By Evan Marinofsky
Even though the New England Patriots just clinched their 10th straight AFC East crown, questions surround this team more than ever. At the forefront of those questions is the health of Tom Brady.
Former Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich joined Alex Reimer and Rob Bradford on Dale & Keefe Monday afternoon to talk about the status of the star quarterback.
"I don't know if he's hurt or if he's just getting older," said Ninkovich of his former teammate. "Everyone seems to have this false sense that Tom [Brady] is invincible but he's 41 years old, playing a position where you get 300 lb guys landing on you, hitting you, big guys all around you. It gets a little hairy in there. I just think that we're seeing Tom [Brady] slow down a little bit."
The words are stunning, but the stats from Sunday's Patriots 24-12 win over the Buffalo Bills support it.
Brady finished the game 13-for-24 for 126 yards passing with two interceptions and a touchdown. The first half saw him go 7-for-13 for 40 yards passing with an interception and a 27.7 rating. Many media members have pointed to a possible knee injury even though Brady tried to shoot that down Monday morning.
"I see a guy that just doesn't want to get hit," said Ninkovich of Brady's recent discomfort in the pocket. "When you're in a game where that's the name of the game and getting hit all the time, I think he's at the point of his career where he's like 'alright, I need to get myself ready for the playoffs, I can't take unnecessary hits' in a game where they pretty much had it in hand.
"I think he was trying to limit the times he was hitting the ground. Anytime you're 41 years old, the more times you get hit, the more times you hit the ground, the more you'll feel it. If he can get out of a game with the least amount of hits and least amount of contact, that's going to help him in the playoffs."
Brady bailed out of throws three different times on Sunday. Ninkovich pointed out what he did towards the end of his career to avoid hits.
"I think he's been trying to avoid contact," he said. "That's what happens when you get older. My last year playing, I wasn't sticking my nose into things I used to stick my nose into."