As the seconds ticked down to double zero in the Patriots' 0-16 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bills in Gillette Stadium come Sunday, fans were not as upset as usual. And for good reason. At midnight on Sunday, Tom Brady's suspension for his part in Deflategate would officially come to an end. Patriots fans would no longer have to worry about Jimmy Garoppolo's durability or Jacoby Brissett's inability to throw the football with any type of fortitude any longer. Tom Brady is back.
However, what can Patriots fans expect from a 39-year-old quarterback that hasn't had a full preseason to practice and get ready for a full NFL season? Will Brady show some level of rust before reasserting himself as the best quarterback in the NFL?
Luckily for New England, the Patriots have an element of surprise, as the Cleveland Browns are asking this same question. Will the Patriots spread out their receivers, put Brady in shotgun, and air the football out? Or will Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels feature Legarrette Blount, who entered Week Four as the leading rusher in the NFL, in order to ease Brady back into the offense?
This is just my opinion, but I believe we are going to see a very focused Tom Brady on Sunday. Many will want to see Crazy Tom come out screaming and playing pissed off, but we may have to wait for that until he returns to Gillette Stadium next week. Fans will not have to worry about Brady missing wide open receivers (*Cough Jacoby Brissett Cough*) or not getting up after a hit outside of the pocket (*Cough Jimmy Garoppolo Cough*). The Patriots clearly have questions at their skilled positions, as Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Legarrette Blount and others have had relatively serious injuries in the past year or so.
However, I truly believe that all of these concerns are flushed away when Tom Brady settles back in at quarterback. Whether it is chemistry or simply not being able to make the throws, there is a reason why Gronkowski only has one catch for 11 yards so far this season. There is a reason why Julian Edelman only had one reception for 16 yards last week against the Bills. There is a reason why Danny Amendola only has nine receptions on the season through four games. And that reason is the caliber of player under center.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, one of Cleveland's strengths is their secondary. Led by two-time Pro Bowler Joe Haden, the Browns' secondary could provide problems if the Patriots play a conservative style of football, which, thankfully, doesn't happen very often under Tom Brady. Josh McDaniels should play to the receivers' strengths, which means slant routes for Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, single coverage on dump passes to Gronk and Martellus Bennett, and occasional shots downfield to Chris Hogan.
I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility to expect Tom Brady to have an exceptional day against a poor football team. 300+ yards, three or four touchdowns, no interceptions. BRADY IS BACK, BABY.
Buckle up, Patriots fans; the real NFL season is about to begin.