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Bedard: Patriots need to do better managing Tom Brady’s hit count

(Adam Richins for BSJ)

FOXBOROUGH — Don't worry, this isn't about how the Patriots need sit Tom Brady when the score appears to be out of reach. Trying to go there is about as pointless as asking Bill Belichick about why he made a personnel decision.

"It’s easy for you to sit there and say the game is out of hand. I mean, if you watch games in the National Football League, a lot can change in a hurry," Belichick said after Sunday's win. "Sorry, we just see that one totally differently."

OK, then.

No, this is about something different: Oh, only the entire season.

The Patriots need and must do a better job at managing the hits Brady is being exposed to. What happened on Sunday in the Patriots' 35-17 victory over the Dolphins shouldn't have happened, and can't be allowed to going forward.

The good news is it seems Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels realized the error of their ways at halftime and tried to make amends in the second half. They're lucky Brady is some sort of cyborg sent from the future and it wasn't too little, too late. Because he took an unnecessary beating in this game.

A quick study of the TV broadcast shows Brady was exposed to six quarterback hits and seven hurries on 20 first-half attempts. For the game, Brady was hit 10 times (the most since a season-high 11 vs. Tampa Bay in Week 5) and pressured on a season-high 62.1 percent of his dropbacks. There was no reason for that to happen.

First of all, the Patriots were playing a Dolphins team that had nothing to play for except for pride after entering Sunday with a four-game losing streak and allowing 42.5 points in their previous two road games.

The Patriots also had a 14-0 lead with 5:33 left in the first quarter, and 21-7 with 8:29 to go in the second.

Lastly, the Patriots were running the ball at will against the Dolphins. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead combined for 75 yards on 10 runs (7.5 yards average). They had earned more carries.

"Yeah, I definitely took some shots," Brady admitted after the game. "They're a tough d-line. They've obviously made a lot of investments in that group and those guys play really hard. You're right, they got some good shots on me."

Yet when the Patriots got the ball back with 4:06 to play before halftime and a 21-10 lead, the sequence went like this:

Pass: 21-yard pass play to Rob Gronkowski
Pass: Incomplete (Brady drilled by linebacker Kiko Alonso)
Pass: The 46th ineffective screen pass this season, this one for 2 yards to Dwyane Allen.
Pass: Interception while under pressure.

Instead of bleeding the clock in four-minute mode and getting a score with under two minutes to play in the first half for the eighth-straight game, the Patriots looked like they got greedy. The Dolphins deferred, so they were going to get the ball to start the second half and robbed the Patriots' of their preferred possible double score. It looked like the Patriots wanted the double score before halftime by scoring quickly, holding the Dolphins, and adding another.

The question is why? The Patriots had 20 pass attempts and 11 rushes in a first half where they held a double-digit lead nearly the entire time. This wasn't a game to go for the jugular. It was a game to get on top, and then physically impose your will for the duration. Blowouts are nice, but there's nothing more humiliating for a team, especially on defense, than to have an opponent just pound away on the ground and not be able the stop it.

The Dolphins were begging for that to be done to them, especially with some of the chippiness that went on. Let the Dolphins yap and throw cheap shots. Then let your big boys up front tee off on them with power runs and traps. Let's see how much talking the Dolphins do after that.

"When you can hand the ball off and make big chunks of yards, it alleviates a lot," Brady said. "You're right, and we made a bunch of those plays today. We've got some really good backs who are running hard, finding holes and creases and turning smaller gains into big gains. If you can do that and obviously pass the ball well, we're going to be a pretty good offense."

The Patriots, in many ways, have done a terrific job at managing many of their assets. Rob Gronkowski was all but begging for help leading up to the trade deadline when he said, "Some plays here and there I do good. And others, I feel like I just don’t have it for that one."

The Patriots then landed Martellus Bennett, got Allen more involved and have basically been using Gronkowski only when they really need him. That's led to a Gronk revival.

The Patriots know they have a unique playmaker in Lewis, but when it comes to his history, they also realize he's an injury waiting to happen. To lower his pitch count, they've largely kept him out of the passing game in most games, and split his running workload with Burkhead.

Yet there's Brady, in a largely meaningless game, with a sizeable lead against a known aggressive opponent, and the Patriots' brain trust keeps putting him in harm's way against Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake without any qualms. They run a plethora of empty sets and deep playaction dropbacks. It's almost like Belichick and McDaniels take it for granted that Brady will absorb every hit, and ignore the fact that he's 40 years old and needs as much managing as Gronkowski and Lewis — maybe more.

The Patriots proved they can win a Super Bowl without Gronkowski and a less-than-healthy Lewis last season. There's no way they can without Brady.

It's time to start managing the asset that Brady is in these worthless games against the Dolphins, Bills and Jets. Junk the empty sets until it's necessary. Mix in more max protection. Less deep drops. More running. It's all about the Steelers' game, and then, the postseason. No reason to put any of that at risk unless it's absolutely necessary.