What made Bruschi special was his instincts. Belichick and his staff devise some of the most complex, well-designed schemes in the games. But it's the players who execute them. Bruschi, who has the body to offer help on the defensive line along with being a great linebacker, had the instincts to turn bad plays into good ones.
"I think that there are certain players that sometimes you can't even find
the right word or the right identification, but you just know that they are
playmakers," Belichick told the Patriots press corps Wednesday. "They just have a knack for making plays. They have an instinct for the ball or an instinct for the situation. They just seem to make the right decision at the right time and not always do the same thing."
The comparison might be slightly flawed because they came from different eras and different positions, but Bruschi offered to the Patriots defense what Jack Ham did for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They made plays.
For the Steel Curtain as an outside linebacker, Ham did what was necessary. When he dropped into pass coverages, Ham would make the key interception. He rarely missed a tackle. He had great instincts.
Bruschi played inside linebacker for the Patriots but his statistics were strong in every category. Each season, Bruschi would make between two to four-and-a-half sacks. Over the past four seasons, he would intercept two or three passes. Consistently, Bruschi would make 68 to 79 tackles over a 16-game schedule.
"He's very instinctive," Belichick said of Bruschi. "He's been a high producer at every level of football he's ever played, regardless of what position it's been at, line, linebacker, special teams. Whatever he's asked to do, he's a good football player. He's the type of guy you want on the field in every situation.''
The Patriots signed a good football player to replace him. In his prime, Chad Brown had Bruschi-like instincts. For the Steelers, he was successful as a 3-4 inside linebacker. He was a Pro Bowl caliber outside linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. For both teams, he put his hand on the ground on passing downs and rushed from a defensive end position.
At the age of 35, Brown still has the skills, but he needs to show the durability. Injuries kept him out of 19 starts over the past three years. For protection, the Patriots also signed Monty Beisel from the Kansas City Chiefs. With Brown and Beisel, the Patriots have options to fill in for Bruschi on paper. No doubt, Belichick will spend training camp looking at their skills and finding ways of getting the most of their talents on the field.
But still, that's not Bruschi.
He made the wise choice in sitting out the season. He also made the wise choice in giving himself a chance to return in 2006. The Patriots probably will place him on the non-football injury list to keep his contract alive but give them the contract relief from the salary cap by not having him play this season.
It was interesting Bruschi would make the announcement about foregoing the season the day after a faulty report by a Boston television station that there was a 90 percent chance of him returning this season. Coming off a mild stroke, 90 percent isn't good enough. That 10 percent of doubt could leave him vulnerable to suffering an injury that could hurt his quality of life after he retires. With a close family, that would be too much of a risk.
Bruschi gave 100 percent on every down and had the right instincts. His instincts were again right in sitting this one out and giving it another chance in 2006.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.