BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sat down with SiriusXM NFL Radio's Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on Tuesday, it became a rare moment in this week's buildup to Sunday's Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles.
They actually discussed football. For those still interested in this game as a great team sport, that was a refreshing departure from Monday's made-for-TV comedy, "Opening Night." That is the league's brilliant result of rebranding what was long known as Media Day, which was already an embarrassing display of amateurish journalism.
But last year the NFL rolled out "Opening Night," eliminating any pretense as to the league's real focus. The change was to facilitate further financial opportunities as fans bought tickets to sit in the stands and record answers to questions that had little or nothing to do with football.
On Monday, we learned that Brady did not know the name of Kim and Kanye Kardashian/West's new daughter. On Tuesday, Brady talked football. Kirwan, a former NFL team executive, and Miller, a former NFL quarterback, talked about the Patriots' passing game and, specifically, the quarterback's new-found fondness for throwing deep.
Brady acknowledged that the Patriots' offense did focus on the long ball more often in 2017, but explained that it had everything to do with a change in personnel and not some revolutionary offensive ploy. Most interesting was Brady's explanation as to how the Patriots are able to make changes, not only between seasons, but within games, as they did last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars when tight end Rob Gronkowski was sidelined with a concussion.
The Pats quickly inventoried their vast volume of plug-and-play tactics and, absent Gronk, featured wide receiver Danny Amendola scoring two touchdowns.
Before the season began, the Patriots' versatility was tested when Brady's favorite target, Julian Edelman, blew out is knee in the third preseason game. Edelman was a magical mighty-mite whose quickness as a slot receiver and ability to navigate traffic on crossing patterns gave Brady an open receiver on almost every play.
Absent Edelman, the Patriots had Amendola to perform similar functions, but the team also has weapons of a different caliber, such as blur-fast wide receiver Brandin Cooks, whom they acquired in a trade with New Orleans, and Chris Hogan, whose veteran guile was evidenced in his brilliant decision to reject Buffalo's offer as a restricted free agent and move his career to New England.
"We obviously went to more deep passes in our comeback during last year's Super Bowl," said Brady, recalling the Patriots' record rally from a 28-3 deficit against Atlanta to a 34-28 overtime victory.
But after losing his pass-catching security blanket late in August, Brady and the Patriots decided to take a longer look at their offense. That is longer, as in yards down field.
Miller, himself a former Patriots backup quarterback, guessed that Brady took twice as many deep shots this year as in season's past.
"That's probably right," Brady acknowledged. "But our offense fits the skill set of the players that are out there. When we play with Julian, that's not something we ask him to do a lot. But when you add someone like Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, those are fast, down-the-field players. They can run, they can stretch the defense and you don't want to run them doing a lot of the same things we did with Julian. We still run those things, but everyone has different skills. Julian is incredible for what he does for our team."
One of the key reasons the Patriots can change gears without grinding them is that the key characters have been together for a long time, including Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel, who is expected to be head coach at Indianapolis immediately after this Super Bowl
"We have books, as playbooks, and we have video books," Brady said of the Patriots' voluminous offensive repertoire. "We can pull out a tape and show new players, 'OK, this is how we did it in the '07 divisional game.' And we have the same coaches, so the continuity has been so great for our team."
Still, nothing is a given. And when the Patriots opened the season against Kansas City, the Chiefs' coach, Andy Reid, had decent air-raid weapons to take on Brady's newfound ICBM attack.
In that game, Brady threw 11 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. Despite throwing for 267 passing yards, he completed only 44.4 percent of his passes, and the Patriots failed to score a point in the fourth quarter while losing, 42-27.
The sight of Brady unloading so many long throws was unlike the methodical offense the Patriots deployed in previous years with Edelman as the linchpin. But after the Chiefs game, the long game gained traction.
In the first 11 games of the season, Brady completed 42.3 percent of his deep passes for a passer rating of 113.5. However, football is a game of action and reaction. And there was a reaction by opponents who watched video of the Patriots' long-ball prolifics.
So, from Week 13 until the end of the regular season, Brady completed only 27.3 percent of his passes over 20 yards and, on those plays, his passer rating was a miniscule 27.3.
But the Patriots are built to be resilient. If whatever they do to begin the game does not work out, as it didn't in the last Super Bowl, they can just flip pages in the playbook and write another chapter in football history.
Meantime, we confirmed that Brady also learned the answers to other questions that apparently concern some folks here. And he offers congratulations to Kim and Kanye for the Jan. 15 surrogate birth of their daughter, Chicago West.
Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange, has covered football for six decades, including SBLII, his 40th Super Bowl extravaganza.