As Judge Richard Berman prepares to announce his decision to either vacate or confirm the NFL’s suspension of Brady in federal court, the Patriots prepared to practice without the knowledge of who will take the snaps in the season opener. By Monday afternoon, 31 teams had named a QB1. Only the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, hampered by Brady’s unknown status, had yet to decide.
Their time in limbo should end later Tuesday or Wednesday, when Berman is expected to make his ruling. While it will likely be appealed by the losing side, the Patriots would at least learn Brady’s fate for the opener. If it has been an obstacle to ready for the season without a starter in place – and how could it not be? – the Patriots were not letting on.
“I don’t even know what buzz you’re talking about,” offensive tackle Nate Solder said. “I just read my playbook.”
Last week, Belichick allowed that at some point, the Patriots would need to ramp up preparations for Week 1 – a nationally televised game – and not just try to improve individual units. Two days before New England’s final preseason game, Belichick didn’t move off that stance.
“We still got a long way to go on that,” Belichick said. “We still don’t have a 53-man roster. We’re definitely working on Pittsburgh, but there’s a lot of loose ends. A lot of loose ends.”
Aside from that second, labored “loose ends,” Belichick made no allusion to Brady’s situation. How best to split up repetitions between Garoppolo and Brady?
“We do what we think is best for the team at every position,” Belichick said.
A local television reporter asked Belichick what he’d say if he could “offer any advice to a judge down in New York.” Belichick frowned in a way that suggested he felt embarrassed for everyone in the room, the stadium and perhaps the state of Massachusetts.
“Yeah,” Belichick said. “I’m really just focused on trying to get our team ready to go.”
Later, Belichick revealed the mind-blowing detail that the Patriots planned to go out and practice with all the players who are going to be on the field.
Cameras and microphones formed a wall around the locker of Garoppolo, waiting for the man who might be the Patriots starting quarterback or might be a guy holding a clipboard a week from Thursday night. He emerged after a half-hour wait.
“I’m just going about my business as always,” Garoppolo said. “Backup, starter, whatever it may be. I’m preparing as if I’m the starter. I’ve got to be ready for Week 1.”
On Monday, Garoppolo received the majority of practice work on account of Brady’s presence at federal court in New York. Brady was back Tuesday, although no one revealed what that would mean for either quarterback’s practice workload. Garoppolo said he would start to approach his teammates as the starter when coaches told him. And what have they told him so far?
“Uh …” Garoppolo sputtered. He cracked a smile and said no more.
Belichick hammers into his players to forget about what they cannot control, and the message had been freshly sent Tuesday. Cornerback Malcolm Butler, the Super Bowl hero, admitted that the Patriots “most definitely” would appreciate closure to Brady’s case.
“I can’t control it,” he said quickly said. “I’m controlling the things I can control, and that’s playing football. … I’m a player. I’m not going to do anything on the team but play cornerback. We’re going to be ready Week 1. No distractions. Just getting ready.”
“It doesn’t really pertain to us at the end of the day,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “We don’t have any control over the situation. We just have to go out and do our job every day and control what we can control.”
“We just got to stay focused on the task at hand,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said. “We’re here to play football. I don’t really read too many newspapers or watch much TV.”
With little more than a week before their opening game, and some seven months after the DeflateGate episode launched, the Patriots are still waiting on Brady’s availability. Until it comes, they’ll keep acting like they haven’t noticed at all.