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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Brady still felt 'rusty' despite strong showing against Eagles

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Brady still felt 'rusty' despite strong showing against Eagles

We made mention of this as soon as last week's exhibition between the Patriots and Eagles was finished. The biggest takeaway, from a local perspective, was that Tom Brady looked the way one might expect him to look two weeks into the preseason. 

Given the different approach he carried into the offseason, it was fair to wonder how Brady would perform in his first game action since Super Bowl LII. But he was accurate, he moved well inside and outside of the pocket, and he appeared healthy. He looked like Tom Brady. 

Despite going 19-for-26 for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the game, though, Brady said in an interview with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Tuesday that he felt as though there was some rust to shake off. 

"It was fun being out there," he said. "We got a lot of work to do. I think you gotta take the preseason games for what they are. It's kind of a step in the preparation, and it goes along with a lot of other things we're doing. It was good. We haven't had any joint practices this year. Being in those competitive situations, if you haven't been in those in a long time, which I haven't since the Super Bowl, you always feel a little bit rusty."

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Brady said he plans to play this week in Carolina. 

"Hopefully we can build on it this week . . . Guys are working hard trying to improve," he said. "There's a lot to improve on. It's a new team. New year.  Hopefully we can use this week as kind of another step before we get to things that start really counting."

What specifically might the Patriots be able to work on in Carolina? 

Last week the Patriots offense seemed to focus in on a few areas, both situationally and schematically. Brady and his teammates had a clear opportunity to work on their hurry-up approach out of their 11-personnel (one back, one tight end, three wideouts) -- which they turned to both early in the game and toward the end of the first half. They also relied heavily on the screen game, something that the team struggled with at times in 2017. 

Against the Panthers, there could be more time spent on their "regular" personnel plays, or their 21-personnel packages, with two backs on the field. That could mean more work for someone like James Develin, who can be used creatively in both the running game and passing game. (On one snap in the second quarter last week, the Patriots split Develin and Jeremy Hill outside in an empty set.) 

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Though the team's running back group is dealing with injuries -- Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead continue to be out and limited in practice, respectively -- we may see some two-back "pony" sets with some combination of Hill, James White, Brandon Bolden and Mike Gillislee. 

More two-tight end packages could find their way onto the field as well, with Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen or Will Tye sharing the field simultaneously if Rob Gronkowski sits. 

These heavier groupings are ones the Patriots offense may have to turn to through the first four weeks of the season with Julian Edelman suspended. Unless Kenny Britt, Eric Decker or Riley McCarron emerges as a more dependable option behind Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, Josh McDaniels may have to pick his spots rolling with three wideouts in September.

With plenty of moving parts, with long-term and short-term situations to prepare for, with three weeks before the start of the regular season, Brady said it. They've got a lot of work to do. 

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Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

FOXBORO -- When there was an obsession over Patriots workloads earlier in camp, it felt for some reason like a new phenomenon. And maybe it was as it related to Tom Brady. But he's 41 now. He took more time off in the spring than he's used to. His reps in certain practices were obviously scaled back. 

The reaction was predictable.  

But when it comes to dissecting workloads and overanalyzing snap counts, that's par for the course when it comes to Rob Gronkowski. The game's top tight end has also long been one of its most injury-prone, making his summertime participation in Patriots practices and preseason games one of the most intriguing parts of camp on a year-in, year-out basis. 

Though Gronkowski finished last season contemplating retirement, he also finished it relatively healthy. That means there's no reading into how well he's cutting or planting or making mid-air adjustments to back-shoulder throws in practice in July and August. 

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Gronkowski's preseason game snap counts can always generate discussion, however. And he helped contribute to the chatter on Sunday when he met with reporters at Gillette Stadium and was asked if he found it to be beneficial when he saw playing time in exhibition games No. 2 and 3 last year.

"I mean, it’s always beneficial whenever you go out there in the preseason," he said. "You want to go out there, get the timing down, get some live reps. So, just going to prepare like a normal game this week like I’m playing, and then it’s up to the coaches."

That Gronkowski played at all last preseason was a veer from the norm for him. The 46 snaps he saw (14 against the Texans, 32 against the Lions) were his first preseason plays since 2012. He ended up being named a First Team All-Pro and helping his team to the Super Bowl. His argument, then, that "it's always beneficial" to play in preseason games may have some merit. 

But in reality, his preseason workload has been a less-than-stellar gauge for how his season will play out. Consider this. Gronkowski didn't see time in any preseason games in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. Those seasons ended in a torn ACL, a Super Bowl title and an All-Pro nod, an AFC Championship appearance and an All-Pro nod, and back surgery.

Had it not been for hellacious hits from TJ Ward and Earl Thomas, Gronkowski might've been a four-time All-Pro in that four-year stretch of no preseason work. 

Good with preseason snaps. Good without them. 

The Patriots will account for myriad inputs when determining how much Gronkowski should play this preseason, or if he should play at all. The number of snaps he played last season -- his 1,078, including playoffs, were more than any tight end last season -- are part of the equation. How he's responded to the work given in camp thus far could play a role as well. 

If he's going to see any time, odds are it would be this week against the Panthers. But because he played as much as he did last season, because he's not returning from an injury and there's not as much "rust" to shake off as there might've been last summer, it'd come as no surprise if Gronkowski remained on the sidelines Friday night in Charlotte. 

Even if Gronkowski wants to go, the risk and reward of playing him just doesn't seem to add up for the Patriots. If timing is the big benefit . . . well, even Gronkowski admitted his timing with Brady was pretty good if not perfect.

"I mean, I would say we’ve got some good chemistry over the years, but we’re always working on it," he said. "We’re always looking to improve, and we’re always looking to get better."

But does improvement require preseason game action? History would suggest it does not.

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