Patriots

Brady and the Patriots break Pittsburgh's heart again

Brady and the Patriots break Pittsburgh's heart again

PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady sat sideways in a folding chair, his ass on a bright yellow cushion, his left elbow slung over the back of the chair. His back was against the cement wall, his bare feet on the folding chair in front of him, an empty locker was to his immediate right.

Brady was given the last two lockers in his row, which was positioned at the back of the visitor’s dressing room at Heinz Field.

The locker to his immediate at his elbow was empty. His clothes and luggage were neatly placed in the locked next to his feet. His equipment bag was on the floor. His long-sleeved, black Under Armour undershirt and blue compression shorts were still on. He was in no rush as he thumbed his silver phone, intermittently looking up to smile and say, “Awesome…” or some variation of that when a teammate or team staff came by to bang knuckles.

He’d just finished off another win in Pittsburgh. He’d done what he does -- plucked a team’s still-beating heart from its chest and squeezed it tight -- but he’d still needed his defense to pull off a miracle late to finally stop the thing from beating.

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That part came at the very end and it looked just the same as it did when the Patriots won Super Bowl 49 – an opponent melting down at the buzzer. The Steelers felt victimized, persecuted. Their tight end Jesse James scored a touchdown. And then he didn’t because the rules -- the ones that every damn fan and media member know by now and that NFL tight ends should surely know too -- say that you can’t let the ball hit the ground without your full control after a catch. Period. And James failed to do that.  

So it was left to the Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to do what the Steelers have done to team after team this season. Finish them off. And he couldn’t do it. The Steelers sideline short-circuited, someone told Roethlisberger to spike it, someone told him to run a play -- they couldn’t get the story straight --– and he threw into traffic and got picked off. Game.

The game that Mike Tomlin circled, starred and underlined almost a month ago was bungled away. Now it was left to the Steelers to figure out what happened. Judging by the response of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey to each postgame question -- sticking out his tongue and making the raspberry noise -- they were having a tough time of it.

Meanwhile, Brady was on his phone, FaceTiming with one of his sons. At one point, you could hear him ask, “How did you do?” and talking about the new Star Wars movie.

Somewhere else in the Patriots locker room, a player was singing the Styx song “Renegade” a late-game staple at Heinz used to fire up the defense. It played prior to the Patriots touchdown drive when Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for 26 yards, 26 yards, 17 yards and a two-point conversion to put the Patriots ahead. There was a 9-yard touchdown run by Dion Lewis mixed into that Gronkfest. 

Gronk wandered over to Brady from his nearby locker. Gronk showed him his left triceps with a bruise going around it like a tribal tattoo. “Oh my God!” Brady said, laughing at the keepsake.

Gronk headed back to his locker. “I’m going to be so sore tomorrow,” he mumbled.

Hats and t-shirts were being passed out, announcing that the Patriots were AFC East Division champions.

Joe Thuney stopped Malcolm Butler and poked at the blue shirt, “Where’d you get that?” he asked.

“Pro Shop,” Butler answered, walking away with a laugh.

A couple of lockers down from Brady was Brandin Cooks.

“Hey TB,” he called as he crammed a division champs hat down on his head and tugged the brim. “This is new for me.”

“Looks good on you, Cookie,” said Brady

This was the most important game on the NFL’s regular-season slate. The most anticipated. The country was watching; most of it probably praying to see the Patriots upended.

And the country was left unfulfilled. Again.

It was a BS call that “bailed out” the Patriots, just like the Tuck Rule or the one that stripped the Jets of a touchdown this year. Or any other of a dozen lucky breaks New England routinely gets meant that this maddeningly efficient team, humorless coach and arrogant fanbase got to grave dance again when it was the Patriots who were supposed to be dead.

All the Monday morning hot takes that were ready to be taken from the oven had to be thrown in the trash.

The media horde moved from player to player. From Eric Rowe to Duron Harmon -- the principles on Big Ben’s pick. Then over to Dion Lewis, who said he knew the Steelers were going to throw a pick. “Soon as it was overturned, I said, ‘Oh, they gonna blow it.’ You just went from winning the game to having to keep playing. I called it. I said, ‘They about to throw a pick right here.’ I really didn’t think they were gonna throw a pick, but they really did it.”

They really did.

At the opposite end of the locker room, Elandon Roberts was at his locker, a towel over his shoulder, another around his waist.

“We had the kind of plays that we weren’t looking for on defense,” he explained. “I had my plays that had me saying, ‘Man!’ But it was on to the next play. Short memory. That’s the mentality the whole defense had. Sixty minutes. When you play a 60-minute game like this, they’re gonna make good plays and we’re gonna make bad plays and vice versa. That’s the type of fight it was. That’s a great team over there. And it came down to the last play. A team like that, a game like that makes you come more together as a team because you know the guy next to you got your back.”

The guy who has everyone’s back was still at his locker, still playing with his phone, still holding brief audiences.

After his eighth visit to Pittsburgh, he was in a victorious visitor’s locker room for the sixth time. At 40 years old, he’s almost 16 years removed from the first time he came here. He sat in that folding chair and looked content. At home. Just like the Patriots will probably be for the playoffs.

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Eric Decker sees a "good fit" with the New England Patriots

Eric Decker sees a "good fit" with the New England Patriots

With less than a month until the start of training camp, free agent wide receiver Eric Decker is still without a team. Speaking with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Decker mentioned the New England Patriots as potentially a great fit playing under Josh McDaniels. 

Decker, 31, was selected by the Denver Broncos in the third round (87th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft when McDaniels was head coach. He spent his first four seasons with the Broncos, accumulating over 3000 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns. His last season with the team was the year they lost in the Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks. 

Decker then signed a five-year $36.25 million contract with the New York Jets. He played two full seasons with the Jets before suffering a season ending shoulder injury in the early part of the 2016 season. He was cut later that summer and signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. 

Last season with the Titans, Decker played in 16 games, pulling in 54 receptions for 563 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots are projected to have a completely different receiving core than a year ago. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola are gone via trade and free agency respectively. Julian Edelman missed the entirety of last season with a knee injury, and faces a four-game suspension after testing positive for PED's. Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and Cordarrelle Patterson are the new additions joining Rob Gronkowski and Malcolm Mitchell in the passing game. 

There is no information confirming the Patriots mutual interest in Decker, while the veteran wideout has reportedly met with the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders regarding his services next season. 

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Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Somebody needs to tug on Tom Brady’s sleeve and let him know that fun’s fun, but he’s drifting into Brett Favre territory now.

Forty-eight hours hadn’t passed since the Oprah Orchard Interview in which Brady said his retirement was coming “sooner rather than later” and there he was on Instagram Tuesday afternoon insinuating in Spanish that he’s back to playing until he’s 45

Given that he’s 40 right now and his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, 45 seems like later not sooner.

That’s standard fare this offseason.

There was Couch Brady in the Super Bowl aftermath, wondering what he’s doing it for anyway.

We had Robert Kraft in May saying that “as recently as two days ago [Brady)] assured me he’d be willing to play six, seven more years.

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Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, said in March, “I think this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons -- I mean, this is just me, the guy who has been around him for a while now -- I’d have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see.”

Last month, Brady said he’s negotiated “two more seasons” with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.

During TvT, he said he was chasing “two more Super Bowls. That can be shorter than five or six years.” 

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."

I’m not feeling the firm. Nor, it seems, are most people who have grown weary of the ping-ponging expiration dates Brady keeps floating.

I think you have to be either absent-minded or amazingly entitled to say with a straight face that Brady “owes” the Patriots, the fanbase or the media a hard answer on his retirement.

The guy has generated billions of dollars for the franchise. He’s provided 37 games -- more than three seasons -- of postseason football for the fans to revel in. He’s created almost two decades worth of content for us in the media to gravy train off of.

Until this past calendar year, Brady hasn’t outwardly put his family or personal “brand” anywhere near the top of the pedestal where football and the Patriots resided.

Now that he’s done so, some people (read: “morons”) don’t merely consider it jarring, they feel it rises to a betrayal of the bygone Brady, of Simple Tom and The Patriot Way, which was always a naïve concept anyway.

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Fortunately, Brady has a ways to go to match Favre’s Hamlet routine.

The former Packers quarterback started noodling about retirement after the 2005 season. Same thing after 2006. After the 2007 season -- in March of 2008 -- he actually announced his retirement.

Annnnnd by July he’d changed his mind and wanted back in. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers more than ready to succeed Favre, told Favre to screw. He did. Favre played three more seasons with the Jets and Vikings, then retired. The three-year post-Green Bay wandering hardly seemed worth it and the annual “is he in or is he out?” conversation was a tedious exercise.

By comparison, Brady has years of waffling to go. But he’s definitely come out of the blocks fast with crazy promises of longevity.

Last May, barely 13 months ago, Brady was telling ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that he didn’t see why he shouldn’t keep playing past 45 if he still felt good.

“I’ve always said my mid-40s,” Brady said. "And naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don't see why I wouldn't want to continue."

And 50? Why not?

"If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70,” Brady said in the same interview. “I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms.”

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That interview was one of a handful Brady did with the aim being to promote the TB12 Method. There was ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the book, the app and the Tom vs. Time docuseries, which began filming last summer. Having won his fifth ring, the time was right to maximize visibility. If that approach ran contrary to Patriots customs, well . . . sorry. What’s the worst that can happen?

How about a poorly-concealed, season-long pissing contest in which Brady was assailed for having changed and the coaching staff was assailed for being restrictive and unreasonable?

Which spawned Contemplative Tom, sitting on his couch during the final installment of TvT pondering what he’s doing it all for. 

I’m not sure Brady really appreciates how big this story -- his ultimate retirement -- truly is. Not just here but to sport in general. He should; he grew up rooting for Joe Montana. He understands Jordan and Tiger and Kobe.

Just before the Super Bowl, he was asked about retiring and he replied, “Why does everyone want me to retire?”

Was he being disingenuous? Or does he not get that his and the Patriots stranglehold on the NFL isn’t like Jordan’s on the NBA. It’s closer to Godzilla’s on Japan, and that every other NFL team and fanbase is counting the seconds until he walks.

That’s why every throat-clearing, every pause, every social media “like” is scrutinized for clues as to which way he’s ultimately leaning.

Maybe he doesn’t care. “Take Nothing Personal” is one of The Four Agreements. But the mixed messages -- over a period of time -- probably don’t help the brand.

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