FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s first comments to reporters since deciding not to pursue further legal options in his Deflategate suspension fight with the NFL will be a big story on Friday, and understandably so.
Nothing Brady said was unexpected -- he called it a “personal decision” and said he’s tried to “move on from it” -- and that’s why his on-field actions are probably an even bigger story than anything that unfolded in the five minutes he stepped behind the microphone.
Brady put on a clinic at practice, serving as a reminder that he is still on top of his game, two days after celebrating his 39th birthday.
Brady finished 25-of-25 in an intrasquad scrimmage. No, the ball never hit the ground.
Furthermore, the intensity with which Brady practiced was on another level.
After throwing touchdown passes to Matthew Slater (long bomb down the left sideline) and Chris Hogan, Brady raced up to both players in celebration as if it were a regular-season game. When fullback James Develin dove to catch a pass along the sideline, which was the closest Brady came to an incompletion in his 25 attempts, Brady yelled out to him in excitement.
“I think it’s just a way to elevate everybody’s game,” he said of his ultra-intense approach. “It’s a very competitive team, it’s a competitive sport, and you have to bring it mentally every day. You have to have an attitude about you, and we have a lot of guys on this team that bring that. Trying to push their buttons -- I love to do that. They push it back, and I think that gets the best out of everybody.”
Hogan, the former Buffalo Bill who is playing with Brady for the first time, wasn’t surprised at what he saw.
“I was on the opposite sideline for four years, and I know how intense he can be,” he said. “It’s cool to see a guy like him, no matter how many training camps this has been for him, to come out here and be that excited. It’s contagious.”
For context, the pass rush wasn’t sacking quarterbacks, and there was no live tackling. But the competitive level was at 100 percent, the offenses and defenses were substituting personnel, and both sides were playing as close to game speed as could be.
This was the Brady Show.
Playing behind what would be considered the team’s backup offensive line, and without his top target, Rob Gronkowski, Brady sizzled.
He started with three short completions to Develin, Hogan and running back Brandon Bolden before lofting a beautiful deep ball into the back right-hand corner of the end zone that Bolden rose to pluck out of the air despite linebacker Kevin Snyder’s coverage.
On the next series, Brady found Develin on the diving play along the left sideline, which might have been a sack if the pass rush was allowed to bring down the quarterbacks as Brady shuffled his feet in the pocket to keep the play alive. He followed with a completion to Hogan before the coaches whistled a sack on third down, which forced a punt.
The next time Brady took the field, he connected with tight end Martellus Bennett on four straight passes to open the drive, and then added a connection to Hogan before going back to Hogan for his second touchdown pass. Before the scoring pass, Brady had called a timeout based on the defensive look, which reflected how it was as close to a game-like situation as possible without the tackling.
All Brady needed was one play on the next drive, dialing up Slater on the long touchdown up the left sideline (cornerback Darryl Roberts was closest in coverage).
Brady then got rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell into the mix with a catch along the right side. Hogan back-to-back … Bolden … Hogan again … and Mitchell deep down the right side.
And on and on it went – Mitchell ... Bolden twice in a row ... Bennett off play-action ... Mitchell again ... and then Hogan.
Entering his 17th season, Brady has done this before, almost single-handedly taking over a practice. It was impressive, as the oldest nonkicker currently on an NFL roster showed the 6,000-plus fans in attendance that he still has it.
There’s no doubt about that.