Tom Brady couldn’t find the words to say exactly how he was feeling, mostly because he has never been through something like this before.
The Patriots’ 39-year-old quarterback has done just about every imaginable thing you’d want in an NFL career, from winning four Super Bowl titles to leading the NFL in passing to becoming arguably the greatest player in the history of the game.
But how do you process the emotions of the impending four-game suspension he’s about to serve? He has no idea. When someone suggested after Thursday’s preseason game against the Giants that Brady was entering uncharted territory, he concurred.
“I think that’s a good word, uncharted,” he said. “We’ll just do the best we can do.”
It was a bit of a surprise that Brady played at all against the Giants, what with NFL coaches essentially placing their best players in bubble wrap for the final preseason game to keep them healthy for when the results count. But Bill Belichick isn’t just any coach, and he had his reasons for putting Brady out there.
“You can’t take insurance out on players,” the coach said. “I don’t know how you get better at playing football without playing football. Stand around and talk about it all day? At some point, you have to get out there and play.”
And play Brady did. He went the entire first half, going 16 of 26 for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a pedestrian rating of 76.8. A relentlessly meticulous athlete, Brady wasn’t very pleased with the overall effort.
“Did a decent job of moving the ball, and then turned the ball over too many times,” he said. “A bit frustrating, but hopefully all our guys can learn from it, and we have to do a lot better job next week against Arizona. It will be a big challenge for our team.”
It will be a challenge the Patriots face without Brady for the first four games of the season. Suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal in the AFC Championship Game in January, 2015, Brady decided shortly before training camp to stop fighting through the courts and accept the suspension. He did so grudgingly, but with the best interests of his team in mind. After all, even another successful appeal, or at least an injunction that would have allowed him to play, might have ended up with a suspension later in the season. Perhaps even in the playoffs.
So now he leaves the team for a month, and will do the best he can to remain physically and mentally ready for his return on Oct. 9 against the Browns.
Will he watch his former team play without him?
“I hope so, yeah,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll be very curious in watching it at some level. So we’ll see. I’ve never dealt with it, so we’ll see.”
There may even be a silver lining to watching from afar.
“It will be tough to watch, but it will be fun to watch in some ways, to see what it looks like when you’re not there,” Brady said earlier in the week. “That’s a different perspective. Hopefully, I can use that perspective and then come back with better perspective, saying, ‘’Wow, I really noticed some things that maybe I wouldn’t have seen had I been there.’ So that’s kind of what I’m going to try to do.”
Brady can at least take solace in getting in some good work against the Giants. He looked shaky early on, misfiring on a handful of passes and throwing an interception on a short pass, which was picked off by cornerback Trevin Wade. He was nearly intercepted a second time by safety Landon Collins.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo likened facing Brady to “playing chess with one of the best in the history of the game,” but liked the way his defense responded. “They got a couple of turnovers, and that helped us out.”
Brady eventually settled down and got into a rhythm. He looked particularly sharp in his only touchdown drive, floating a pass to running back D.J. Foster for a 30-yard gain and hitting Keshawn Martin for a 7-yard touchdown later in the drive. He also scrambled for 10 yards up the middle.
“It always feels good when you’re able to move the ball and then finish your drives,” Brady said. “The scramble, [the Giants] kind of covered everybody. Hopefully I can make a few of those plays. I know I’m never going to be like Russell Wilson, but if I can make one or two of those a game, I think that helps us out.”
So now Brady departs, hoping that understudy Jimmy Garoppolo can keep the offense operating well enough to get at least a couple wins while he’s away and set the stage for what Brady hopes is a resounding comeback. And while no one knows quite what lies ahead in the immediate future for Brady — including Brady himself — we’ve learned one thing after all this time watching the man: It is unwise to bet against him.