Jodie Cutter, Sports Journalista

Light Flickers as Haynesworth Flattens Brady

Posted on: August 30, 2009

Matt Light has been protecting Tom Brady since Brady became the starting quarterback.

Matt Light has been a barrier to opposing tackles for the past eight seasons.

When Matt Light is doing his job well, he’s invisible. If Tom Brady completes a perfect spiral to his receiver in the end zone, it’s often #72, the Patriots’ under-celebrated left tackle, who is one of the key players making it possible. However, all we see on the replay is the touchdown dance in the end zone. Light has been protecting Tom Brady’s blind side since 2001. A second round draft pick that year, he has started in 111 of his 113 games with the Patriots, tying Brady for the third highest total of any active player. He was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007 and has started on a Patriots offense that has won three championships and set numerous records. Unfortunately, the left tackle is a thankless position. It doesn’t even have its own statistics. Do your job well, and no one acknowledges you. Make a mistake, and you’re front page news.

Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins defensive tackle who crushed Tom Brady into the turf Friday night, is a massive specimen. The guy is 6’6”, 350 pounds. Matt Light is comparably puny, at 6’4”, 305 pounds. While left guard Logan Mankins was preoccupied with Brian Orakpo, the Redkins’ first round draft pick this year, Light was left alone to deal with Haynesworth. It was not necessarily Haynesworth’s size, but his agility on that particular play that enabled him to get around Light to claim his prize. Haynesworth is known as a formidable tackle across the NFL. While Light has been enabling Brady’s passing game for the past eight seasons, he can’t be perfect every time.

A 2006 Sports Illustrated cover story extolled the talents of DT Albert Haynesworth

A 2008 SI cover dubbed Haynesworth "the NFL's best defensive player". He played eight seasons for the Tennessee Titans before being traded to the Redskins.

DC Sports Bog reported that Haynesworth was his typical “quiet, reserved…witty self” in describing the play. He was quoted as saying: “It wasn’t like I was hitting Gisele or something; he’s the quarterback… I was trying to tackle him, but I wasn’t trying to hurt him … If I had to hit him again, I would hit him again. That’s my job.” Okay Albert– do you really need to drag the wife into this discussion? I mean really, how is that relevant? I’m trying to enjoy the football season while attempting to totally ignore the fact that our quarterback is married to not just any supermodel, but the supermodel, and now I’ve got linemen referencing the subject? It kind of makes you wonder what the opposing defense is discussing right before the ball is snapped.

In support of his lack of malice during the hit, Haynesworth continued with a curious comment: “I’m actually a big Tom Brady fan. I’m a big Patriots fan … I’ve always liked the Patriots. I don’t know why. It’s just something about them”. So that’s a relief – he wasn’t trying to injure Brady, because he likes him. Yet, in the Bears-Broncos preseason game Sunday night, a referee called a questionable penalty on a hit to the quarterback that looked pretty clean. The announcers speculated that game officials were overreacting to the Haynesworth hit on Brady last Friday, and that could set a precedent. In fact, the injury to Brady last fall has already changed the way penalties are called. In March, the league decided to enforce a new rule this season, nicknamed “The Brady Rule”, which prohibits defensive players on the ground from lunging at the quarterback’s knees. On the one hand, it’s great that the league is installing all of these rules to protect the quarterback. On the other hand, it’s getting a lot harder to play defense.

Brady’s confidence in the pocket may take longer to recover than his surgically repaired knee. If it is any consolation to Brady, Light was not on the field when Bernard Pollard’s head collided with his knee last season. Before the preseason, Brady confessed that he was feeling nervous about getting hit for the first time, and in fact was anxious to get it over with. He sustained a few bumps and bruises during the Bengals game, but the hit Friday night was the real thing. Be careful what you wish for.

Belichick has continued, in his typically evasive way, to deny any reason for concern regarding Brady’s throwing shoulder. If we can believe the reports, and it really just is a “sore shoulder”, then Brady will be ready to go for the prime time season opener against the Bills. We can chalk this one up to a lucky break, or in this case, a non-break. However, during his weekly interview on the “Dennis &  Callahan” show on WEEI this morning, Brady was less optimistic. He joked about being trampled by a 350 pound man, and implied there was a chance the shoulder may not be ready to go for the season opener. Or at least, he couldn’t commit to the shoulder being ready to go. I know that sounds confusing, but he was speaking in Belichikian language, I think.

As for the upcoming season, never has a quarterback faced so much pressure to perform, and never has a left tackle had a more important quarterback to protect. So if you’re lucky enough to be at the game, and not limited by what you’re shown on your TV screen, keep your eye on #72. I’m confident that Light will shine again this season in such a way that no one will notice how well he’s doing his job.

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