The buzz about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady being at-risk in those New England blowouts is getting louder and you have to wonder whether Bill Belichick is putting a bull's-eye on the only irreplaceable player on the roster with these over-the-top scores and the play-calling.
The out-loud grumbling has been somewhat muted so far. We heard from Redskins linebacker Randall Godfrey, who called out Belichick for showing no class by continuing to throw late in the 52-7 game. Joe Gibbs, for the record, said he had no problems with what the Patriots did (like throwing on fourth down with the score, 38-0). But his sideline expression and his frosty post-game meeting with Belichick said otherwise.
And here's where this can get ugly. Let's face it, there is probably only one way to stop the Patriots. And that's if they don't have Brady. Now, the same could be said of the Colts and Peyton Manning. And Brett Favre and the Packers. And maybe most other winning teams. And no one would suggest that Manning or Favre, through their respective careers, has ever been especially targeted by the opposition.
But here's the difference. There is, around the league, an obvious level of respect for those quarterbacks and those organizations that certainly discourages the opposition from deliberately gunning for those star quarterbacks.
By all accounts and my limited first-hand experience, Brady is the same. Super good guy. Respected by the opposition and respectful of them as well. But unlike Manning and Favre, he's playing in game after game where the score is getting out of hand. He plays for a coach who is aggravating lots of people in the NFL fraternity. There's frustration building on the other side late in these games and Brady is the guy following the orders coming into his helmet.
In 1990, I saw the Eagles knock out SIX quarterbacks, including Troy Aikman (Dallas), Chris Miller (Atlanta), Steve Grogan (New England), Anthony Dilweg (Green Bay), Stan Humphries (Washington) and Jeff Rutledge (Washington). The last two in the same game -- the infamous "Body Bag Game." And they were hardly the only ones in the Philadelphia "Gang Green" era of Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, Andre Waters and the rest. Once, that defense turned a game with the Giants completely around by knocking out Phil Simms and terrorizing his backup. Their technique was often deceivingly simple. A defensive player would wrap up a quarterback, pin his arms to his sides and fall on the guy, driving a shoulder into the ground. Hello, Brian Mitchell (that's who wound up playing QB for the 'Skins that one day).
You don't see much of that stuff anymore. And that's a good thing. Life is plenty dangerous enough in the pocket -- just look at the list of quarterbacks already hurt this season. But with these New England beatdowns mounting, it just takes one guy on the other side who feels he's had enough.
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