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In the ninth episode of the documentary series “Man in the Arena,” Tom Brady explored the end of his time with the Patriots.
The primary focus was the 2018 season (culminating in the Super Bowl LIII win over the Rams), but the show also touched on Brady’s final thoughts about playing in New England for Bill Belichick.
Unlike previous episodes, where Brady and multiple guests were interviewed, the ninth installment (titled “Maybe”) involves only Brady and former Patriots teammate, Julian Edelman.
Here are a few takeaways:
Though they would become a tight partnership on the field, Brady initially viewed Edelman as a player with potential who lacked polish.
“I didn’t know much about Julian except I knew we were going to scout this kid from Kent State who I think ultimately was a better football player than he was a wide receiver,” said Brady.
But by 2018, the onetime “football player” had evolved into a multi-time Super Bowl winner, and one of Brady’s most trusted targets.
“Julian stepped up his game just to a ridiculous level,” Brady noted of Edelman that season. “He became a driving force for our team and [from] a different era than earlier in my career, Julian kind of became the real type of Patriot that a lot of the guys before him were.
Later, he credited Edelman’s drive and work ethic in reaching his absolute potential.
“He was spectacular. That’s all that I would say,” said Brady. “He was the ultimate overachiever.”
During a preseason game against the Lions in 2017, Edelman tore his ACL.
“I got outside my base, tried to cut at high velocity, terrible technique, probably getting a little too cocky out there and I blew out my knee,” he recalled.
One of Edelman’s more interesting observations in the whole episode was his description of being gone from football for a year, and the mental weight it carried.
“You spend a lot of time away from the game and you watch your team go out and succeed, you start thinking, and you start getting hungry, and you start getting crazy,” said Edelman. “You start trying to compete every day with yourself.
“Injuries in professional football or any kind of professional sport, it’s so psychologically demanding because you want to see your team do well, but you don’t want to see your team do too well because then, hey, it’s a business.”
Prior to the 2018 season, in which Edelman would be returning from the missed season due to injury, he was suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
The former receiver never directly addressed the subject of drug use in the documentary, though he added more to the subject of how difficult it was for him without football.
“That was a very tough year for me, strictly for the fact that I’m not playing the game I love,” Edelman said. “You’re sitting and you’re reflecting everyday, about yourself, your game, your life, this, that, what’s going to happen. Because the one thing that’s probably the most scary thing for an athlete is the unknown.
Looking back on his suspension, Edelman had mixed feelings.
“In hindsight, it was almost a blessing in disguise,” he began.
“But not great,” Edelman quickly added. “Not a great thing.”
Before a Week 10 matchup against the Titans, Brady said that he reached out to former teammate (and now Tennessee head coach) Mike Vrabel.
“Against Mike I remember talking s*** to him the day before,” said Brady. “I called him up on his phone and [he’d] been a friend of mine for a long time.”
But as it turned out, it was Vrabel’s Titans who had the last laugh. The Patriots, despite entering at 7-2 on a six-game winning streak, lost 34-10.
“We got our a** kicked,” Brady bluntly noted. “They put it on us pretty good. They probably played one of the best games they’d played all season, and really embarrassed us.”
The game taught Brady and the Patriots a lesson.
“It just showed that if we played poor, and another team played really well, they could beat us by  points,” said Brady. “So it just heightens your sense of practice, focus, determination, planning, strategy, all those things had to go way up.”
In 2018, the Patriots didn’t close out the regular season with a characteristic run of victories as in previous Super Bowl seasons. This, not surprisingly, was a sign for prognosticators that New England wasn’t destined to win another championship.
“One of the great advantages that I thought our teams always had was we took advantage of the extra time to not rest, but to get better and improve,” Brady said of the team’s bye week.
“There’s a lot of humility in that. You have to be able to address the things that we’re not good at,” Brady added. “We go to that postseason and it was like: ‘Yeah, we’re not probably on paper the strongest team.'”
Edelman noted that despite the skepticism from football experts, the Patriots had still been good enough to earn a bye week.
“That’s the crazy expectation factor that we see with New England,” he explained.
“But I was confident because I started feeling better,” Edelman continued. “It was starting to line up for me. When you tear your ACL, you’re learning how to walk again, to get your endurance strength and be able to go out and play Week 1, I don’t know. I didn’t get to play in Week 1, but I felt pretty sluggish in Week 4, so it allowed me to build up and get ready for December and January. That’s when I started peaking.”
The Patriots promptly dispatched the Chargers in the divisional round, 41-28. Brady acknowledged that he savored proving predictions wrong.
“It’s nice for me every once in a while to get a subtle shot just to make sure that people know that, ‘Yeah, I may hear you, but in the end it’s not going to affect [me], and in the end, you’re wrong again.'”
Prior to covering the AFC Championship, Brady added an interesting callback to the Patriots’ notable loss in Kansas City in 2014 (a game that became famous for being a low-point prior to that year’s Super Bowl run).
“We were there in 2014, and we didn’t play great and they destroyed us. It was the loudest I could ever remember a football stadium,” said Brady. “I’m happy I went through that experience because when we went there for the playoffs, the AFC Championship, I knew how loud the game was going to be at the start. So there was no intimidation.”
Looking back on a back-and-forth game, Edelman had a dramatic recollection from one of the pivotal moments. Trailing in the fourth quarter, it appeared that the Chiefs had intercepted Brady on a deflected pass. It would have all but sealed Kansas City’s trip to the Super Bowl.
“I was never scared [in] that game until [the would-be interception],” Edelman admitted. “Then I’m sitting there like, ‘We really lost this f****** game? Damn, this offseason is going to suck.'”
Fortunately for the Patriots, an offsides penalty by defensive lineman Dee Ford negated the interception, handing New England the ball back.
“Then I saw the flag, oh we’re back let’s go,” Edelman jubilantly recalled. New England made the most of its second chance.
In the end, the Patriots emerged victorious 37-31 in overtime, and Super Bowl-bound.
Both Brady and Edelman sounded off on playing for Belichick.
“Coach Belichick and I had for so many years a really great relationship, but it was always player-coach,” said Brady. “He was there to coach football. I was there to play football. He had always said there’s nobody I’d rather have play quarterback for our team than you, and I felt that same way about him as a coach.
“I loved the way that he had us focused in the biggest moments and here we were again in the biggest moment,” Brady noted of heading into Super Bowl LIII.
Edelman was more candid.
“I mean Bill is a very hard guy to play for,” he explained. “It seemed like the more popular you were, the better you were doing, the more he would like to slam you down a little bit.
“He demands a lot out of you, and you hate him sometimes, but then I mean, you love him a little,” Edelman added.
In the eighth episode of the documentary (which had covered the Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles) Brady noted that despite the Patriots’ ability to score points, he had never really felt like the team had control of the game.
But in Super Bowl LIII, Brady contrasted his experience even as New England was less effective on offense.
“For some reason we always felt somewhat in control,” Brady said of playing the Rams in that game. “Even though we weren’t playing great, we kept getting field position, we kept moving the ball, we were right on the brink.
“If you contrast to the previous year where we were constantly moving [the ball] down the field and scoring points, and constantly getting the ball in the end zone, I still felt that game was very much not in our control,” said Brady.
In the end, the Patriots “found ways to adjust in the fourth quarter of the game,” as Brady explained.
New England made enough plays and held on for the sixth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era.
In the closing moments of the episode, Brady jumped ahead (past the end of the 2019 season) to his final thoughts on playing for Belichick prior to leaving as a free agent in 2020.
“We found an amazing working relationship together and I think he was the best coach I could’ve ever asked for,” said Brady. “We had our challenges at different moments, but they were just moments.
“They don’t define what the relationship was,” Brady added. “In the end we accomplished things that no one had ever accomplished in NFL history.”
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