FOXBORO – Tom Brady took a proactive approach to protecting his offensive line on Wednesday.
After 16 sacks and innumerable hits in five games landed him an MRI tube with a tender left shoulder, Brady made sure blame for his bludgeoning didn't land at the feet of the five who block for him.
"I think those guys have done a great job, I really do," said Brady. "I think they're fighting their butts off on every play. The ball's got to come out on time and (I have to) find the open guy and cut it loose. You know, we've got to do a good job of that at the quarterback position. I love that group up front. We've got great tackles, great center, great guards. We've been in some competitive games and we're going to keep fighting. That's where it's at."
Brady was at practice Wednesday but didn't take any meaningful reps. He had a bemused look on his face as he fielded questions about his status, saying finally, "Yeah, I'll be there Sunday. Don't worry about that. I'll be there."
Brady then veered into a sometimes overlooked aspect of why he's been taking a thrashing. Game situation.
When asked about the upcoming challenges after Sunday's game against the Jets – Joey Bosa of the Chargers, Von Miller of the Broncos, Khalil Mack from Oakland and the speedy Atlanta front-seven – Brady said that starting fast would be a nice way to neutralize the heat.
"You've got to play the game on your terms," said Brady. "I think we haven't done a great job of that, and not playing great football early in the game doesn't really get you the lead, so you're trying to fight and claw back the whole way, throw the ball. You know, your run-pass ratio gets way out of balance, so you're throwing it all the time, which we've been doing, and it just gives them more opportunity."
Aside from the beating they gave New Orleans in Week 2 and the AFC Championship pantsing of Pittsburgh, the Patriots have been nip-and-tuck in six of their last eight games. And that's a departure from the norm of 2016 when they spent an ungodly amount of time in the lead and didn't trail after Week 12 until they faced Atlanta.
In that game, the Patriots trailed for 63 minutes and 57 seconds and didn't hold a lead until the game ended. In the opener this year, New England was up 17-7 on KC but coughed that lead up and trailed the entire fourth quarter. In Week 3, the Patriots biggest lead was eight and they trailed almost the entire fourth quarter. They trailed the final 30:26 against Carolina. The biggest lead against Tampa was nine points.
"If you have a three touchdown lead in the third quarter, it's different," Brady shrugged. "You're probably much more balanced on offense, and we've been a part of those quite a few times. If you're losing by two scores, you're just throwing it every down. You've just got no choice, and that's – again, they can't sack you if you're handing the ball off."
Brady then switched lanes quickly before it sounded like he gave a damn about getting hit.
"I'm not concerned about that. I'm really not," he said. "We all want to do a better job. We're all trying to play better. Certainly, no one feels great about where we're at right now, but there's a lot of football left and we're going to keep battling. Like I said, I have so much confidence in our offensive line and what we do every week, their preparation, their effort, their toughness, how well they're coaching, everything we're trying to do up front. From my standpoint, I've got to find the guy that's open and get rid of the ball. That's what I'm going to do."
Brady mildly disputed the link between downfield throws (of which the Patriots have had more than their norm) and the hits he's taking.
"I think correlation can be made between a lot of different things with statistics and so forth," he cautioned. "We've been pretty efficient throwing it this year, so just had probably not great execution. I think that's what we're trying to improve. If you call a quick pass, you've got to get it out on time. You call an intermediate pass, it comes out on time. You throw a deeper pass – everyone knows, and that's what we're trying to do. So I just think it's the overall level of execution. Certainly, if I play better, it will help all of us."