Commentary

Lackluster showing without Brady should give Patriots more cause for pause

The Patriots lost their biggest cog Sunday when QB Tom Brady suffered a knee injury. Only WR Randy Moss deviated from the robotic responses to the loss of the MVP afterward, Jeffri Chadiha writes.

Originally Published: September 7, 2008
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

BradyAP Photo/Winslow TownsonTom Brady suffered a left knee injury midway through the first period of the Patriots' season-opening victory over the Chiefs. Brady's streak of 128 consecutive starts, the third-longest in NFL history, might be in jeopardy.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Randy Moss couldn't help himself. The New England Patriots wide receiver kept peering at the door to his team's locker room Sunday in the second quarter of the Patriots' 17-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

He kept hoping to see quarterback Tom Brady reappear on the sidelines. He kept praying that Brady's knee injury wasn't nearly as severe as it appeared.

"I was like a kid standing in front of the candy store," Moss said after the game. "I kept looking back to see if he was coming out."

You can't blame Moss for his anxiety. Things are looking pretty ugly for the Patriots right now.

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As soon as Chiefs strong safety Bernard Pollard barreled into Brady's left leg on a pass play midway through the first quarter, the pain on Brady's face could be seen from the upper reaches of Gillette Stadium. He winced immediately. He clutched his left knee. And he couldn't make it to the sidelines -- and eventually the tunnel leading back to the locker room -- without the help of trainers.

The interesting thing is that aside from Moss, no other Patriots player or coach was willing to admit how scary the situation looked after the contest. That's mainly because head coach Bill Belichick has done such a good job of programming his players to give robotic responses to media questions. But in this case, there might be another factor at play. They might not want to think about what life would be like without Brady under center. As Moss said, "Any time you see your quarterback go down, it hurts."

At this stage, there is no definitive information on Brady's knee. Belichick only said that doctors were examining him after the game, although there was no indication that Brady was even still in the stadium at that point. His teammates also said they had no clue about Brady's status. Most admitted they were too caught up in the game action to pay attention to what was happening with their quarterback.

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What we do know is that the Patriots were a much different team without Brady under center. Sure, backup Matt Cassel did an admirable job of leading the Patriots, especially for a guy who had thrown 39 passes in his NFL career prior to Sunday. But let's face facts: Cassel was playing against one of the league's worst teams in his own stadium. It says plenty that this contest ended up as a seven-point game when the Patriots widely had been expected to win in a double-digit rout.

There is no way the Patriots make the playoffs if Brady's injury is severe enough to knock him out for the season. He's been the biggest reason why this team has three Super Bowl victories. Along with four Pro Bowl appearances, Brady won the 2007 NFL Most Valuable Player Award. You don't lose a player like that without feeling the shock waves for weeks.

In fact, all you have to really know is that the Patriots haven't played a game without Brady since he became a starter in the third week of the 2001 season. That's 128 consecutive starts for those keeping count. That's also a lot of stability to lose in a record-setting offense that terrorized defenses for most of last season. How can the Patriots possibly make up for that absence?

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonTom Brady is hit Sunday by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, bottom. The Patriots announced Brady had a knee injury, and he didn't return.

The truth is they can't. The Patriots merely have to hope that everybody else on their roster finds a way to elevate their games. As Patriots left tackle Matt Light said, "You never know what the status of a guy is when he goes down. All you can do is go out and play your game."

The Patriots kept that focus on Sunday, but it will be a much harder task when they face tougher opponents.

What most New England players also did was avoid the opportunity to criticize the hit that ended Brady's day. Most claimed they didn't see it, and only Moss felt it was a cheap shot. He saw the sequence on replay and didn't like the fact that Pollard had crashed into Brady's left knee -- after Pollard had escaped a block -- as the quarterback was stepping up in the pocket to throw.

"I'm not a dirty player," Moss said. "But when you see something like that, it opens your eyes."

The Patriots surely don't care about whether the league fines Pollard at this stage. All they care about is the health of their quarterback. They've seen him shake off all manner of hits in the past and they all raved about his toughness in the locker room Sunday.

"I've been here for four years," Cassel said. "And every time he's been knocked down, he's always gotten back up."

Of course, that didn't happen Sunday. This time Brady went down and he stayed out. That was the one fact that couldn't escape the Patriots as they dressed afterward and prepared to go home to their families. They might not have wanted to address questions of what life would be like without Tom Brady. But they also have to know this season will be much less enjoyable if his injury was as gruesome as it looked.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.