Can you hear me now? That's what Patriots fans are going to be asking quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday.
The most interesting aspect of the Patriots' matchup this Sunday with the boringly bad Buffalo Bills is going to be in the stands. Sunday's visit by the Bills marks the first game at Gillette Stadium since Brady revealed he was not a fan of the home crowd's performance in the Patriots' 38-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the season-opener.
A quick refresher: Last Wednesday, Brady said the atmosphere created by Jets fans "is very different than our friendly home crowd who when I looked up half the stadium was gone when we were up 21 points in the early fourth quarter, which I wasn’t so happy about. I don’t think the Jets fans leave early."
It's pretty hard to blame a Patriots fan for leaving Gillette early to escape the gridiron gridlock. Crowd control to Major Tom, not everyone can simply zoom home on Fidelity Way, like you, your teammates and the assorted VIP fans, most of whom consider crowd noise the clinking of wine glasses in the club seats.
Still, my guess is Brady and his teammates won't have to worry about their fans exiting early or failing to be heard this week. The Foxborough Faithful will be quite vocal, one way or another. Either they'll rise up, obey their beloved QB's clarion call-out, and create a hostile environment for the Bills, or angered by the loss to the Jets and the critique of their cheering, the "friendly" home folks will give Brady and his mates the sound and their fury if things aren't going well.
It will be interesting to see if Brady softens or further explains his crowd comments tomorrow in his weekly State of the Quarterback address. It's generally never a good idea for any performer to critique or tweak the paying customers. It's a no-win situation to antagonize your fans. But if you're going to criticize the crowd, it helps to come back home with a win, or you're just fanning the flames
However, Brady did have a point -- compared to other NFL facilities Gillette is not noisy -- and he's not the first Patriot to express disappointment with the crowd's comportment.
After the Patriots' 33-14 blowout playoff loss to Baltimore in January, nose tackle Vince Wilfork was a little miffed about the boo-birds that took flight early in the first quarter, when the Patriots went down 14-0.
"It felt like we were playing an away game," said Wilfork. "That's what it felt like, so even if we would have moved on from here we would have played two away games back-to-back. I'm telling you for so much this team has done in the past, I don't understand it.
"Of course they pay their money. They want to see a good show. They want to have the blowouts all the time. They want to have the big plays, but it don't happen like that all the time. That was tough, but, hey, they have their right to their opinion. That's how they feel and let us know. We didn't help by playing any better than we did. Take it for whatever it's worth."
Former cornerback Ellis Hobbs chastised Patriots fans for booing too quickly in 2008, when Miami sprung the Wildcat on the Patriots and the NFL at Gillette.
It's no secret that Patriots players wish their fans would pump up the volume when the opposition has the ball and elevate the audio level in key situations. There was a message on the Jumbotron at the New Meadowlands on Sunday when the Jets had the ball. It said, "Quiet: Offense at work." Sometimes it feels like that message is going out when the visiting team has the ball at Gillette.
Blame the open-ended architecture or the 6,600 cushy club seats, but Gillette is one of the stadiums in the league with the least ambient crowd noise. The crowd is simply not a factor for opposing offenses trying to run their plays. It's rare to see a team have to use a silent count at Gillette, thanks to the silent majority. When an enemy quarterback can't hear the plays being relayed into his helmet, it's usually because the coach-to-quarterback communication system has mysteriously gone on the fritz.
Indoor facilities like New Orleans' Superdome, Minneapolis' Metrodome and retractable-roof Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis are among the loudest in the league because of an acoustic advantage -- and sometimes it seems a bit more in Indianapolis. But there are loud and proud open-air facilities in Denver and Seattle, where the Seahawks raise a "12th-man" flag before each game, a symbol of the advantage of their clamorous crowd. The Pittsburgh crowd knows how to get loud.
Yet, not having boisterous backing has never hurt the Patriots at home. Since Gillette opened in 2002, the Patriots have the best home records in the NFL (60-13). They went 8-0 last season. What has always given the Patriots an edge at Gillette and made it a formidable place to play has been Brady, Bill Belichick and the execution and clutch playmaking of the Patriot team.
With those advantages waning a bit and a retooled defense that could use all the help it could get as it finds its sea legs, Brady may have just been asking for a little more vocal adrenaline to aid the team's cause.
In the end, if his remarks cause Gillette to be a tougher place to play for opposing teams to play this season, then he's done his job, which is to do every thing possible to get his team a win, even if it means damaging his Teflon Tom image. That's what leaders do. That's what captains do.
Just like Brady absorbs hits on the field for the good of the team, he's willing to absorb a public relations one off it to do the same.
Brady has been heard, now it's time for Patriots fans to do the same.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.