The Patriots are in a weird spot. They have a team 90 percent of the owners (and most fan bases) in the league would die for. They won three of the last nine Super Bowls and still have the coach and quarterback who were the most important pieces in all three of those seasons. They won 58 games in the past five seasons; only one team in the league, Indianapolis, won more consistently in the regular-season over the same span. To average 11.6 wins a year ... that's failure? Of course not. But the bar has been set mile-high in Foxboro. The question around New England and around the league is the same, particularly with the Jets and Dolphins nipping at the Patriots' heels: Are the Patriots on their way up again, or on the way down?
"Our fans think just because we're wearing the same jerseys, we're the same team. And we're not,'' Brady said. "Teams change in this league every year, and ours is no exception. Last year was pretty disappointing in a lot of ways, obviously. Losing to Baltimore the way we lost in the playoffs, losing leads late, losing on the road. Every year is so different, and the way we approach this year will be extremely important. We need to see the toughness. We need to see the commitment. Can we take the coaching?''
Brady will hear a lot of questions about his commitment, now that he's spending so much time in Los Angeles. Hs goal in the offseason used to be to win the prized parking spot given to the most dedicated player in the offseason program. Now his family goals take precedence, and because his older son (he shares custody), lives in Los Angeles, he feels he has to be in southern California more. He made it clear he's not going to give short-shrift to either of his sons, and if he has to work on his own for a good part of the offseason, away from his teammates, so be it.
"It's a balancing act,'' he said. "I don't want the next 10 years to go by and to say I wasn't there for my sons. I wish I could be there [in Foxboro daily in the offseason] the way I was when I was 24, but life is different now. Things actually are much more simple than they've ever been. I used to spend every weekend running around with friends. Now I've got two great kids, and I love spending time with them. [Benjamin] is usually up at 6 in the morning, so that's when the day starts now.''
He said he's going to go back and forth through the offseason and will attend all the mandatory camps and as much of the offseason program as time allows. But he was honest about the fact he's not going to know his new mates as well as he used to know everyone in the locker room once training camp begins in late July.
"I'm not going to have the same relationship with the guys as if I was there every day,'' he said. "I hope they can understand. I've seen it handled different ways by a lot of guys on the team in the past, including some of the real leaders. I've seen Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison when their family lives turned in different directions and they couldn't be in the offseason program every day. Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: We've all got to be ready to play.''
Just then he said, "Hold on,'' and said to his son Jack, "Want to go on the swing?''
Time for one more topic: the Jets ... the never-ending fortification of the Jets.
"They're always a team that gives us problems, and they've sure made a lot of changes this offseason," he said. "When your archrivals do as much as they've done, you've got to pay attention. They went to the conference championship game, they've got a great defense, they can run the ball as well as anyone, and they've got a great young quarterback who can make a lot of plays. Our whole division's improved. To win the division, we'll really have to earn it this year.''
As Brady knows, winning the division isn't enough in New England. It's easy to forget that Brady threw for his second-highest yardage total (4,398) and touchdown passes (28, tied with two other seasons) last year. No matter how much Brady's around this spring, I doubt we'll look back next January and say, "Yup. Brady missing big chunks of the offseason program doomed the Patriots.'' It'll be the effectiveness of those around him that determines the Patriots season -- and how good the team 190 miles to the southwest plays.
NFL Truth & Rumors