FOXBORO -- Two telling things happened Sunday, when Whitney Mercilus exploded off the left edge, motored past Nate Solder and forced a strip-sack fumble that teammate Jadeveon Clowney returned for a touchdown.
The first, everyone could see immediately. Mercilus -- the 6-4, 254-pound, 27-year-old -- remained on the field in a state of disrepair while the 40-year-old Brady dusted himself off and walked to the sideline.
The second, well, you need to watch it again to see why Tom Brady rarely misses games.
Watch what Brady does when he realizes he’s in Mercilus’ grasp. Once the ball is out, he braces his fall with both hands. Then, as he nears the ground, he spins his body so that he lands on his left side.
On Wednesday, when Brady met with the media just three days after getting whacked around by the Texans in an eventual 36-33 Patriots win, I asked him about the punishment he took.
“I’m feeling pretty good today,” he began. “Honestly, I mean, I know you guys think I’m crazy when I say it, but probably when I was younger it was a lot harder for me. Now, I actually feel better, faster, just based on the things that I do. Today I feel good. I feel good.”
On the long list of things Brady is hailed for, toughness doesn’t show up early enough. The belief that Brady whines for flags on late and low hits (he does) overshadows the fact that the punishment he absorbs is astronomical.
For instance? Before the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Denver, two Denver defenders lamented that Brady complains too much. It dominated a news cycle.
When the game was played, Brady absorbed -- by some counts -- 25 hits. Click on this for a refresher on the beating he took that day.
Recalling that game, Denver defensive end Demarcus Ware said, “A couple of years ago, we sacked Tom four times and we hit him 20 times. Twenty times. The thing was, every time we hit him, he got back up. We hit Tom more times than any quarterback had been hit in any game that season, and he still had his team a two-point conversion away from tying the game late in the fourth quarter. The dude is relentless. Everybody knows what Tom Brady can do with the football. He has great arm strength. He’s accurate. He throws a great deep ball. But he can also take a hit.”
The alleged skinny on beating Brady is that you have to beat him up. And quarterback pressure no doubt helps to bring him back to near-mortal. But driving him from the game by driving him to the turf doesn’t work.
Brady actually practices falling. During some workouts with his body coach Alex Guerrero, Brady will allow himself to be whacked with pads as he falls to mimic the hits he’ll take as he falls. He also has learned not to fight when he’s going to the ground, instead trying to make his body relax instead of tensing up.
Through three games this year, Brady’s been sacked 10 times and -- according to NFL stats -- has taken 20 quarterback hits. That puts him on pace for 53 sacks and 107 hits. In 16 regular-season games last year, Patriots quarterbacks took 24 sacks and were hit 73 times. Brady was hit 19 times and sacked 9 more in the playoffs.
Here are the quarterback hits and sack numbers for the Patriots back to 2009. The top number is regular season, the bottom number is playoffs.
97 and 38
17 and 4
82 and 26
17 and 4
81 and 40
8 and 4
67 and 27
13 and 1
71 and 32
13 and 3
52 and 25
7 and 5
70 and 18
4 and 3
Brady understands that discretion is the better part of valor. On Wednesday, he said, “I think decision-making is important for all players. I tell the receivers all of the time, ‘You catch the ball in traffic. You’re a 190-pound receiver. You’ve got 240-pound linebackers. To run and take that amount of force for one extra yard and then you miss three games -- I don’t think that helps us much.’
“It’s the same as a quarterback,” he continued. “You stand in the pocket. You do have to learn how to find the way down in a way that you’ll be able to get up and try to play the next play, especially with your right shoulder. I think for me more than anything I try to land more on my left shoulder than my right shoulder because you’ve only got one right shoulder and I need this for a lot of throws, and the more hits you take on it then the harder it is to take. I just do the best I can do. There’s some luck involved, but let’s go again, baby. Let’s line them up and play.”
The Patriots won’t see a defense like the Texans every week. And the offensive line -- which has been somewhat shaky early -- figures to improve. In other words, Brady’s not getting hit 100 times and sacked 50 in 2017. But the fact that, at 40, he can still shake it off like nobody else while around the league, younger quarterbacks -- and defensive ends like Mercilus -- wind up writhing is an amazing thing.