Tom Brady doesn’t like messy or leaving things to chance. It’s served him pretty well.
He’s won six Super Bowls in part because he gets off on dissecting and demoralizing a defense rather than bludgeoning it.
There are still self-styled experts married to the notion that a quarterback’s effectiveness can be measured by how far the ball travels before it’s caught. It’s not. It’s precision, game-management and staying the hell away from bad plays.
But there was an interview last fall on WEEI in which Brady called himself out – almost unprompted – for having gotten too cautious.
And the drafting of N’Keal Harry on Thursday night should serve as a lure for Brady to keep throwing caution to the wind when the occasion demands it.
To me, the comment Brady made is still eye-opening. He was asked by host Gerry Callahan about the term “game manager” the morning after a win over the Jets.
“I don’t think that’s a negative thing,” said Brady, stating a truth we’ve long since come to accept around here. “A great quarterback to me is one that puts his team in position to win … If you look around for a long time that’s what you see. You’ve gotta help your team to win and you’ve gotta keep your team from losing.
“You handle the ball as much as anyone and the team can’t overcome bad quarterback play,” he said. “If you have bad quarterback play it’s almost impossible to win. You’ll get away with it from time to time but everything is risk-reward.”
Then Brady took a sharp turn into self-critique.
“Maybe part of my problem as I’ve gotten older is I want to make so few mistakes,” he said. “Maybe there’s not as much aggressiveness as I would like because with aggressiveness comes more risk. We have like a 95 percent chance of winning when we don’t turn the ball over and I think that’s always in the back of my mind. So being a little less fearful with the ball and a little more aggressive. I thought we did a better job of that yesterday, and hopefully we can keep that going.”
At that point, the Patriots were 8-3, but two weeks earlier they’d been slapped around in Tennessee and had the bye week to consider what they needed to do better. That Brady veered into confessing he wasn’t playing aggressively enough was hugely revealing. It was an acknowledgment that he needed to maybe show a little more trust in receivers and cut loose.
It’s somewhat understandable Brady had grown into a cautious 41-year-old. He hadn’t had a lot of big, physical, wide receivers that could body a defensive back out of the way like an Anquan Boldin. His guys won on quickness and separation and had been doing so since 2001.
But when Brady made the statement, he did have a physical wideout. Josh Gordon.
Of course, within two weeks of that statement, Gordon went into a funk before the Steelers game and was suspended days later. Whether he’ll be back or not, we don’t know.
But it’s telling to see the kind of wideout the Patriots drafted Thursday night. It wasn’t a route-running phenom or a three-cone superstar. It was, basically, a junkyard dog. It was a player with modest testing and elite compete. Like an Anquan Boldin (who ran his Combine 40 in 4.73).
Our guy Phil Perry did an outstanding job Thursday night of reading into the why of drafting Harry. Gronk is gone. Gordon may be as well. The Patriots had to get someone with the ability to body somebody out of the way and come down with the ball or Brady would be hitching and second-guessing every time he threw into a little bit of traffic.
All Tom Bradys are really good. But a hesitant Tom Brady is the least preferred.
So now it will be on Brady to get Harry going. He’s going to have to show patience with the 21-year-old and not put him in timeout when he wanders off course. He’s going to have to develop trust with him, something that would be easier to accomplish if Brady were at passing camps, but that doesn’t seem to be in the plan.
The last “high” pick the Patriots spent on a receiver was Aaron Dobson in the second round of 2013. And he was a brilliantly athletic kid who could go and get the ball but he wasn’t physical. Kenbrell Thompkins, undrafted but tough, was a better option for Brady.
The personality of the Patriots offense changed a bit last year. When the matchup allowed, they became a run-first team and they thrived. Adding a big, possession receiver that has the potential to be a punishing blocker follows in line with that.
With Harry, the Patriots potentially have one of those “even if he isn’t open, he’s open” receivers. The onus will be on Harry to prove to Brady that’s the case. And Brady to give Harry the chance to prove it.
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