Tom Brady Returns, Raises Expectations for the 2009 New England Patriots

Ryan BurnsAnalyst IMay 27, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

With a few simple throws on Monday, Tom Brady put rumors of a delayed recovery to rest, as ESPN cameras caught the Patriots quarterback throwing some passes at Gillette Stadium. 

After undergoing season-ending knee surgery last season, some wondered if Brady would ever be the same. Some talk show callers even called for keeping Matt Cassel on the roster, just in case Brady went down with another knee injury.

However, after taking a look at the ESPN footage, it seems pretty clear that Brady has no discomfort in his injured knee. He will be taking part in the Patriots' offseason workouts this week, with reporters viewing the session on Thursday.

Brady's return also brings with it a sense of excitement to Patriot Nation. Last year was a fun ride, but it just wasn't the same without No. 12 under center. Seeing Brady on the field for the Patriots' full squad practices this week has to energize the players, the coaches, and the fans.

After an 11-5 season that saw the Patriots just miss a playoff spot, Brady's return brings up a few questions.

1. How big of an impact can one player have on an organization? 

While Matt Cassel performed better than most had anticipated last season, he had some giant shoes to fill. Tom Brady is a world-class athlete and one of the most successful quarterbacks of all time, and with his return comes a sense of vindication, another chance for him to lead his team to the playoffs. 

However, it was only a few seasons ago when Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer went down with a knee injury, and upon his return he saw his team go 8-8 one year after their first playoff run in decades. The Bengals haven't reached the playoffs since then.

Playing with the same weapons, plus guys like Joey Galloway and Fred Taylor, Brady will have another chance to reenact his amazing 2007 season and will probably have much better results than Palmer and the Bengals. 

2. Will Brady play this preseason?

The preseason always poses some interesting questions when it comes to personnel decisions and playing time. Preseason contests are a good chance for the coaching staff to weed out the players that can't hack it in the NFL, as well as settle any possible positional battles.

However, when a player that is guaranteed a starting spot comes back after an injury, there is always a debate about how many snaps he should get, if any.

Last season, we saw Colts QB Peyton Manning undergo two knee surgeries, causing him to miss training camp and all five of the Colts' preseason contests. Missing all this time caused Manning to be less than stellar in his first few games, as he stressed the importance of being available in the preseason.

"I guess in some ways, this really is like the first week of the season for me," Manning said. "All I've ever known is taking every rep at every practice and playing in all the preseason games, so I did miss some time there, and I've been working through that."

With Brady missing the entire 2008 season, it is absolutely imperative that he participate in the Patriots' preseason games to get used to the speed of the game, making adjustments, and making good throws under pressure. 

3. Can Tom Brady shake the Hollywood image?

In recent years, we have seen our working-class quarterback morph into this Joe DiMaggio-like figure, being seen on the town with his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen. Brady has reached a level of superstardom that transcends football. Everything he does is newsworthy, whether it's on the field or not.

Some doubters have said that Brady may not be focused anymore. I strongly disagree. 

This season is the perfect opportunity for Brady to prove that he is a football player first and foremost, and a damn good one at that. 

This isn't Dallas, where a certain quarterback's girlfriend can disrupt an entire franchise from her box seat. No, this is New England, where the Patriots organization is second to none in dealing with the media machine. 

In his time off, newspapers have covered Brady doing everything but playing football, but this year, there will be more pictures of Brady throwing touchdown passes than walking the red carpet.

4. How will Brady react to a different offensive system without Josh McDaniels?

In 2007, Brady had the luxury of an offensive coordinator who wasn't afraid to spread the field early and often, letting him throw deep to Randy Moss and short to Wes Welker. Brady and the 2007 Patriots shattered tons of NFL records, as he was named NFL MVP.

Fast-forward to the present.

Josh McDaniels is gone, and the Patriots' running game is more loaded than it has been in years. The depth at the running back position will surely take some of the pressure off of Brady early on in the season, allowing him to get used to the flow of the game. 

Brady won't have to throw the ball 40 times a game this year if the running backs can use their depth to move the chains and keep defenses tired. 

Don't get me wrong; the Patriots' air attack will be extremely effective this year, as long as the running game is solid and the offensive line does its job. Early on, however, I expect the running game to carry the load for the Patriots.

5. Can the Patriots go undefeated?

Naturally, the return of Brady takes us back to the main storyline of the 2007 season: Can the Patriots run the table?

It says a great deal about a player when his mere presence can make people wonder if a team can go 19 games without a loss.

We saw the pressure mount with each victory in 2007, and by Super Bowl Sunday, the pressure was at a fever pitch. We all know what happened that day, and after the Giant upset, many fans and media members let it be known that as magical as the season had been, they would have traded a regular season loss or two for a win in the Super Bowl.

I don't think the Patriots will go undefeated this season, but they won't have to in order to win the division and get back into the postseason.

With Brady back in action, a revamped defense, and a loaded running game, I expect the Patriots to be the best team in the AFC this season. There is no doubt in my mind that a healthy Patriots team will be able to lock up a playoff bye and possibly get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Early season oddsmakers have made the Patriots heavy favorites to win the Super Bowl, and I believe that they can capture a fourth Lombardi Trophy.

Getting there might be a bit of a problem, however, as the Patriots are facing quite a few obstacles this season, especially in the first half of the schedule.

Brady and Co. are slated to face the Bills on Monday, Sept. 14, as newly acquired WR Terrell Owens makes his Buffalo debut. This is followed by a week two battle against the rival New York Jets and their revamped defense. These two games will go a long way in determining the AFC East playoff picture.

The Pats are also in a unique position this year, playing Tampa Bay in London on Oct. 25. It will be hard to stay focused during this extensive travelling, as teams that have played international games in the past have documented. However, if any team is equipped to deal with this situation, it's the Patriots and Tom Brady.

Early on in the season the Patriots also host the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans, two teams that played very well last season.

Two road games that will test the Patriots come against old offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos on Oct. 11, and against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 15. These two games will help shake out the AFC playoff picture.

If the Patriots can get out of the gate to a fast start and stay healthy, there is no reason that they can't make it back to the AFC Championship game, and maybe even beyond. 

However, with Brady back the Patriots will take it one game at a time, and it will be business as usual in Foxboro this year.


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