Down the line, nothing but praise for Brady His loyal offensive linemen appreciate the quarterback's hard work and humble manner.

Posted: February 01, 2008

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The bill usually belongs to Tom Brady, because he is the quarterback and, after all, it is his responsibility. Linemen have to eat. Quarterbacks have to pay.

But when the crowd swelled at a Scottsdale restaurant Tuesday night, with defensive players joining in on the offense's dinner, a good old-fashioned game of credit- card roulette determined who would pick up the tab.

For offensive tackle Nick Kaczur, guard Stephen Neal and defensive lineman Richard Seymour, it was their first loss of the season.

Everyone knows, though, that without Brady, this perfect season wouldn't have happened. New England probably wouldn't be in the Super Bowl, wouldn't have set just about every significant offensive record, wouldn't be on the brink of history.

A Super Bowl week dinner tab? It was a small price to pay for such success.

The five starting offensive linemen, all drafted by the Patriots, take great pride in protecting their quarterback. It is their job, but they have genuine affection for the guy, an ownership of him, and a duty. They like him, because even though no one would blame Brady for succumbing to the traps of fame, he hasn't.

Even though he dates a supermodel, graces magazine covers, plays the glamour position in his sport, makes a truckload of money, and has millions in endorsement deals, Tom Brady is about as regular a guy as there is. He's not a diva or a fake.

All of the Patriots know Brady is a product of hard work. He's the first to get to the team's practice facility and the last to leave. Brady still acts like a sixth-round draft pick fighting for a job. He doesn't cut corners, and that goes a long way, especially with the players who have the least glamorous jobs in the game.

There was that little credit- card commercial where Brady happily relinquished the spotlight to his linemen, who stole the show.

"We take a lot of pride in trying to protect Tom," said center Dan Koppen, "and he gives us a lot of credit, probably more than he should sometimes."

Brady doesn't see it that way. He's unselfish with the credit - and the credit card - because he couldn't be Tom Brady, most valuable player of the National Football League, without his linemen. Three of them are headed to the Pro Bowl next week; tackle Matt Light and guard Logan Mankins are starters, and Koppen is a reserve.

The linemen are a tight-knit bunch who act and react as a unit. Last season, they stopped talking to reporters for a while. This season, they grew facial hair, almost to an extreme. Mankins is a dead ringer for Billy Gibbons, the lead singer of ZZ Top. Light, the player the Giants' Osi Umenyiora essentially called dirty a week ago, has a long mop of blond hair he wears in a ponytail, complemented by stubble on his face. Neal has a disheveled Fu Manchu mustache.

Randy Moss was so inspired by the linemen's look that he recently grew a beard.

"Unless they come out with a magazine called Bearded Men, I don't think we'll be on it," Koppen said.

Earlier this year, Brady gave each of his linemen a Movado Series 800 watch that bears his name. On Wednesday morning, Mankins pushed back his left sleeve and showed off the sporty watch.

"He takes care of us," Mankins said.

What makes Brady so good, his linemen agree, is his calm nature, calculating style, and ability to think on his feet. The Patriots' game against the Eagles, the linemen said, was a perfect example.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson created a game plan completely different from what the Eagles had shown up to that point in the season. Johnson went with a 3-4 look and used linebacker Chris Gocong as a down lineman. Johnson implemented all kinds of creative blitz packages, many of which included the linebackers.

The Patriots were stunned - and impressed - by the Eagles' dramatic approach. From the first play, the New England offense, particularly the linemen and Brady, had to adjust - quickly.

"They were bringing more than we could block, at times," Light said of the Eagles. "They were doing things up the middle that were creating some issues. They were dropping some guys off the line of scrimmage into coverage, all the little things that defenses do to try to disrupt you - overload blitzing you, all kinds of things like that. That's just them getting creative, and some of it worked pretty well for them."

And how did Brady respond?

The Patriots won, didn't they?

"Everyone follows Tom," Mankins said. "He's a good leader. You never feel like you are out of the game. In the tough games we had this year, when we were down in the fourth quarter, I was never worried that we weren't going to go down and score. I knew if we gave him time, and people got open, he would always take us down the field and get us in the end zone."

Brady has one more game to deliver. The bills for dinner with the linemen? Those will keep coming.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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