Tom Brady has seen enough.
There was simply no escaping the triggering memories for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback on Sunday night. When Chris Godwin went up to catch a Brady pass in the first half against the New Orleans Saints and got flipped head-over-heels and tore his ACL upon landing, the sight was all too familiar for Brady.
And when Brady looked over and saw his other teammate, Rob Gronkowski, taking in the sad tableau in front of them, another bad memory must have rushed the quarterback as treacherously as Bernard Pollard all those years ago.
After the news was confirmed that Godwin would miss the rest of the season, Brady took to his podcast Monday night and put the NFL on notice: It’s time to add receivers to the list of players protected from hits below the knee.
But in the process, he made a stunning admission about his own safety and that of other players in the league.
Brady on hits to the head instead of the knee: “I’d take that a million out of a million.”
The Buccaneers are still dealing with the fallout from losing Godwin for the season with the torn ACL. But Brady had more than just his own team’s future on his mind when he hit the record button on his weekly podcast.
On the latest episode of the Let’s Go! podcast, which dropped Tuesday morning, Brady argued that defenseless receivers need their legs protected as much as their heads.
“Chris got hit in the knees [Sunday], which is a play I think they ought to take out of the game of football from a receiver standpoint,” Brady said, according to Pro Football Talk. “You know, I’ve kind of talked to the [NFL Players Association] about it for a while, and I’d like to speak to the Competition Committee at some point this offseason. I’ve seen that hit too many times where a defenseless pass-catcher is in the process of catching the ball and then he’s hit by the defender.
“And a lot of the defenders will say, ‘Well, we can’t hit them in the head anymore.’ Well, the point is you can’t hit anyone in the head anymore. You can’t hit anyone in the knees anymore except for receivers, because you can still hit them in the knees. Which doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Then Brady made a comment that might not make much sense to his listeners. In trying to emphasize the immediacy of the impacts of such low hits on players, Brady seemed to dismiss the concerns over concussions.
“It really impacts guys’ careers,” Brady said. “And Chris, I know he’ll overcome it. It’s a tough rehab. You tear your ACL, that’s a lifelong injury, you know? And I’m sure almost every pass-catcher in the NFL would prefer a hit to the head over a hit to the knees. I certainly would. I’d take that a million out of a million.”
The NFL changed its rules on low hits because of Brady once before
Perhaps Brady’s aversion to the low hit – and the presumably hyperbolic statement about hits to the head – are due to Brady’s very personal history with hits below the knee.
The only significant injury in the quarterback’s 21-year career came with the New England Patriots as the result of a low hit to the leg by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, who tackled Brady by the lower portion of his plant foot as Brady attempted a pass in Week 1 of the 2008 season.
Brady’s knee buckled upon impact and he tore his ACL, costing him the entire season. The following spring, the league amended their rules about hitting quarterbacks at or below the knee, in what has become known as “The Brady Rule.”
Then late in the 2013 season, Gronkowski was upended in similar fashion to Godwin by Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, resulting in a torn ACL for the tight end and the end of the Patriots’ Super Bowl hopes. After that game eight years ago, an apologetic Ward offered a prophetic warning.
“When they set the rule [prohibiting hits to the head], everyone knew what was going to happen,” Ward said. “This can happen if you have those types of situations. It’s pretty much inevitable and they forced our hand with this one. I just wanted [Gronkowski] to know, whether he accepted it or not, it wasn’t an intentional hit to injure him. But we have to play this game the way that they force us to, and unfortunately it [resulted] in an injury for him … I honestly prayed for him ’cause it looked bad the way they were over there.”
Former Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald also weighed in on low hits
Godwin was injured in the second quarter Sunday night after catching a pass across the middle. Saints defensive back P.J. Williams tackled Godwin low on his legs, flipping Godwin and causing him to land awkwardly, which tore the ACL.
Godwin, a free agent after the season was set to cash in, but not is faced with a long rehab and career uncertainty. Still, the hit, while unfortunate because of the result, was legal.
“The type of hit was totally legal,” Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said after the 9-0 loss. “One of the things we have to look at in the offseason, we’re so concerned about hitting people in the head that we’re getting a lot of knee injuries now because of that type of tackle. It is legal and wasn’t a bad play at all.”
Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Brady’s podcast co-host, offered a similar sentiment, and also echoed Brady’s comments about players preferring a head hit to a knee injury.
“Guys are tackling lower,” Fitzgerald said. “They had to bring their aim point down. You know, when I played, I actually told guys, ‘Hit me up high. I’ll pay your fine.’ The head trauma and things that come along with it, they affect you later on in life. A blown ACL or a ruptured Achilles tendon, those things right there will end your career on the spot.
“So it’s a very unfortunate part of the game trying to be more cautious and conscientious of guys heads and lowering the aim point but it has definitely put the lower extremities in a much more compromising position. And it is really unfortunate because you see guys like Chris suffer the effects of it, and you see it across the league all the time, especially with the tight ends who are larger. They just get their legs chopped out from under them. I don’t think leg injuries are going anywhere. This is the way guys are going to continue to tackle.”
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference