Patriots notebook

Brady’s timing was impeccable

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 14, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Was it insubordination? Or was it a veteran quarterback simply recognizing an opportunity and acting upon it?

Although the plan Sunday was for the Patriots to take a knee at their 41-yard line and head into the locker room at halftime with a 27-0 lead over the Bears, coach Bill Belichick said yesterday he found no fault with Tom Brady’s decision to call a pass play that resulted in Deion Branch scoring a 59-yard touchdown as time expired.

The kick failed, but the Patriots had a 33-0 lead in an eventual 36-7 victory.

“We were in a no-huddle mode and I thought it was a real smart play by Tom at the end of the half, knowing there was time for one more play,’’ Belichick said yesterday at Gillette Stadium. “When the ball was snapped, there were only three or four seconds left on the clock, so it could’ve been the last play. He took a shot down the field on a vertical pattern.’’

When Brady came to the line of scrimmage, he saw Bears rookie safety Major Wright backing up along the seam in a Cover 2 look. Brady pump-faked toward rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was running a vertical route along the seam, keeping Wright from moving toward the sideline.

The move also froze cornerback Charles Tillman, enabling Branch to streak past Tillman down the sideline.

“He looked out there and saw him and hit him,’’ Belichick said. “So it was a real good play by Tom and Deion. I think the timing of it, Tom knew what he was doing, obviously. If it was there, great, if it wasn’t, then the half was over and we still had a 27-point lead.’’

During his weekly appearance on WEEI, Brady was asked if he disobeyed an order to take a knee. He was coy in his response.

“I don’t know about all that,’’ Brady said, chuckling. “I listen to my coaches all the time, just ask Billy [O’Brien, quarterbacks coach]. I may be the biggest pain in the you-know-what to Billy. Billy didn’t realize when he got the job as quarterbacks coach a few years ago how big of a pain in the butt I am.’’

So what prompted Brady to throw to Branch?

“We didn’t have much to lose, the clock was running out,’’ he said. “I figured it was tough for the safeties to move in those [snowy] conditions. We kept talking before the game if we had an opportunity and they were in a Cover 2 look, we wanted to try to get Gronk up the seam and then the outside receiver up the sideline.

“I looked at the safety and he was backing right up; he wasn’t widening at all. I looked at him and gave him a little pump, just to hold him and to hold the corner a little bit and Deion raced by ’em. I threw it out there and Deion made a hell of a catch and run.’’

Brady’s reaction was telling.

“I was almost laughing,’’ he said. “I couldn’t believe it, because it was a very exciting play. I don’t think those happen very often and when you get them you have to be thankful.’’

No McCourty update Devin McCourty breezed through the locker room without stopping to talk to the media, and Belichick wasn’t about to characterize the severity of the rookie cornerback’s rib injury.

“Well, we give the same answer that we usually give on Monday, which is, ‘We’ll see on Wednesday,’ ’’ he said.

McCourty, who forced a fumble that led to Gary Guyton’s 35-yard return for a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, suffered the injury in the first half and did not return.

If he is unable to go for Sunday’s home game against the Packers, it likely will mean more playing time for corner Darius Butler, a second-round pick last year from the University of Connecticut. Butler was benched after a 28-14 road loss to the Jets in Week 2 in which Braylon Edwards beat him for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion.

“Darius has played a lot of football for us over the course of the year, some earlier and some more recently,’’ Belichick said. “So absolutely, [if] he’s out there — whoever’s out there, anybody that’s on the field — if we don’t have confidence in them, then we wouldn’t put them out there.’’

Butler said he will get ready for the Packers the same way he has prepared all season: as though he were a starter.

“It’s business as usual for me,’’ he said. “I’ll be ready whenever my number’s called.’’

Tight with coach Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, a fourth-round pick out of Florida, weighed in on the decision of his college coach, Urban Meyer, to step down in Gainesville.

“There’s obviously a reason why it was a decision he needed to make,’’ Hernandez said. “You could tell even when he talked about it, he has all the passion for the game. Of all the coaches, that’s why he’s the greatest. He’s like a Belichick. He’s strict and he loves his players and he does everything the right way. Having a coach like that is an honor and I feel like he’s the reason I am where I am today.

“He’s a coach who not only teaches you but he’s there for you. He changed so many players’ lives and he put his whole heart into it, so for him to step away from the game there had to be a deep reason.’’

Meyer announced his resignation Wednesday and said health was not the reason he was walking away. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

However, a person with knowledge of the situation told the Associated Press that the move was because of concerns about chest pains.

Belichick, who developed a close relationship with Meyer while scouting his players for the draft, said he talked recently with Meyer.

“I think whatever he had to say about it, I think that accurately expresses his feelings,’’ Belichick said.

“Urban’s an up-front, honest guy, and I think what he said is what he wanted to say. Take it at face value. The main thing from my point of view is just our friendship and making sure that he is OK and I would say that’s definitely the case.’’

Process begins The availability of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for Sunday remains unclear. Rodgers, who sustained a concussion two days ago against the Lions, was expected to begin the evaluation protocol for head injuries yesterday, and coach Mike McCarthy said the team would err on the side of caution. Rodgers also sustained a concussion in Green Bay’s loss at Washington Oct. 10. He played against Miami the following week and has not missed a game since taking over as the Packers’ starter in 2008. McCarthy said doctors will consider Rodgers’s recent concussion as they evaluate him. “We’ll probably have a little better update for you Wednesday or Thursday,’’ he said. According to NFL guidelines for head injuries, Rodgers must be symptom-free and cleared by a team doctor and an independent neurological consultant before he can play again. He was replaced by Matt Flynn Sunday, and the Packers went on to lose, 7-3. McCarthy also said Green Bay could be without outside linebacker Frank Zombo because of a sprained knee . . . Patriots owner Robert Kraft was listed among the top 10 of SportBusiness Journal’s 50 most influential people in sports business. Kraft, who was 13th in 2009, was ranked ninth by the publication, supplanting Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who slipped to 10th on this year’s list, as the highest-ranked NFL owner. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was No. 1 on the publication’s list; DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association, was fifth.

Michael Vega can be reached at Shalise Manza Young of the Globe staff contributed to this report and material from the Associated Press was used.

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