bill Belichick's job. Brady is the good cop in their historically effective partnership.

So for Brady to take the bad cop role is worth considering. It's possible that Brady's competitive zeal, extraordinarily high even for an NFL player, took control of his emotions as it did on the sidelines of the Redskins game last year (another shoddy win). But it's also possible this display of real temper was deliberate, with Brady consciously deciding it was necessary for the greater good that he show his teammates his unhappiness with them -- and himself.

After any game, win or lose, Belichick is too spent to say much. I can't prove it, but I believe that holds true when he's talking to his team, not just when talking to the media. The man's got guile, but he's not a good enough actor to fake his post-game weariness. Laurence Olivier wasn't that good.

So I believe it's on Mondays when Belichick lets players know they weren't up to snuff despite the final score. Football being a sport of habit, the players certainly came off the field yesterday afternoon knowing their Christmas Eves would contain a rough patch in the meeting room.

Brady is of course the Patriot player closest to Belichick in every professional way, For him to jump in ahead of the coach's scheduled tongue-lashing with one of his own indicates that in Brady's opinion, even Belichick's creative and considerable wrath was insufficient to deal with New England's performance. Brady is worried. And he should be, both on merit and because it's good for the team when he is.

Against all but one other team in the NFL (the Chiefs retired the worst team in the league competition by doing the impossible yesterday, rushing for 352 yards and not just losing, but only scoring 13 points) New England's first and fourth quarters against the feeble Jags would meant a sure defeat. Against the 49ers, similar sleepwalking did in fact result in a loss. That's two games in a row where the Patriots came out of the gate with something less than a smooth stride. And in what had to contribute to Brady's ire, one very important way the Pats have faltered is in allowing him to get whacked too often for comfort.

Once is a bad game. Back-to-back MIGHT be the start of a trend. Or so Brady believes. On the subject of football, he certainly knows more than I do, so I'll go with him.

Might be is not the same as is. The Patriots' overall situation remains the same. They're one of the five or so favorites to win the Super Bowl, and they should be. Brady's worries are one reason why. Championship football teams tend to have fusspots in charge, either coaches, quarterbacks or both.

Brady doesn't often let his inner fusspot show, but it's strong element of his football self,  one reason he and Belichick are as much partners as player and coach. The Pats are used to hearing about worries from one side of that partnership. This week, they're getting it in stereo.

A little more anxiety might be good for their souls -- not to mention pass blocking.


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