TAMPA -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hopes to play well into his 40s, but if he keeps taking bruising hits like he did in Friday night's preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he might be lucky to make it to 40.
A battered Brady was the biggest takeaway from the Patriots' 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers, a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
We know preseason games don't count, but they do if your franchise quarterback is being driven into the turf to the point that his health becomes a concern. The Patriots were nearing that territory last night against a fast, attacking Buccaneers defense.
"It's a physical sport and your body calluses up over the course of the preseason, and that's why you train all offseason," the 35-year-old Brady said after his most extensive action of the preseason, as he played into the final minute of the third quarter. "It's a physical sport. You get hit and you have to wake up and get back at it the next day."
Brady will feel this one more than most others after the Buccaneers set the tone in the first quarter with a crunching strip-sack by Michael Bennett, who dipped past slow-to-react right tackle Marcus Cannon and then fullback Spencer Larsen before separating Brady from the football.
If the book on slowing down the Patriots' offense is to get to Brady early and make him uncomfortable, it was mission accomplished.
"It was just hold[ing] on to the ball too long," said Brady, who finished 13-of-20 for 127 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. "Brandon [Lloyd] was starting to work away from the coverage and they just got me as I was throwing the ball. Have to try to eliminate those and try to eliminate turnovers, they certainly kill us. Those just aren't very good plays."
The Patriots were fortunate on that one, as the alert Larsen recovered the football. But on the next play, when Brady attempted to deliver a third-down throw into a tight window to tight end Rob Gronkowski against the Buccaneers' zone defense, the results were disastrous -- cornerback Ronde Barber tipped the pass and safety Mark Barron returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
And just like that, 12:02 into their "dress rehearsal" preseason game, the Patriots were in a 14-0 hole. They could never climb out of it, Brady either being planted to the turf or hurrying throws for much of the first three quarters in an overall disappointing team effort.
It was hard to watch, even for coach Bill Belichick.
"We didn't do anything offensively except lose yardage and turn the ball over, so yeah, it was tough to watch any of what we did offensively," Belichick said, breathing fire in his postgame news conference. "There wasn't anything. We throw them the ball. Can't make any yards in the running game. Third-and-long all day. I was surprised that we couldn't do anything.
"We didn't make any game-changing plays, no turnovers, didn't put [them in] long-yardage very often. They did what they wanted to do. They scored 30 points; I don't think that's anything to ... "
Belichick didn't finish the thought. He didn't have to. His facial expression said it all -- he was livid.
Truth be told, it wasn't all bad, even though Belichick didn't seem interested in looking for any silver linings. Brady did lead a 12-play, 81-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, with running back Stevan Ridley making a strong statement to become the team's top back. Brady also ended on a high note, firing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski to finish off an eight-play, 64-yard drive that ended his night late in the third quarter.
The run defense looked pretty solid. So did rookie right defensive end Chandler Jones, who continues to impress; on one play he drew a holding penalty and still recorded a sack. And further down the depth chart, quarterback Ryan Mallett did some nice things in the fourth quarter, leading two touchdown drives as he makes a charge for the No. 2 job.
But, in the end, there were few smiles in the team's locker room. If Belichick seemed angry when speaking to the media, imagine what it was like behind closed doors.
In some respects, it was similar to what we heard from Belichick after last year's third preseason game, at Detroit. The Patriots were manhandled in that one, and Brady was pummeled even more than he was against the Buccaneers. Everything turned out all right after that, which the Patriots hope will be the case this year as well.
"I think it's, How does the team respond from this?" said veteran left guard Logan Mankins, one of the team's leaders. "Do we learn from it? Do we improve from it? Does it motivate us to work harder and study harder? I think anytime you have as many plays go the way we had, that were disappointing, I think you just have to see how the team responds."
The first order of business is simple. Find a way to keep Brady upright.
Otherwise, the star quarterback's hopes to play into his 40s will be short-lived.