The Patriots take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight in a preseason game, but the real story happened Wednesday....
Tom Brady, who is both the quarterback and the straw that stirs the drink for the Patriots, suffered a scary knee injury during practice. What happened was that Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn bull-rushed Patriots left tackle Nate Solder backwards, and Solder fell into Brady's knee.
Actually, make that, "Solder fell back into Brady's surgically-repearied knee, which, if it suffers another ligament tear, dooms the Patriots for probably the next 5-15 seasons." That does a better job of capturing the sense of panic I got when my Facebook started filling up with "Oh No! Brady injures his knee" status updates.
I'm actually prepared for the time when Brady and Bill Belichick leave New England, mentally. However, I have a certain time period allotted for this event. I thought Brady would be gone by now, honestly, so we're already sort of past the expiration date on him while still getting top quality football from him.
What I'm not mentally prepared for is the possibility that this No More Brady day may arrive suddenly, out of nowhere, and not even a Moon away from the start of the regular season. I'd probably stab someone.
Fortunately, all that was averted because Brady may have just sprained his knee, rather than tearing the ligaments apart. All signs point to that, unless you see him going to get a second MRI. I say "may have" because the Patriots are sort of notorious for holding back information. Junior Seau, who is both retired and dead, is still listed as "game-time decision" on the Pats injury reports.
I don't expect to see Tom anywhere but the sidelines tonight, although he may play a series just to show everyone that he's OK. Tonight should be lots of Ryan Mallett, assuming that he has recovered from the head shot he took against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Mallett is the QB of the future right now, and might QB the Pats for the ten years that follow Brady's eventual retirement.
We'll also be seeing a lot of Tim Tebow. Tebow may not be able to play QB in this league, and we'll see that for sure over the next three exhibition games. Perhaps they'll make up an emergency gimmick offense for Tebow, maybe let him come in and run the option. Tebow's chances of making the team increased mightily with Brady's knee injury. If Brady is gimpy all year and his primary backup is prone to concussions, it makes sense for the Pats to carry three QBs. If we have only two and they both get hurt in a game, our next QB is wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was a college QB.
As for the other 100 or so men involved in tonight's entertainment, here is what I'll be watching for:
- LaGarrette Blount is fighting for his NFL career. He's competing for a roster spot with a slew of young talent at several positions, as the Pats may opt to keep an extra linebacker or quarterback on the roster instead of an extra running back. Tampa Bay is the team that dumped Blount on us for next to nothing, and he should be highly motivated tonight. If Blount can string together a bunch of 100 yard games (and he esentially has one already this preseason), it will be tough to keep him off the roster.
- I'm interested in how our defensive backfield fares against their passing attack. Bucs QB Josh Freeman was a high draft choice, and is now fighting for his job somewhat against rookie Mike Glennon. Josh can either be a world-beater or a team-killer, and you never know which one is showing up. He has some talent (Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, etc...) to throw to, and he has to be licking his chops at the thought of throwing at our cornerbacks. Watch the matchup between Jackson and Aqib Talib, who got torched for a long TD by DeSean Jackson last week.
- I have Freeman on a fantasy team of mine, 100% on the logic that he has his bye week the week before my starter Matt Ryan has his bye week, and that he should be somewhat prepared for the one game I have to play him in.
- Solder vs. Clayborn should be interesting, if only because Brady was nearly retired when Clayborn threw Solder back into him. If Solder is prone to bull-rushes, it will a long season for Brady... or a short one, as in "done for the season." Tampa has several pass rushers of note (Clayborn, Gerald McCoy and DaQuan Bowers), and it will be a must that we keep them off of Brady and Mallett.
- He shouldn't play much, but watch Tampa RB Doug Martin when he's in. His nickname is "Muscle Hamster," and I think he was drafted with one of those picks where the Pats traded back out of the first round. He easily topped 1200 yards and a dozen TDs in his rookie year, and is Tampa's best player. He's better than Stevan Ridley, who put up similar stats for a much better Pats team last year.
- Pay attention to whoever is on the defensive line when the starters (Vin Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich) are out. You can't keep those 4 in all game, and there are some battles happening for the backup spots. If we get no pass rush and/or Tampa is able to run the ball on us all night, you probably want to watch the waiver wires to see what defensive linemen other teams are releasing as they finalize their rosters.
- I want to see Adrian Wilson in coverage. If he has lost a step, he could get burned a lot over the course of the season. There's no worries about him with the running game... he has that pro-wrestle build you see in linebackers, rather than that sprinter look you more normally see on defensive backs. He'd be a terrible thing to have hitting you at full speed.
- Every time Danny Amendola moves, I expect him to be injured. He'll be on a Brady schedule, one series and out.
- Watch Aaron Dobson. If he can really play, he should be our starting WR. If he can't seize the job, our starter is Michael jenkins (who has a high end of 50 catches for 600 yards a season, with a touchdown every 5-6 games or so). Brady has won with rotten WRs before, but I feel better when he has good options to work with.
- The Pats have been practicing against the Bucs all week, so it should be a chippy game. Dobson has already had a fight with former Raven Cary Williams, who noted that the practices would be far less friendly if they were being waged with the Pats and conference rival Baltimore.
- Expect Brady, Amendola, Talib, Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Wilson, Solder, Logan Mankins, Bassy Vollmer, Kelly, Devin McCourty and Ridley to see limited action.
- It's tough to bet a preseason game, because good teams often lose these games... especially so if they have an injured franchise QB and not a lot of widespread competition at many positions. Tampa is a lower-tier team, and should have their better players in longer. That points to a Tampa Bay win, especially if out offense for most of the night is the Pats and Tebow learnin to run the option. I'll bet the Bucs, pulling away in the later stages of the game.
Tampa Bay, 27-23.
PS... I prefer the Orange Creamsicle color Tampa Bay jerseys. I just wanted that up on the Internet somewhere. I also prefer the red Pats jerseys fom back in the day, so don't you think I'm just picking on the opponent of the week.