New England Patriots: Fall of the Mighty?

Arthur LuhnCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2008

An old-growth tree is a tree that has been growing for at least several hundred years, perhaps thousands, and those will grow up well over 100' tall—sometimes over 200. There are few, if any, of those trees left today, because of aggressive logging practices. But up to 100 ago, you could find one every now and then. Logging folklore that has been passed on by lumberjacks has it that when an old-growth tree is cut down, it makes a noise like no other. 

Unlike an ordinary tree that might sway, roll, collapse onto the ground, catch other trees and become snagged, or get slowed down on it's way down, an old-growth tree does not move until it is completely cut down, and once it starts falling, there is nothing that can stop it. The popping, snapping, and crushing sounds grow exponentially, and it roars to the extent of shaking the ground beneath it, and when the tree hits the ground, there is a loud boom. Not a crash, but a boom. After that, there is only an eerie silence that envelops the forest.

This was the sound heard throughout New England after the fall of Tom Brady this past Sunday, and now, after the official confirmation of his season-ending injury, the silence rings out loudly.

Surrounding this silence is the cacophony of what the Boston Globe's Chad Finn is calling "The King is Dead" tone. Most major sports-news outlets are already writing off the Patriots for the year.

"Shift of power in the AFC" is the cry of the pundits. Already, the Patriots' season plays out like a Greek tragedy, in which the hero is smitten by a reversal of fortune.

To me, this is moot. This is besides the subject.

What is really the case is how badly injured Brady is. Is the injury to the ACL a partial or a complete tear? How many ligaments have been affected? In these minor differences hangs an entire career of one of the best quarterbacks to play the game.

It is meaningless that Brady walked off the field under his own power. The ACL is not used to support weight, but, crisscrossing the knee, connecting the front part of the shin bone to the back of the thigh bone, keeps the thigh bone from sliding forward.

For Brady, particularly, this is devastating, because so much of his quarterbacking talent is predicated on his top-notch and precise footwork. He wastes very little motion after each snap, and this drives his main talent, finding and hitting the open man, time after time. Accommodating this is his impeccable poise, intelligence, and unerring field vision, the sum of which makes for one of the greatest quarterback to play the game.

Granted, his intelligence and driven passion to read and decipher defenses will not change, but if the rest of his body cannot follow suit, cannot keep up with the diagnosis passed on by his brain, then what good is the sum of the whole, if one link in the chain of command is affected?

In the game of professional football, one second lasts an excruciatingly long time.

So it is not merely a question of what happens this year, it is also a question of what happens to a career.

Some of the benefits that Brady does have, in regard to his forthcoming rehabilitation, are his ever-optimistic attitude and mental toughness. In comparison, the injury to Vinny Testaverde was what he, himself, called the turning point of his career: "I was never able to get back to that point, ever, in football," Testaverde tells Peter King, "And for me, it was heartbreaking."

On the other end of the scale, to continue with this comparison, is Carson Palmer, who was initially diagnosed with a torn ACL. It was later revealed that the damage was far more serious, and included a kneecap dislocation (which is very painful).

Using a new form of therapy called HydroWorx, he was able to return within the framework of the seven to nine months required for complete ACL healing, and he successfully started all 16 games of the '06-'07 season.

In contrast to Testaverde, Palmer has often been praised for his mental toughness in playing on a surgically-reconstructed knee. He continues to exhibit fearlessness in staying in collapsing pockets and engaging in plays, such as rushing, which puts his knee in danger.

In the final analysis, however, as any orthopedic doctor will tell you, every person reacts and heals differently.

Aside from the key questions facing New England, what probably is the biggest dilemma facing New England is, as Tony Massarotti of the Globe puts it: Who made who? This is the quintessential chicken or egg question: Did Belichick make Brady who he is, or did Brady make Belichick who he is? As the forthcoming season unfolds, we will probably get to see just how good Belichick and the team is without Brady.

This is a quarterback's league, as the old saying goes. Right now, in New England, the verdict according to a recent poll is: In Bill We Trust.

But for now, where the tree has fallen, there is only silence.