Tom Brady doesn’t need the preseason. Other vets, like Peyton Manning, sat out their preseason openers, letting the backups take all of the snaps. They’ve been around this game long enough that they don’t really have to work on too much, especially if—as in Brady’s case, though not Manning’s—there haven’t been any changes in personnel or coaches.
Remember when Brett Favre kept retiring so he wouldn’t have to go to camp, then showing up just in time for the season to start? And he still dominated?
Preseason has its uses, but getting old quarterbacks some snaps isn’t one of them. When the Patriots sent Brady out to start their preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, they didn’t do it so he could familiarize himself with how the offense works.
They did it to make a statement.
Guilty or not, the Patriots are mad about how Brady’s legal situation has played out. Brady is mad about it. It’s the NFL against the Patriots, against Brady, and they put him on the field just because they could.
They wanted to treat it like a normal preseason game. Sitting him would have given rise to speculation that they didn’t think he’d win his appeal, that they thought the NFL was right. People would have said they played backup Jimmy Garoppolo so he could get the snaps and get ready to be the starter.
Garoppolo did play, and quickly. Brady only threw four passes and only one was caught. But they still started him to show that they’re warming him up for Week 1, when they fully expect the suspension to be overturned and him to be on the field.
They were also making a statement to the fans. Videos out of camp showed huge crowds coming out to support Brady and cheer for him. They’ve been very vocal on social media about exactly what they think of Brady, the ruling, and the whole situation. The Patriots wanted to get him in front of the fans to garner even more support.
Those fans went wild when he came on the field. Of course, fans are always pretty biased, but they seemed as one to back Brady and oppose Goodell. They let Tom know it and the Patriots let them see their superstar in the flesh, under center, just to rile them up.
Finally, they were sending a message to the players. Jonas Gray, who had a huge 55-yard scamper for a TD, said after the game that he was glad they had their leader on the field. He hadn’t realized just how big that would be until they came out for that initial series, he said. He also noted that it helped get Brady’s mind on football and off of DeflateGate.
So, perhaps the preseason was for Brady, after all. Maybe it was to help keep him focused and push all of the legal proceedings to the side.
But, for the most part, it was just because of what playing Brady meant. To the team, to the fans, to the NFL, to the press. It was a showing of solidarity.
The rest of the game played out as normal. The young guys got on the field. The coaches analyzed how rookies and undrafted free agents looked. They tried new things. It was a big, extended practice with all of the real stars sitting on the bench and watching.
As it started, though, it was something else entirely. Brady wasn’t even that good and he didn’t even accomplish anything meaningful, but it certainly meant a lot to the Patriots to have him on the field with the team as the year really gets underway.