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Brady rule: Steps taken to protect QBs' knees

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 24, 2009
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DANA POINT, Calif. - Tom Brady hasn't even thrown a pass in his comeback, and he's already affected change for the 2009 NFL season.

In part because of the season-ending left knee injury that Brady suffered in the Patriots' 2008 season opener against the Chiefs, the league's Competition Committee adopted a clarification of the current rule on hits to a quarterback in the knee area or below. The clarification specifically prohibits a defender on the ground who hasn't been blocked or fouled directly into the quarterback from lunging or diving at the quarterback's lower legs.

Brady tore his left ACL and left MCL in the first quarter of the Patriots' 17-10 win over the Chiefs Sept. 7. As Brady stepped into a 28-yard completion to Randy Moss, Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard made a desperation dive into Brady's left knee after he had been blocked to the ground just short of Brady by running back Sammy Morris.

Pollard was not flagged or fined for the hit. Under the revised rule, a play like his would be penalized, according to Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairmen of the committee.

"I think all the quarterbacks in this league are critical to what the game is about," said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "It's like if Peyton Manning were gone for a season, I think the whole NFL suffers, the same way the NFL suffered with Tommy out. So whatever we can do to protect quarterbacks and to minimize the opportunity of them being taken out with a year-ending injury I would support.

"It's not good for the league. What makes it special is special players. It's like going to see a great movie and the star isn't in the movie. It's the same principle."

Although the Brady addendum was announced here at the owners' meetings yesterday, McKay said the point of emphasis on low hits on quarterbacks was actually passed a few weeks ago when the committee met in Naples, Fla.

The fifth provision of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 12 (roughing the passer) says that: "A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him."

Fisher said the feeling was that a play like the one Pollard made is one that can be avoided.

"It's a player that's down and then he does that second act where he's getting up and intentionally rolling into the quarterback, or where he's getting up and he lunges at his legs," Fisher said. "We've got a lot of shots where guys have gone down, crawled, and swiped. We don't feel like that's potentially as injurious to the quarterback than the hit where the shoulder comes down to the knee or the planted leg."

Kraft said Brady will wear a brace in 2009 to protect the knee and the owner expressed confidence that he would start in the first game, which, it was announced yesterday, will be Sept. 14, a Monday night, at home against Buffalo.

"I know he's been working out very hard, throwing, lifting, running," Kraft said. "We're looking forward to this season. I know that he's looking forward to it. Hopefully, we pick up right where we left off. That's the game plan."

Kraft said that in his mind the quarterback will be the same player who won three Super Bowls and threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes in 2007 on his way to being named MVP.

"He looks like a stud," Kraft said. "He almost looks more broad, more filled out. He has an infectious personality that is so charismatic and contagious. He's just got that special enthusiasm about him.

"He can't wait for the season to start. He's been studying film. He's doing everything he can to get ready to prepare. I don't think any of our fans should be concerned that he's not putting the energy and effort in to be ready to go right off the bat, and like I said pick up where we left off."

That means getting back to the playoffs and chasing a fourth Super Bowl title this decade, after sitting out the postseason last year with an 11-5 record.

"Which was brutal, brutal," said Kraft.

The Patriots know what it is like to go through a season without Brady, and despite the outstanding job done by Matt Cassel in Brady's stead, it's not an experience they want to repeat.

Brady's current contract is set to expire in 2010. When Kraft was asked about an extension for Brady, who will carry a $14.6 million cap number this year, he made his feelings clear about Brady's future.

"Tom Brady is a Patriot," said Kraft. "He is going to continue to be a Patriot. We've always been able to solve these contract problems. It's not a problem. We've never had a contract problem."

Nope, last season the Patriots and Brady had a contact problem, one that the NFL is hoping to eliminate with new language.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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