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That question is most certainly the one you ask when you build as big a lead as the Patriots did on that Sunday afternoon against the Titans. Tom Brady was pulled just after the start of the third quarter in favor of backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. Many have questioned whether it would have been better to leave Brady in longer and see if he could break the NFL record for TD passes (7) and total points (72). Quite frankly, I believe those people are short-sighted in their critique of Bill Belichick’s decision. Tom Brady has his name next to plenty of records already, and two more would be unnecessary at best, dangerous at worst.
The main reason to pull a quarterback is to protect him from injury. When said quarterback already has suffered a major injury once, it makes even more sense to limit his playtime. The risk was amplified by the severe weather conditions under which the Titans-Patriots game was played. A snowy, icy field makes it hard to get one’s footing, and it would have been easy for Brady’s feet to slide out from under him or twist the wrong way along the ice. The game was out of reach, so why risk an injury to the most important member of your team? The argument that it would give Brady more time to work on his mechanics falls in the face of the injury issue. Brady’s passing mechanics may have improved marginally (and he was throwing pretty well before he left; he had a passer rating of 152.8) if he continued to play in the second half, but the risk of injury is far greater than the opportunity to get a little better.
It’s also not as if Belichick pulled only Tom Brady. Backup running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was also substituted into the game, along with other rookies and backups as the situation allowed for. The game was over after one half, and rather than “run up the score,” he decided to use the second half as a sort of practice for his team, only with full pads and an opposing team that was playing at full speed (or as close as the weather allowed). He got unused players real, significant playing time (as opposed to “garbage time” at the end of games). This experience will only help the Patriots in the future, as it means these players, if called upon, will not be completely green coming into the game.
Moving on to the idea of “running up the score,” I think it’s a somewhat silly concept. Teams have come back from over 30 points down to win games before, so it’s safe to say that almost no lead is safe. Why wouldn’t a team, especially early in the game, try to put up as many points as they possibly can? It’s up to a defense to stop an offense, not an offense to stop itself. In some ways, things like going for it on 4th down when you have a big lead and are in the red zone (which the 2007 Patriots did all the time) are the OPPOSITE of running up the score, even though people don’t see it that way. Instead of simply taking the points available, they gave the opposing team one more chance to stop them from scoring any points at all. Other aspects of “running up the score,” such as running trick plays like half-back options or flea-flickers, are also not in bad spirit. A team plays an entire season, not just a single game. Any play they get an opportunity to run once will be easier the second time around, and the third time, and so on and so forth. So Brady completed a flea-flicker to Randy Moss for an additional TD pass. So what? Brady has had trouble hitting Moss all season, so any extra opportunity to hit his main receiver should be taken, not passed up on the notion of scoring unnecessarily.
Last week, the Patriots went to London and played Tampa Bay, another terrible football team. Brady had even more time to work on his passing mechanics without the adverse conditions he faced against the Titans, so where does the developmental argument stand now? We should just enjoy the victory for what it was: a complete and utter domination.