Patriots

Curran: Light retirement highlights post-NFL transition

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Curran: Light retirement highlights post-NFL transition

FOXBORO -- At some point on a perfect spring Monday in New England, Matt Light drove away from Gillette Stadium and into the rest of his life.

He is 33-years-old and the 11-year swath of time in which he lived in a world of maximum physical and mental stimulation is over.

If he lives to the ripe, old age of 80, the NFL career for which he'll always be remembered in the public eye will have represented about 13 percent of his life.

The other 87 percent has been and will be all about Matt Light, normal guy. He seems exceptionally well-positioned to make the transition.

"Everybody has their own way of dealing with things," Light said during a nicely-executed retirement ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame. "I'm fairly confident that the transition will happen and it'll go smoothly and things will work out. That's kind of just the way I've led my life. If you surround yourself with quality people, you surround yourself with real people and you do things for the right reasons, opportunities will present themselves to you. And if it's meant to be it'll work out in time."

This is a very important subject right now. Young men who decide or are told that their football careers are over enter civilian life and are faced with figuring out who they are as men, husbands, fathers, sons and members of society as ex-NFL players.

The focus since Junior Seau's suicide last Thursday has been on concussions and CTE and wondering how blows to the head caused him to kill himself.

Far less discussion has been devoted to talking about depression and the transition to post-NFL life that so many players seem to struggle with.

CTE may or may not be found if Seau's brain is donated for evaluation. But depression and a loss of his will to live was certainly present for Seau and any other person who makes the tragic decision he made.

There may be scores of former NFL players with CTE that lived productively and happily for the rest of their lives but we never learned of the damage they had because they didn't die young and violently and have their brains examined.

CTE may or may not be a precursor to suicide. But depression is. And the post-football funk players descend into is what needs addressing.

On Sunday, Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is bipolar and struggles with mental health issues, wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times:

Looking at the situation with Seau and other cases with retired athletes, I think our focus should be more on why the transition seems to be so hard after football.As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them spouses, kids, family, religion and friends revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are.When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating. The blueprint I am creating for myself will help not only other athletes, it will help suffering people all over."London Fletcher said post-career counseling should be mandated and he wants the NFL and the NFLPA to work together on that.

You take the decision out of guys hands, and that way, maybe some of them will be helped, Fletcher told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. If players have to go seek counseling on their own, lots of guys wont do that. Men in general, were wired to hold things inside. Its not manly to be vulnerable and ask for help. For me, now, I can tell you Im going to seek help if I feel I need it. Thats what Juniors death has taught me.

When a player's NFL career ends, his prime earning years are over. The vocation he's devoted himself to for decades is gone. He's got about 60 years of life staring him in the face and a family to re-introduce himself to, a family that has to itself adjust to the fact that the lights have gone off on a way of life they may have also strongly identified with.

It's hard. Some make the transition easily. Others do not.

The help is there for players who seek it, said Light.

"The resources and the people that are in place within the NFL and the NFLPA and for a large part with each individual organization can really help guys with that transition," Light explained. "It's been helpful to me to have a guy like (strength coach and player development person) Harold Nash who says, 'Hey, here's some things the NFL offers or the PA offers and here's what you need to take advantage of and then going out and taking advantage of those things.' Those have been very helpful to me whether it's an entrepreneurial course or a broadcast boot camp, whether its getting involved in community affairs or anything of that nature.

"The more that you extend yourself beyond the football world and get involved with your community and the people that make up the community and make that commitment to do things outside of football (the better)," said Light. "Hopefully that will serve me well."

In August of 2006, Junior Seau announced his retirement saying, "Im not retiring. I am graduating. Today is my graduation day. Retirement means that youll just go ahead and live on your laurels and surf all day in Oceanside. It aint going to happen."

But he had no mental picture of what life without football would look like. He wasn't ready to leave and -- four days later -- he signed with the Patriots and played until he was 40. And even then, the transition was ultimately impossible to endure.

We grow to care about these men. That some feel they have landed in life's discard pile before their hair has turned gray is as chilling as anything that shows up on a microscope slide in some laboratory.

On Monday, Light said, "When I finally close a chapter, I don't look back."

A clean break. And a new book. One with a happy ending. That's what we should all hope these men find.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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