FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wore a bandage on his nose after absorbing a blow to the face early in Sunday’s season opener, but the bandage was gone Wednesday. So was some of the pain.
“It feels a lot better. It’s OK,” Brady said of his nose, which was noticeably scraped across its bridge. “My wife likes it, so I’m good.”
An injury to his nose wasn’t going to keep Brady out of Sunday’s home opener against the Arizona Cardinals, a lesser-known opponent that is drawing respect from the Patriots quarterback and his teammates. Brady pointed out that Arizona has won eight of its last 10 games going back to last season.
The Patriots last played the Cardinals in 2008, the season in which Brady was sidelined with a torn ACL, so the last time he faced the Cardinals was 2004 — a 23-12 New England victory at Sun Devil Stadium.
“Coach talked a lot over the last few days about getting to know them; it’s not really an opponent we play as often as some of these other teams,” said Brady, who was 15-of-26 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his only career appearance against the Cardinals (the 49ers and Seahawks are the only other teams Brady has faced just once).
“The last two days have been about trying to understand their strengths, what they do well, and really how we need to play the game.”
The way the Patriots played in Sunday’s season-opening win against the Titans — they featured a balanced attack with a heavy tight end emphasis — perhaps contributed to receiver Wes Welker’s scaled-back workload (he played just 64.2 percent of offensive snaps) and limited production (three receptions, 14 yards).
Yet Brady, who once called Welker the “heart and soul” of the offense, doesn’t see the receiver’s role changing.
“He’s a huge part of this offense and what we do on a weekly basis. I’m sure there won’t be too many games where he doesn’t get a lot of opportunity,” he said, echoing the remarks of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who noted the team’s ever-evolving game plan.
“There are different opportunities on different weeks for different players. I think the thing that’s important to remember is that it’s a 16-game season.
“You start getting up there, and play (600) or 700 plays every year, when you need it most, you have to be fresh. I think that goes for all of us. There is really a fine line because you’re not pacing yourself by any stretch, but at the same time, ‘Look, it’s Week 1.’ We have a lot of football to play.
“We’re going to need everybody. There are going to be games where Wes has not as many opportunities, and games where he has a ton of opportunities. It all depends on how the game may play out or the situation of the game.”
Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez led the Patriots with six receptions apiece in the opener. Unlike Welker, who shared time with receiver Julian Edelman, the tight ends were a constant presence on the field.
“I think with our tight ends, who have really taken on an extensive role in our offense — and have done a great job of that — maybe you get some matchup issues,” Brady said. “Tight ends line up, really, on the inside part of the formation, so really, they can go anywhere on the field — across the field, to the sideline, short, medium, deep; they can do it all. When you have tight ends that can do those things, as well as run-block, there is quite a bit of versatility within your offense.
“Last weekend, we tried to be very balanced in what we did between the run game and the pass game, (and) different areas of the field that we were trying to exploit. I think that’s what we’re trying to accomplish every week.”
While Brady took a big hit on a second-quarter sack by Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, which required medical attention to the QB’s nose, he felt the overall protection from the offensive line was solid. The Patriots will be seeking a similar effort Sunday against a Cardinals defense described as “disruptive” that has also been one of the NFL’s best inside the red zone the last two years.
“I thought (the offensive line) performed great. I had a lot of time back there to make my reads and make my throw,” Brady said. “Communication was great, especially playing on the road in your first game with a new center (Ryan Wendell). It’s stuff we can continue to build on.”