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Bob Ryan

Brady not taxed by withholding

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / September 2, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - As always, it's impossible for Coach Bill to give someone a simple yes/no/I'm not really sure yet answer to a simple question such as, "Will Tom Brady start against the Chiefs next Sunday?"

Nope, it has to be Belispeak.

"We prepare all the players during the week," said Bill Belichick. "We'll give you the injury report on Friday."

Of course, he will. And for the zillionth week in succession, Tom Brady's name will be on it. That's another bit of Coach Bill self-amusement.

Out there in the Heartland, coach Herman Edwards and his staff will see Brady's name on the list and they no doubt will chuckle. You think they'll spend one millisecond this week assuming anyone other than Tom Brady will be calling signals for the Patriots when they arrive at Gillette Stadium for the 2008 season opener?

We know this much: If he's not playing, Brady will be gobsmacked. According to him, he could have played last week. And the week before that. And the week before that. And the week before that.

"If it's up to me," he said yesterday, "I'm going to play. I'm always hoping I'm going to be out there. I'll be preparing the same way."

Whatever exactly has been the problem with Brady's foot, he insists he's getting better and will be quite prepared for the Chiefs. "It's been getting progressively better over the last few weeks," he said.

He also cautioned against reading anything into his physical absence from the Giants game. "Nobody likes to stand around, me especially," he explained. "The coach made a decision. 'Head home. Relax. See you tomorrow.' I take my cue from the coach."

But Brady wants it understood that his input into the matter was irrelevant. "I would have loved to play," he said. "I wanted to play. The decision was made for me not to play. All I can do is focus on getting better and stay prepared."

For the first time in his professional career, his preseason preparation did not include participation in any exhibition games. The Chiefs come to town Sunday and Brady, the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player, will hit the ground running, apparently with a minimum of trepidation.

"I've practiced a lot this preseason," he pointed out. "Randy [Moss] didn't play the entire preseason last year, and it didn't affect what he did. I'm hoping it won't affect me a whole lot."

Brady wasn't trying to con anybody. It would be beyond disingenuous for him to suggest that practice is the same as actual NFL competition, even exhibition competition. "There's nothing like playing," he declared. "You can't replicate the speed, or how it affects your decision-making, or your level of energy."

But.

Yes, there's a "but," and it's a big one.

"But the fortunate thing for me," he reminded, "is that I've played about 130 of these games. I know that speed. My body knows that speed."

In other words, you can't apply chump standards to me.

It's almost too bad for Brady that he's not up for a new contract. After watching the Patriots struggle just to make a first down throughout most of their four sorry exhibition non-Brady losses, he would be in a rather enviable negotiating position. For starters, he could have demanded half the gross from all those Patriot Place establishments. (By the way, it's starting to seem as if those Boston University Field/Alumni Stadium/Harvard days took place about two weeks after those folks landed at Plymouth Rock.)

It's easy to joke, but it's really not very funny. Messrs. Pioli and Belichick have had seven years to do something about the backup QB problem, and the situation never has been more dire. If Brady ever goes down, let's hope Stephen Gostkowski is planning on hitting a few 60-yarders.

This, of course, is why it made perfect sense for Coach Bill to withhold Brady from those awful exhibitions. On a team on which there is no lack of issues - cornerback, offensive line, the need to replenish an aging linebacking corps, etc. - the issue that towers above all others is the health of Tom Brady, who is a month past his 31st birthday and who, when last seen, was sustaining a frightful beating at the hands of the New York Giants.

Anything can happen at any time in this game. Never forget the role Mo Lewis had in the history of both the New England Patriots and the National Football League itself. Mo Lewis probably should be cutting a ribbon or two down at Patriot Place.

So even if Brady had a perfectly healthy foot, the fact is that given the composition of his receiving corps (i.e. he knows everyone), there wouldn't have been much reason to have him out there very often during those dreary games anyway. Even Eric Mangini had the good sense to deny Brett Favre's foolish request to play in the dreaded fourth Jets exhibition. And you could argue that Favre and his receivers might need some ensemble work.

He appears to be the same Tom Brady we've come to know. He still manages the incredible balancing act between being a legit tabloid celeb who dates the international supermodel to end all international supermodels and being an aw-shucks superstar athlete who never has gotten out of line with his mates inside the locker room. Just yesterday, Heath Evans declared Brady to be the most humble superstar he's ever met, something that Brady took with his usual aplomb.

"That's a very nice compliment," he said. "I look up to a lot of people myself, not all of them football players. People with ordinary jobs."

Brady's is far from an ordinary job, and he happens to be as good at what he does as all but a few in the history of the game. He is ready and eager to play. Pay no attention to the man uttering the coachspeak. When the Patriots get that ball on Sunday, No. 12 will be trotting into that huddle.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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