Patriots

Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

The money quote from the first episode of Tom vs. Time caused massive swooning in the right-hand corner of the country.

“If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life,” warned Tom Brady. “Because I’m willing to give up mine.”

New England had to collectively lean against the headboard and smoke a cigarette after that.

“The guy’s got everything anyone could want and he’ll put it all on the back burner for football? And, by extension, for me, since I prefer to consume the football his team plays? Hold me . . . ”

Nobody knew then the unspoken sentences after that sentiment would have sounded like this . . . 

"But I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be willing to give up my life.

"Hell, I have three kids. They aren’t just little balls of flesh with eyes and mouths anymore, they are needy miniature humans. My wife is pretty much all set with me getting dropped out a two-story window every week and coming home in a crap mood when some 23-year-old who thinks he’s arrived runs the wrong route at practice for the 233rd time since August.

"I get paid half the dough of players half as good as me.  My boss has been wearing my ass out for almost two decades and when I try to get everyone to understand that, ‘Hey, there might be a different approach to training that’s worked great for me . . . ’ I’m Benedict Arnold. And sorry for being 40 and thinking about the rest of my life after football, advancing the ‘brand’ and not playing Fortnite. So giving up my life . . . I don’t know. Maybe next year I just try to give up a big portion of my life instead of the whole thing and see how that works out."

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That version of Tom Brady was right there. Right under the surface. The guy attached to another adult male by giant rubber bands so he could drag him around the backyard of a $5 million (or whatever) mansion while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads may actually have realized, “This seems odd.”

Judging from Brady’s 45-minute interview with Orpah Winfrey that aired Sunday, and a slew of other occasions this offseason, Tom Brady’s just not that into it the way he was.

I think you’d call the “give up my life” quote a case of whistling past the graveyard. Brady knew when he chest-puffed about sacrifice that there was an expiration date on that, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Why? Horrible for the brand. Better to appear as if every cell in the organism was swimming  toward the same goal of domination without a single one of them saying, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

You could also call that quote a bait-and-switch. Brady’s entitled to be a complete human -- encouraged, even. But the 180 from the first episode of TvT to this offseason is nothing anyone could have anticipated based on the propaganda served. We’ve gotten a steady diet of mixed messages from Brady and those around him and responses that -- in their delivery -- invite more speculation than they douse.

With Oprah, Brady again tentatively pointed out that real life has increasingly encroached on football.

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Asked about retirement, he answered, “I think about it more now than I used to. I think I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming sooner, rather than later. As long as I’m still loving it. As long as I’m loving the training and the preparation and willing to make the commitment.

“But it’s also, I think what I alluded to a lot in the docuseries, there’s other things happening in my life, too,” Brady added. “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, was the first to declare Brady as being year-to-year. Then, soon after, 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."

Oprah, who despite the Harry Caray glasses just doesn’t seem that much fun anymore, did ask Brady if there is “something going on” with Bill Belichick.

Brady answered, “Umm . . . no. I mean, I love him. I love that he is an incredible coach, mentor for me. He’s pushed me in a lot of ways. Like everything, we don’t agree on absolutely everything, but that’s relationships.”

The “ummmm . . . ” and averted eyes spoke a lot louder than the “no.”

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If you asked your kid, “Son, didn’t you see this pile of dog crap on the rug?” and he answered, “Ummmm . . . no . . . ” while looking away, you’d tell him to clean up the dog crap he tried to pretend he hadn’t seen.

There’s no sense turning this into another “Ah HA!” moment about there being friction. You all get it by now. I'm instead pointing it out because it’s another example of the dissembling Brady’s done this offseason, where he indicates one thing and then walks it back in the next breath.

If there is one spin-it-forward takeaway from this it might be this: Given his devotion to understatement, saying the end is coming "sooner rather than later" makes me wonder if my long-held belief Brady would retire after 2019 has to be reconsidered as being a year too aggressive. 

How was the interview overall? Fine, I guess. The two standout parts for me were actually from Oprah. The first came when she admitted being amazed that there was more depth to Brady than the person she’s seen playing football.

“Gee,” she noted, outing herself as one of a dwindling number of “gee” users. “Watching you play football, I wouldn’t have thought of you as a spiritual person or that spirituality was a kind of thing you were seeking or conscious about.”

Holy crap. It would be fun to be a speck in the Oprah universe, say a plumber fixing a drain and then mentioning aloud how much you like jazz.  

“You’re my plumber,” Oprah would say, “But you also think about things other than faucets and drains. Gee.”

The second came when Brady gave some fortune-cookie wisdom passed on to him by Gisele, saying, “We’re spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Oprah shot forward like she was hit with a cattle prod, clutched her chest and blurted, “YES! That’s one of my favorite phrases!”

Gee, she was real excited.

This post has gone on too long so I’ll chew on the other items a little later. I would have done it yesterday when the interview came out but as someone once said, “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

So I golfed. 

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Patriots kickoff coverage has gone from great to bleccchhh

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Patriots kickoff coverage has gone from great to bleccchhh

Whatever the plan was for kickoffs Sunday night against the Chiefs, it didn’t work.

There was the 97-yard kickoff return the coverage team allowed early in the fourth quarter which led to a 3-yard touchdown and the Chiefs only lead of the night (33-30).

And there was the smother-hook kickoff from Stephen Gostkowski fielded by Spencer Ware at the Chiefs 35 and returned 10 yards to put the Chiefs in business at their 45.

The Chiefs offense was enough of a threat from 80 yards away. Putting them on a short field was practically handing them points.

After the game, I asked Gostkowski what the plan was on the semi-squib since it didn’t appear the Patriots were trying to recover the thing.

“It was a bad kick,” said Gostkowski. “I’m not gonna get into it. It just wasn’t very well executed and put that one on me.”

As for the high-arcing kickoff the Chiefs returned 97 yards, I asked Gostkowski if he can just kick it through the end zone whenever he wants.

“I wish,” he said. 

When the NFL enacted a slew of new kickoff rules in the offseason, I figured the Patriots would be ahead of the curve in taking advantage of them. Kickoff coverage has been a strong suit of this team and Gostkowski’s ability to shape his kicks and work in concert with his unit has been at the heart of that.

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Not this year. Currently, the Patriots are 30th in the league allowing 27.4 yards on kickoff returns. It’s a precipitous drop. They were third in the NFL last year in average return allowed (18.9), third in 2016 (19.3), second in 2015 (18.1) and fifth in 2014 (21.2).

Gostkowski is last in the league in net kickoff average (38.35).

In recent years, short kickoffs have been an opportunity for the Patriots. Gostkowski was 30th in the league last year in touchback percentage but it didn’t matter because the Patriots were covering like fiends. The Patriots had 20 kickoffs on which they made the opposing offense start inside the 20 (20.2 percent), best in the NFL.

This year, the Patriots have kept the return team inside its 20 just twice on 37 kickoffs (5.4 percent), 18th in the league.

This isn’t an issue that can be traced to any physical issues with Gostkowski. He’s killing the ball, making 32 of his 33 kicks (PATs and FGs combined). It’s everything. As Bill Belichick said on Tuesday.

“We just got to do a better job,” he explained. “It's a multiple number of things. We've got to coach better. We've got to kick better. We've got to cover better. We need to tackle better. We're just not doing a good job, period.”

Belichick at first resisted the notion that past success is relevant.

“Who really cares about last year, or two years ago, or five years ago or 20 years ago?” he said. “I'm not saying there isn't some carryover, but we're playing new teams. There's different matchups. Look, every kick in this league is different. They're not all the same. You match up different kicks with different returns. We have a basic way we do things but we're obviously not getting it done well enough. We need to do a better job of coaching it and a better job of executing it.”

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Perhaps the biggest kickoff alteration that’s affecting the Patriots is that the NFL banned running starts. Instead of being able to start at the 30 and get a head of steam by the time the ball was kicked off from the 35, coverage guys now have to go from a dead-stop at the 35.

Given how fast the best coverage players are, that tweak probably means as much as 5 yards lost in the distance players have gone when a kickoff is hauled in. And that extra space means the return man can gather, plot his course and get himself a head of steam instead of being smothered.

“I think it's definitely slowed that down a little bit, maybe a step or so, 40 yards later or 30 yards later,” Belichick said. “There's been rules on both sides – the return team, the kicking team, where they align, where the kicking team aligns and so forth. It is what it is. Everybody’s playing with the same set of rules so we just need to do a better job of whatever the situation is.”

And regardless of the numbers through six games, is there any doubt the Patriots will eventually fix it? Not really.

No team in the league takes special teams more seriously than the Patriots. The fact they stock their coverage teams with starters and have a legacy of bona fide special teams superstars dating back to 2000 indicates to me that Belichick and special teams coordinator Joe Judge are still pulling levers and pushing buttons trying to figure out “best practices” (God, I hate that term) for the new kickoff realities.

Until they get it locked down, though, Patriots kickoffs will continue to be a nerve-jangling play to watch.

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Brady to Gronkowski: 'We could play forever'

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Brady to Gronkowski: 'We could play forever'

Tom Brady is 41 years old. He's in his 19th professional season. Rob Gronkowski is 29 and in his ninth season. But he's already suffered enough injuries for a lifetime. 

There has been speculation for years about how long Brady is going to continue playing. Rumors of Gronk's retirement were ripe this offseason. 

But after New England's thrilling 43-40 win over the previously undefeated Chiefs, Brady and Gronk shared a moment that might leave the rest of the league a little nervous.

The Patriots now sit atop the AFC East with a 4-2 record. They visit the 3-2 Bears this weekend.

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