Patriots

Brady's mother's illness was a weight for him to bear this season

Brady's mother's illness was a weight for him to bear this season

HOUSTON -- Tom Brady’s eyes moistened Monday night when asked who is his hero. “My Dad,” Brady replied.

Asked on Tuesday what elicited that emotion, Brady acknowledged, “It's been a challenging year for my family, just for some personal reasons. It'll just be nice having everyone here watching us this weekend. That's my mom and dad. They've been so supportive my entire life, it's nice to be able to show them . . . to try to make them proud . . . My mom hasn't been to a game this season. My dad has been to [only] one. It's very atypical.”

A Brady family source told me Tuesday that Brady’s mother, Galynn, has been dealing with health issues for the past 18 months. She’s been doing much better recently, but her illness has been a major source of concern for the family, including Tom Brady Sr., and Brady’s sisters, Julie, Maureen and Nancy.

The family is very close. In early 2012, on the Saturday before Super Bowl 46, the team held its walkthrough and took team pictures at Lucas Oil Stadium with their families in attendance. At the end, Brady left the field with the rest of the team. He hadn’t spent much time with his family, it seemed. A few minutes later, he returned to the field in regular clothes and spent another 15 minutes with his parents, sisters and their husbands in a scene that really demonstrated the family’s closeness. It’s a closeness they’ve been able to maintain even as Tom reached the heights of stardom in the NFL and had myriad more pulls on his time and attention.  

Mrs. Brady has been cited through the years as the source of the family’s athletic prowess – all three Brady daughters were outstanding softball players. While the illness curtailed Mrs. Brady’s golf game over the summer, she was able to get back out and play nine holes recently. Back in October, when it was mentioned to Brady that’s he’s not the fastest player on the field, Brady countered that his Mom thinks he’s the fastest player in the NFL

SUPER BOWL LI: TUESDAY REPORT

Brady’s decision to drop further appeals in the Deflategate saga was, in part, informed by his mother’s condition. There were much bigger fish to fry than battling all the way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Brady was able to spend time with his family during September that he may not have been able to otherwise.

It’s been interesting to watch Brady this season remain very positive and stoic about the “hand he was dealt” by the NFL in Deflategate. The serenity maybe was caused in part by the knowledge that there really were much more important things going on for him than lamenting his own situation in football. Much more important.

 

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

MORE PATRIOTS

The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.