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Patriots Needs To Do A Much Better Job Protecting Tom Brady

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Most of the concern surrounding the 3-2 New England Patriots has been focused on the team's defense.

But after watching Tom Brady take bruising hit after bruising hit in New England's 19-14 win over the Buccaneers on Thursday night, the unease should shift to the offensive line. They have now assumed that "Swiss cheese" tag from the secondary, giving opposing defenses a free pass to the quarterback far too often to start the season.

Tampa Bay entered Thursday night's game with just one sack in three games. They then went out and had their way with the New England offensive line, hitting Brady six times (which seemed low considering the pressure the QB was under) while racking up three sacks. Brady dropping back to pass with a defender (or two or three) in his face or around his legs has been a recurring theme throughout the first five games of the 2017 campaign.

In case you haven't heard, Brady is now a 40-year-old man. He may be putting up Superman-like numbers, but that won't continue if he continues to get crushed the way he's been over the first five weeks.

Brady has now been sacked 16 times on the year, after being sacked 15 times in 12 games last season. Overall, he's taken 32 hits and each one has looked worse than the last (he was hit 33 times last season).

Left tackle Nate Solder has looked like a turnstile for much of the season, leaving Brady and his blindside open for the opposing pass rush. Marcus Cannon had a career year last season, but has taken a step back on the right side. Without Julian Edelman (or Rob Gronkowski on Thursday night), Brady has had to wait a few fractions of a second longer for his targets to get open. And the offense's focus on more deep, downfield passes certainly hasn't helped their cause to keep Brady upright and unscathed.

No matter how many times Brady hits the deck or does his best impression of a pretzel, the QB keeps popping right back up.

"Just football," Brady said with a smile on Thursday night. "I'll be there next Sunday."

You'd expect nothing less but that unbridled enthusiasm from Brady, and he'd never throw his offensive line under the bus. But it was obvious late in Thursday's win that Brady was smarting from the hits he absorbed, stretching out his neck and looking down and flexing his hand on a few different occasions. He had to take off on his own twice when he had no one to throw to, and was folded like a freshly washed towel by Kendell Beckwith and Robert Ayers on a third down scramble late in the game.

That's 522 lbs of Buccaneers giving a whole new meaning to Brady's pliability.

Luckily for Brady, he now has nine days to shake off those hits before the Patriots take on the New York Jets in Week 6. The Jets have just six sacks on the season and 19 QB hits in four games, but their pass rushers must be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of facing their division rival.

The defense cured some of their ills on Thursday night, and now it's time for the offensive line to follow suit. Brady may be doing spectacular things to start his 40-year-old season, but not even a kooky diet or intricate training method will keep him going for a full season if he continues to take such a weekly beating.

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