Appearances can be deceiving. Take, for example, the case of Tom Brady, which was so thoroughly scrutinized last week.
Since the Patriots' loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday, there has been more talk about Brady's body language than Eva Longoria's, yet the New England quarterback's true problems have nothing to do with his psyche, his disposition, or his arm. One play two weeks ago in a game against the New York Jets symbolizes the real problem with the Patriots' passing game.
What Brady is really trying to find is not himself, but common ground.
It was the play in which New York cornerback Kerry Rhodes drilled Brady in the back with a blindside blitz, forcing a turnover that helped the Jets cut their deficit to 7 with nine minutes left in an eventual 24-17 New England victory. It was a play that a year ago very likely would not have happened.
During the Jets game, Brady was talking with new receivers and said that if the defense went into an 11-up blitz, they would do what they did last year in Denver. As he spoke, he saw blank expressions. Someone finally said, ``What did you do last year against Denver?"
Brady was stunned, realizing the adjustment he suggested could not be used because Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, David Thomas, and Chad Jackson didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. When that exact situation arose later, Brady went down in a heap. That's not a problem of body language or talent; it's a problem of feel and understanding, things that will still be missing today when the Patriots take on the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
``We've only been together three weeks," Brady said over and over Friday as he sat at his locker explaining why his completion percentage has fallen from a career 61.5 to to 53.3 this season. ``Over the last four years, we've incorporated guys into this offense. We do a lot of things because that's what Deion Branch was good at or what David Givens was good at, but they're not here anymore. I don't know yet what Doug or Chad or Reche are best at.
``Quarterbacks and wide receivers are like pitchers and catchers. They get to know each other and what you're comfortable doing. Over the course of four years, you build the offense around the players you have and run things those players are good at.
``We need to start to develop the strengths of these players, but you have to know what those strengths are first. That takes time. Deion could do certain things, but he can't do the things Doug can because Doug's 6-2. Deion was 5-10. I have to get used to throwing it up to him and Chad and letting them go get it, but the confidence to do that only comes with repetition and seeing them make those kind of catches.
``We used to talk on the sidelines and say, `Remember that play last year?' We can't do that now. We've got nothing to draw from. Am I as comfortable now as I was last year? How could I be?
``But I have no doubt we'll turn it around. I haven't forgot how to read defenses. I haven't forgot how to throw the football. It would be different if I was having a lot of passes batted down. I'm not here thinking I can't pass in the NFL."
This has left Brady in the lurch and wondering not about some sudden loss of his compass or an unseen injury, but rather how long it will take to develop the timing and confidence with these new faces that took so long to create with Branch and Givens.
``It's been three games," he reiterated. ``I'm not not believing in what we're doing here. I have no doubt we'll turn it around because of the way we work, the way we're coached, and the standard we hold ourselves to. After it's all said and done, we'll see where we are. I think we'll be fine.
``The past few years, 80 percent of my reads started with Deion. He was the X [receiver]. In every three-by-one formation, he was working away from the tight end side. He'd get one-on-one coverage, so that's where I'd look first. It's hard to do that with a tight end [Benjamin Watson]. We're trying to find ways to get him the ball.
``It's all part of a process. It would have been different if we found all this out in January, but we didn't."
Too often over the first three weeks, new receivers have run routes at depths different than what was expected. Different speeds, both getting into and out of routes, with cuts, and off the line of scrimmage, upset timing that must be precise to be successful.
Individually these are all little things, but added up they create big problems. These problems can be perceived by the public as diminishing accuracy, unannounced injury, or, worst of all, sagging shoulders and bad body language. The last one is the least of Brady's concerns. Although he is well aware of what has been said about his supposed frustration over the defections of Branch and Givens, his concerns and his focus are elsewhere.
``A lot of throws to Deion were ones no one else could do here," Brady said. ``Now I have to learn where Player X is most comfortable. You've got to see them do it. How long will it take? As quickly as the offense can morph into [highlighting] their strengths. Playing quarterback is about trust. How much do you trust each other? We're getting there."
Yet it is about more than technical proficiency and developing an understanding of his teammates' strengths and weaknesses that is necessary for Brady's game to return to what it has been. It is about developing the kind of trust between receiver and passer that the former will feel free not only in nodding his head in understanding, but also shaking it in protest when he feels the plan does not fit his skill set.
``Deion would say, `Oh, T, I don't know if I can do that,' and we'd make an adjustment," Brady explained. ``Right now, whatever I ask these receivers to do, they say, `All right, I'll do it,' whether they think they can or not.
``These guys have experience. They know how to play and what they can do in a situation, and we have to learn to use that experience, but when you come to this team, walk into this locker room, see guys who have three Super Bowl rings, why would they feel they should speak up and say, `Let's do it another way?' That's pretty difficult for them right now. That takes trust on both sides.
``That's what I mean about saying we may have to go a little backwards for a while. Go back to basic stuff and then grow into what it'll be with these guys. It's not like we're at a nine trying to get to a 10. Right now it's like a six trying to get to a 10. I'm confident we'll get there. We've incorporated guys into this offense before. We'll do it this time, too."
After all, it's only been three games.