Is Bill Belichick flirting with trouble by taking such an approach?
That was on the mind of former Patriots safety and current NBC football analyst Rodney Harrison during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI on Tuesday, as he said, "The Patriots are a hated team. ... I don't want to see Brady when you're up 30 or 40 points and he could get injured."
Harrison said on the program that he understands how Belichick is stressing the importance of playing 60 minutes, but added, "I would say preserve them. Make sure you take them out of the game and get some of these other guys some experience."
Supporters of Harrison's point of view note that Brady was playing when the Patriots were leading 44-10 in the fourth quarter and dropped back to pass eight times on a 17-play, 58-yard drive that extended from 13:18 to 3:31 remaining. It was a drive in which top receiver Julian Edelman was kept on the sideline, while top tight end Rob Gronkowski only came on for three snaps in the goal-line power package.
So why keep Brady on, but pull Edelman and significantly limit Gronkowski?
Asked a big-picture question of how he determines who to pull out of games, the following was Belichick's explanation when asked during his weekly interview on WEEI on Monday: "This isn't like college where you have a backup at every position. We only had seven offensive linemen at the game. Somebody has to get in there and play. We just do the best we can to try to manage it there. We didn't do a good job of it last week on offense or defense, and Buffalo got back in the game in a hurry.
"So it's easy to sit back here at the end of the game and look back and say what the score was, but then when you saw a game close as quickly as it did last week against Buffalo; when you're coaching it you don't have the same feeling that the fans do with the final score."
Count ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi as a Belichick backer on this topic.
In Bruschi's weekly chat on ESPNBoston.com, he said, "In 2007, they had taken Tom Brady out of a game at Miami, inserting Matt Cassel, and then they had to put Brady back in. That's his approach. The message this week was 'play 60 minutes' and you only play 16 games."