FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady hadn't thrown a pass in the Patriots' season opener last Sunday, but was already off his game. His focus was uncharacteristically broken.
He had Deion Branch on his mind.
``Last week, I spent a lot of energy thinking about it and you look at the end of the week, it really wasted a lot of my time," Brady said yesterday. ``It was a big mental drain and I think it affected the way I played. I just didn't feel like I brought as much to the table as I normally could."
After the Patriots traded Branch to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2007 first-round pick Monday, Brady has some closure.
``At least I feel like now I can move on and I know he's moved on," said Brady, who was 11 of 23 for 163 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the opening 19-17 win over the Bills. ``I wish him luck. This team now has to really look forward, and with the guys we have do the best we can.
``I think everybody would have wanted Deion here, certainly myself knowing what kind of person and player he is. But as coach [Bill Belichick] kind of said to us, `It didn't work out.' I speak for myself when I say that I'm a very emotional person, and over the last four or five months it's been draining. In a sense, I think I learned a valuable lesson last week. When something is really out of your control, you can't let it drain you."
Part of what was tugging at Brady was the close relationship he had developed with Branch over the last four years. He said his recent conversations with Branch were emotional, as they would be between ``very good friends."
``He meant a lot to me as a person, and as a player he meant a lot to this organization," said Brady. ``Part of it is just this crazy [system] that we're associated with."
In 2003, when Lawyer Milloy was released the week before the Patriots' season opener, Brady spoke publicly about his disappointment. Branch's situation is a bit different because the trade wasn't as sudden, as Branch had been absent throughout training camp. Because of that, Brady said it felt more like losing a player to a season-ending injury.
Still, the loss stings.
``It's tough because coaches don't have relationships with players and management doesn't know what guys are like. In that sense, it's probably tougher for players to see other players go, because we hang out, we're buddies, it goes far beyond the football field," Brady said. ``I think part of this process that I learned is to kind of expect the unexpected. We hate to see players like Deion go, we hate to see Willie [McGinest] go, and Adam [Vinatieri], the list goes on for the last three or four years.
``But part of it is I have to focus on playing quarterback now and that just means I have to play that much better and I'm fully prepared to do that. I'm going to do my best to help this team win and I support our team and our organization just as I support players and their decisions. I wish it could have worked out but this time it didn't."
Brady was asked if he would have signed a contract extension with the Patriots in 2005 had he known that Branch and last year's No. 2 receiver, David Givens, wouldn't be with the team in '06.
``I have a lot of trust in our coach and a lot of trust in management that they're going to make decisions that are in the best interests of the team," said Brady. ``Some things aren't always in management's control, and I understand that, and I understand players. It's two [sides].
``I know when I was going through my contract, there is a lot of give and take. It doesn't always work out the way you like. If it was up to me, none of these guys would have left. But it's not up to me. Like I said, what I learned last week is that this stuff is really out of my control. The more I can focus on playing quarterback and doing my job, as opposed to worrying about everyone else's job, the better I'm going to be as quarterback. That's really what I'm focusing on."
As one of the team's captains, Brady feels it's important for him to show leadership after the trade. He said the thoughts that were a distraction leading up to the opener are in the past.
``I'm ready to move on," he said. ``I appreciate everything that Deion and I have done together and what Deion has done for this team, but part of what I'm here to do is to lead this team and to do the best job I can do. That's dealing with the guys that are here who are working hard to help us improve."
At receiver, those players include Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell, Jonathan Smith, Chad Jackson, and Doug Gabriel. Willie Andrews, a college defensive back, is also working at the position.
The Patriots are hoping that Jackson (questionable, hamstring), the team's second-round pick, will suit up for his first game Sunday against the Jets . Ditto for Gabriel (probable, hamstring), who was acquired in a trade with the Raiders for a fifth-round pick. Both Jackson and Gabriel were present at yesterday's practice, with the team reporting that both missed at least a portion of team drills.
``The more guys that are out there who are able to contribute the better, especially those two guys, who can really do some things for this offense," said Brady, before noting that he hopes to develop the same chemistry with Jackson and Gabriel as he has with others, such as Branch.
``That takes a lot of time. It doesn't happen overnight," said Brady. ``Even with a guy like Ben [Watson], we're continuing to develop that. Kevin Faulk. Troy Brown, going on my seventh year [with him]. There's a lot that goes into that. It's not as easy as a guy showing up and learning his plays and saying, `All right, this is how we're going to do it.' No, you have to go out and read his body language, see how he runs certain routes, and the timing coming in and out of breaks. That's what we go out and practice for every day. The more we can practice together, the more these situations come up in practice, hopefully the better we'll do in the game."
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