Tomase: Aaron Rodgers injury a reminder of Tom Brady's greatest and most underappreciated skill

John Tomase
September 10, 2018 - 12:04 pm
Aaron Rodgers

William Glasheen/USA Today Sports

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As football-loving America watched Aaron Rodgers writhe in pain before being carted to his death on Sunday night, most fans shared the same thought: what a tragedy for the NFL.

Rodgers just became the highest-paid player in history and he's a face of the league. He made Discount Double Check a thing. He dates Danica Patrick. He's the marquee player at the marquee position for one of the game's marquee franchises.

Losing a player like Rodgers would devastate the NFL as it weathers everything from anthem protests to domestic violence to tackling rules to Roger Goodell's greasy Don Jr. levels of incompetence.

So when Rodgers climbed into that cart with a left knee injury after being sacked against the Bears on Sunday, I understood the pall descending over Lambeau Field, the concern in the voices of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth, the outpouring of grief on social media.

But I wasn't considering any of those things. Instead, two words immediately sprang to mind:

Tom Brady.

Hours earlier, the Patriots quarterback had taken the field with virtually no weapons and still easily dispatched the upstart Texans, throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns. But more impressively, the 41-year-old exited the game with barely a scratch.

It might be the most impressive aspect of Brady's Hall of Fame career. Outside of one half against the Steelers in the 2001 playoffs with a high ankle sprain and of course the 2008 season after Bernard Pollard's helmet destroyed his knee, Brady has been the picture of durability.

He may be an Ugg-wearing, Tag Heuer-sporting pretty boy who's married to a supermodel, but he's also one of the toughest players in NFL history, and that's not hyperbole. He didn't blink against a pass rush that included J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus on Sunday, even as the Texans dialed up the heat in the second half.

He converted a first down on a QB sneak that saw him get low and drive the pile like an excavator. He stepped right into a low hit that evoked shades of Pollard while completing a pass to James White late in the game. He absorbed two sacks without ever spending more than a second on the turf, popping back up like a submerged bath toy.

Over the course of 289 starts, including playoffs, Brady has taken roughly 20,000 snaps. That he has suffered a serious enough injury to sideline him on only two of them defies logic.

Just consider Rodgers. The mobile QB probably opens himself to more injuries than Brady by scrambling, but in his career he has broken his foot, broken his collarbone twice, suffered a concussion that knocked him out for a week, and torn his calf. He also underwent a knee reconstruction in college.

Sunday night's injury could and probably should happen to a quarterback three times a game. Rodgers' left leg was exposed as he crumpled during a sack, only to have a second defender crunch his knee like a chef trying to pop the joint between a chicken thigh and drumstick.

That this hardly ever happens to Brady is astounding. That it never leaves a mark is infinitely more so. All those years, all those hits, all that punishment, and TB12 keeps on ticking. Whatever he's doing with Alex Guerrero, it's working. They should probably think about opening a training center or something.

In any event, Rodgers saved Green Bay's season -- and got the NFL's off to a rip-roaring start -- by returning for the second half and leading the Packers to a thrilling comeback from 20-0 in a 24-23 victory. Everyone can breath a sigh of relief. One of the league's signature players may be hobbled, but he's still standing.

Meanwhile, in New England, a quarterback six years his senior breezed out of Gillette Stadium on Sunday without a scratch. As much as anything -- win titles, set records, redefine what it means to be a team player -- this is what Tom Brady does better than anyone else.

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