U.S. District Judge Richard Berman's decision Thursday to nullify Brady's four-game suspension means Brady will be on the field in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, just one week after Berman's decision came down. In many ways, the decision means that it will be business as usual for Brady and the Patriots.
Been here before
Next Thursday's game against the Steelers comes eight years to the day that the New York Jets accused Patriots coach Bill Belichick of authorizing his staff to film the Jets' defensive signals in an opening week matchup of the 2007 season. That controversy has many differences than the deflated ball story that enveloped this offseason, starting with the fact that the Patriots' punishment stood and Belichick quickly apologized for what he called a mistake in his interpretation of NFL rules.
In this case, Brady has been exonerated by Judge Berman and will not be punished. But in other ways, the adversarial feeling around the Patriots could feel reminiscent of the 2007 season. The Patriots players and fans used the accusations against Belichick as a rallying cry starting in Week 2 of the 2007 season, often taking on a defiant air.
"After everything that went on this week, we wanted to do our best for him," Tom Brady said in 2007 after the team's Week 2 win over San Diego.
Belichick has often used disrespect outside his walls as a motivational tool, and it's easy to imagine the Patriots using the NFL's battle against Brady, now in its ninth month, as fuel. Belichick knows motivational gambits only last so long, but the Brady decision helps Belichick illustrate one of his key tenets: Every season is different. Last year's title means nothing. And now this year has a very different feel than 2014.
Eventually, the news surrounding this deflated ball scandal will die down. And then folks will begin to focus on some of the significant football challenges ahead for Brady and the Patriots. New England's offense looked terrible throughout the preseason with Brady under center. New England could start three rookie interior offensive linemen, and they have suffered widespread injuries at wide receiver. The motley group of running backs is the least talented backfield Brady has played with since the days of Sammy Morris in 2009.
Injuries to starting wideouts Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell have prevented Brady from getting in synch, and LaFell might not return to the field anytime soon. The Patriots are hoping to get something out of recent pickup Reggie Wayne and will rely more on their tight ends with free-agent import Scott Chandler enjoying a strong month. To put it another way: It's not a great sign when Danny Amendola is the healthiest, most reliable wide receiver for Brady.
Throw in the extreme youth on the offensive line, and there are a lot of moving parts for Brady to deal with. Presumptive starting running back LeGarrette Blount is suspended for the season opener, and is not a great option as a primary back. There is also added pressure for the offense to make up for a weakened secondary that lost Darrelle Revis and now counts Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler as its No. 1 cornerback.
No coach is better at fixing problems or adjusting his game plan than Belichick. He could have survived with second-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo behind center for a month, but this news provides clarity for the 2015 season. That doesn't mean the Patriots will simply coast to another AFC East title. Their competition has improved in the offseason, and the team's offensive line could struggle against the big defensive fronts in the division.
Thursday's decision by Berman, however, changes the dynamics of this season dramatically. We expected Garoppolo to have a big say in New England's postseason seeding. Now it's on Brady and Belichick to steer the team through controversy and spackle the team's roster holes. Same as it ever was.