FOXBORO — To Tom Brady, the numbers Friday night said one thing. The feeling he took from the 30-7 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers said another.
There’s no disputing that 17-for-21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and a 138.9 quarterback rating are numbers most NFL quarterbacks would take in their final regular season tune-up. But, of course, Tom Brady is not most quarterbacks.
He knows that the rhythm wasn’t there to begin the game, as a miscommunication with his wide receivers on third down and a stumble and near fumble on the second series would indicate. He didn’t appear to have his timing on the first two series, both ending in punts. Then Ryan Mallett came in on the third series to get some work in with the starters.
Brady tripped over someone’s foot and fell awkwardly to the turf, handing off to Shane Vereen in the nick of time, but not before a defensive lineman came barreling over him to get to Vereen.
“I couldn’t tell because I had my back turned, but I think someone just got my foot,” Brady said. “I don’t know if it was a defensive lineman or offensive lineman, but, yeah, you never want that to happen. That, against a good team like this, usually ends drives, and that one certainly did this time.”
Brady certainly recovered. On the next series after Mallett came out of the game, Brady led the Patriots down the field, going completing all four pass attempts, including a 40-yarder to a wide open Shane Vereen in the right flat on the Vereen staple – the wheel route – for a touchdown.
“Yeah, it was a slow start all the way around, but it was good to make some plays there late in the second quarter and then the third quarter,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but it was fun being out there. It’s great to win, especially this game. They’re a good football team and if you don’t execute well, they’re going to be really tough. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys [from] playing them last year. They’ve got a great team.”
Even on the 60-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the half, Brady and Bill Belichick thought that maybe with some slightly better clock management, they could’ve made things easier on themselves and their kicker. Still, for the starters to put 20 points up on the board against one of the better defenses in football provides some confidence going into the season.
“Yeah, it wasn’t bad, but there are a lot of things that we left out there,” Brady said. “We got bailed out there a few times on a few defensive calls. Missed some blitz stuff, missed some throws. I think we can be a lot better. It’s an important week for us to try to get better. The days are winding down until all these games count. It gets pretty exciting here in a few weeks, but you’ve still got to try to use these days to make as many improvements as we can. This game was good because you can really see where you’re at and you can see the things you need to get better. I think there’s a lot of things we can improve on.”
Brady was referring to the illegal use of hands called on defensive end Frank Alexander on third-and-15 that wiped out the incompletion intended for Brandon LaFell, and kept the third quarter touchdown drive alive. Brady explained why the Patriots can’t rely on those bailouts in the season.
“I think you look at each of those individual plays and you figure out what we need to do better to execute better to make the plays so that ‘ you never want to rely on things like that. You’re right ‘ you get a little bonus chance. And we’ll get those from time to time over the course of the season, and it’s really good to take advantage of those when you do get them. There are going to be times when we get calls on third down that go in our favor. But you know when we have opportunities to execute plays; that’s what we really want to do.
“We don’t want to have to wait for the ref to throw a flag or something like that. But we’re learning. We’re all learning out there with each other. Football is always about anticipation and confidence in one another and everyone being on the same page. Anticipatory offensive football is what the best offenses are all about. Those are the things that we still need to improve on. That’s why it’s still the preseason. We’ve got a few weeks until it matters and we have to try to do as many good things as possible over the next few weeks to make those improvements and then over the course of the year you try to do that every week also.”
Given new life, that drive ended with the second touchdown pass of the day to Shane Vereen, and Brady’s night was over.
“Yeah, he made some great plays tonight,” Brady said. “He’s been that way ‘ he’s really had such a dependable role for us for the last few years and just done a great job. When the ball is in his hands, good things are happening for our team. We’re going to try to just keep getting him the ball.”
Here are some other takeaways from the Brady postgame presser Friday night:
Q: In your experience, are you guys where you need to be about this time of the summer?
TB: Yeah, I think we’re just still working at it. You can never stop getting better. We’re going to hopefully be that way through the whole season. Each of these games you learn something. Different players do different things and find different roles for themselves. This was a good game because we’re playing a really good team. They challenge in a lot of areas. Like I said, we got off to a slow start, which you never really want to do, but we made a few plays and got some momentum and ended up having a great lead there at the end of the game. But I think we’re just going to focus on the individual plays and see where were can get better. Because you have to go out there and do it and see where you’re at and adjust to the game speed, adjust to the coverages, and then go out there and execute against a great team in a couple weeks.
Q: Is your back OK? It looked like someone maybe kneed you in the back when you were trying to get the ball to Shane.
TB: No, I’m good. I feel pretty good.
Q: Your kicker kicked a 60 yarder. How does that uplift a team?
TB: Yeah, I mean, incredible kick. That’s a long ways away, so it gives everybody a lot of confidence that if you get the ball to whatever, the 42-yard line, you’ve got a chance at three points. That was a great kick, great execution by everybody. Hopefully we can get him a little closer during the season and make it a little easier on Steve [Gostkowski], but we know he’s got it there in him if we need that to happen at some point this year.
Q: Defensively was it encouraging to get the ball back pretty quickly?
TB: Yeah, they played great. We’ve been going against them all camp, so it’s nice to see them go against another offense and watch those guys rush the quarterback, pass breakups, tight coverage. That’s what we’ve been getting all camp, so it’s been great for us, great for our passing game to see the type of coverages that our defense plays. We’ve got a lot of experience with those guys. It was great to see them out on the field, rallying to the ball, making plays. We can’t lose if they don’t score, so that’s a good thing for offensive football.
Q: Overall is this a confidence builder game?
TB: Well, we could have lost 30-7 and none of it’s going to matter two weeks from now. I think it’s more just about our improvement and guys finding roles for themselves and getting into their game conditions. I think that’s what this game is all about. It’s not so much the final score; it’s just more how guys are playing and how guys are reacting to situations and whether guys can find a role on the team.
Q: So how much does it help you and the offense in general to have so many receivers back from last year, as opposed to having so many new faces last year?
TB: Yeah absolutely. I think there’s a lot of growing that you do over the course of the year. There are a lot of balls you throw, a lot of meetings, conversations you have. All the guys that came last year, there was a lot that was forced on their plate, and they’ve been able to handle it and that’s why they’re still here trying to work their butt off to try to find a role this year. You’re right, there’s not as many things you need to go over. You’re still trying to make improvements. You’re always trying to get better. No matter what point you’re at, you’re trying to build. It’s just that we were building from a different place last year. We have a lot of confidence in each other, KT [Kenbrell Thompkins] and Josh [Boyce] and Aaron [Dobson] and those guys from last year that were new ‘ Danny [Amendola], certainly. We made some plays tonight that would have been tougher to make last year, just based on the situation in the game and the anticipation that you need from both positions.
Q: Were you able to say hi to Luke Kuechly or anybody and talk about how last year’s game ended?
TB: No, I missed those guys. I didn’t say anything. I saw them after the game, a few of the guys, but no, we didn’t bring up last year. That was’¦Yeah we won’t forget that one. That was some way to end it.