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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Bruschi On Tap: A night to remember

By Tedy Bruschi
ESPNBoston.com

Observations and reflections from the New England Patriots' 45-3 win over the New York Jets, as well as "Tedy Bruschi Night" festivities:

1. Curious approach by the Jets, who were outclassed at head coach and quarterback. After watching the game and seeing how well the Patriots played and how poorly the Jets executed, it reminded me of the words that came out of Rex Ryan's mouth -- how the Patriots have an advantage at head coach and quarterback.

That was on full display.

Both coaches had 10 days to prepare for the game, to break things down inside and out and look at it from every single angle. I was looking closely at how each team would start the game, and I was surprised at the Jets' approach.

The Jets like to call themselves ground-and-pound; they like to run the ball, manage quarterback Mark Sanchez and give him safe throws -- slant patterns, game-plan shots and short, quick routes to get the ball in the hands of playmakers.

So what did they come out with? A spread formation with Sanchez in the shotgun, running a hurry-up offense. That was their big adjustment after 10 days of preparation, and it was a curious decision when you have a second-year quarterback who is at his best when the running game is going and he can depend on play-action and safe throws to receivers, forcing the defense to play solid football.

Sanchez is nowhere near the neighborhood of Tom Brady, so why put his abilities on display in front of the entire country? I was shocked by the adjustment to put so much into his hands -- no-huddle, calling plays at the line of scrimmage.

I think what happened is that sometimes when you have 10 days to prepare, you can outthink yourself, and that's what Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did. To go away from his team's strengths was a huge mistake, as it played to the strengths of the Patriots, who are young, athletic, quick and can cover. The Patriots will give up yards, but they've shown they will always be in position and that they can tackle well. By the time the Jets got back to being who they are, it was too late. They were already down 17-0 and it didn't look like Sanchez wanted to be there.

2. The excellence of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. While the Jets went against the grain, the Patriots stuck to what they do best. Offensively, Tom Brady was quickly getting the ball to his receivers. Defensively, there were no huge wrinkles, just doing their best to play fundamentally sound and getting receivers covered while making adjustments to what the Jets were doing in the no-huddle offense. Coach Belichick put the players in position to do what they do best.

One thing stood out to me before the game when I was on the field, and it was the look in Brady's eyes. I've seen it before, that look of such focus and intensity, I thought to myself, "There is no way these guys are losing tonight." On one sideline, you had a quarterback ready for the moment. On the other sideline, you had a quarterback who got down 3, 10, 17 and you could tell the possibility of his team coming back was very slim.

3. Big strides made by Brandon Spikes. This entire year, one of the things I've watched very closely is the development of Brandon Spikes. He's strong, physical and has all the talents to be a great "mike" linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. But he's young and needs more time and experience under his belt to properly diagnose plays.

On one big play Monday night, his third-quarter interception, you could see his development. That was a "pop" pass that came on play-action, something that he had been having difficulties with earlier in the year. Spikes read his keys true to form, diagnosed the play-action, got back into coverage and made a great play on the ball. Spikes showed how he's starting to get it.

In the big picture, you look at it and see only good things for the Patriots in the future with a three-man rotation between Jerod Mayo, Spikes and Gary Guyton. They are young, athletic and talented. That is going to be a championship rotation very soon.

4. Emotions at halftime during Tedy Bruschi Night. I had been thinking about the remarks I would say at halftime for a long time and the closer the day came, the more nervous I was. As we walked up the steps to the podium and Mr. Kraft started to speak, nerves were still going through my body. Then Mr. Kraft said, "We want you to wear No. 54 one more time" and he broke out that jersey. I looked at Mr. Kraft and said, "You want me to wear that?" He didn't have to ask me twice. I took my overcoat off, took off my suit jacket, and once that jersey was on, I felt at home with my family by my side.

Bruschi
Sharing his special night with his family made Monday unforgettable for Tedy Bruschi.

They know how I feel about them, and a lot of my teammates know, so what I wanted to do was express my appreciation to the fans. I wanted to show them my gratitude and tell them about those banners in the stadium, reminding them of all the players who helped raise them who are no longer with the team -- those who have moved on or are retired now.

Fans see the players like Tom Brady, Dan Koppen, Matt Light and those who helped raise those banners because they're still playing, so I wanted to mention the guys who have moved on that gave everything they had to raise those banners, because that's what it is all about when you play for the New England Patriots. Everyone knows that now because the banners have been raised, the standard has been set, and it's all about raising more. I know the team they have now is capable of hanging more.

5. Special night spent with family. Part of what made the night something I will never forget was having my family with me. My sons had a fantastic time. We debated whether to take them home at halftime as Dante, my 5-year-old, was very tired. But my two oldest sons, Rex and T.J., did a great job convincing him to stay. We all had a great time sitting with Mr. Kraft and his family.

There was a pregame reception in the Trophy Room and I think what the kids enjoyed more than anything was the endless buffets available to them -- from hot chocolate to sliders, chicken fingers, popcorn, the dessert tray. I was reminding them how lucky they were to experience something like that and I think they understood that. We all thanked Mr. Kraft, and I think the kids had an experience they will never forget.

When we walked out of the stadium, I was walking on air. It was the best closure I could have ever had. Since the day I retired, it was the first time I felt like a member of the team again, and it felt good. When I played, I would often have guests drive home because I'd be reliving the game in my head over and over again, and it was the same thing Monday night. I tossed the keys to my brother Tony and was thinking about how meaningful it was -- being able to express my gratitude to the fans, with my family there. I just had so much appreciation for the moment. It was special to me.

I didn't get to sleep until 2 in the morning, but it was one of the best nights of sleep of my life, then I woke up early in the morning to take my brother; his wife, Linda; and my nephew Tanner to the airport. On the way out, I took the jersey that Mr. Kraft gave me and handed it to my nephew. We've had a lot of special moments in our household, but it was one of the first times my nephew experienced anything like that. He had told me that he wanted a better-fitting Tedy Bruschi jersey for Christmas, so I gave him that one and told him he had plenty of time to grow into it. I have a special relationship with my brother; we've been close for so long and he's been a mentor for me over my career. It was time for them to travel back home, and after taking them to the airport, it wrapped up a special experience for all of us. Then I knew it was back to work, for ESPNBoston.com.

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team.