Brady to Giants: Sideline sack stars
Vail, CO Colorado
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. “Tom Brady looked into the TV cameras, smiled and gave some advice to the coach whose defense leads the NFL in throwing quarterbacks to the ground.
As a matter of self-preservation, Brady would rather not see Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck charging at him. Besides, the Giants might as well rest their top players because they’re locked into their first-round playoff game anyway.
So Brady stood at his locker and delivered his message: “Coach Coughlin, if you’re listening, definitely rest those guys.”
The answer will come Saturday night when the New England Patriots can become the first team to finish a regular season 16-0 when they play New York at the Meadowlands.
“Well,” said left tackle Matt Light, charged with protecting Brady’s blind side, “maybe they’ll take his advice.”
Coughlin and Patriots coach Bill Belichick haven’t tipped their hands about how much their regulars will play. New England can’t change it’s playoff status either; it has home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
But it can make history with the undefeated record, an issue the players have avoided. But now that they need just one more win, the subject is no longer taboo.
“I think we all realize what a win would mean, but a win’s always big,” Brady said. “Being 16-0 would be a very special achievement, one that no other team has ever achieved and we’re finally at that point.”
Brady is the biggest reason the Patriots got there.
He needs two touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning’s single-season NFL record of 49 set in 2004. He’s teamed with Randy Moss for 21, a league record for any one combination. And he’s led an offense that needs six points to set the single-season scoring mark.
Brady has been durable in his eight seasons. His 124th consecutive start Saturday would break a tie with Ron Jaworski for third most in league history behind Brett Favre’s 272 and Manning’s 171.
But he must face a Giants team “as physical as any team that we’ve faced all year on both sides of the ball,” Belichick said. The coach said he would do what’s best for the team, not even ruling out using Brady for most of the game.
“I can give him the direct number to coach Coughlin if he wanted to call him,” Strahan said. “Tom is a good guy, a good friend of mine, and I have all the respect in the world for him. With all the things that they have done this year, there is not a better guy who deserves it and not just on the football field, but off the football field.
“His advice, I can’t take it, I can direct him to the person who can help.”
An injury to the star quarterback would be devastating, the one setback that could instantly turn the Patriots from masterful to mediocre.
Matt Cassel has thrown 39 passes in three seasons as Brady’s backup, just seven this year. Third-stringer Matt Gutierrez, a rookie, completed his only pass this season.
It’s up to the solid offensive line to keep Umenyiora, with 13 sacks, Tuck, with 10, and Strahan, with nine, at a distance. But Brady also has a knack for staying safe.
“He trains hard, he works hard and I think he gives himself every opportunity to be as healthy and as physically in condition as his own personal body will allow,” Belichick said.
Brady also has a keen sense of where danger lurks.
“He has really great pocket awareness,” tight end Kyle Brady said, “awareness of where the opening’s going to be in the pocket, when it’s collapsing, when to move out of it, when to get rid of the ball ” all those kind of things that you can try to tell somebody, but it seems to be a bit more instinctive.”
In his first eight games, Tom Brady was spectacular: 30 touchdown passes, two interceptions and a passer rating of over 100 in every one of them.
In the last seven games, his numbers have tapered off. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns and six interceptions and has only two games with a passer rating above 100.
“A negative trend. That’s never good,” Brady said. “I’m not a big statistics guy. I evaluate each play. ‘What could I have done? What could I have done better?’ I always feel I try to play very consistently and the team really can depend on me as a consistent player. I hope that continues.”
That would be easier if Coughlin rests his starters in the last game before the Giants’ playoff game the following weekend at Tampa Bay.
And that would be just fine with Brady.
“I think, definitely, Strahan and Osi should take the weekend off,” he said. “I’d rest them.”