New England Patriots left tackle Matt Light doesn’t have a sick sense of humor.
He just has a warped wit about being sick.
Asked for the umpteenth time Wednesday about a stomach ailment that affected him earlier this week, Light unleashed a semi-fake sneeze into a reporter’s microphone.
“Yeah, I was a little under the weather,” Light continued without skipping a beat. “I would wash that thing, though. I’m not going to lie to you. That’s highly contagious.”
Light was full of wisecracks about his health and other topics during his first Super Bowl XLVI media session in Indianapolis. He is returning to practice and should be fine Sunday when New England faces the New York Giants.
That should make quarterback Tom Brady feel better. Because as glib as Light was Wednesday, the Patriots will be rendered queasy if they are unable to handle New York’s most serious defensive threat: the pass rush.
Light and the rest of his unit couldn’t get the job done in Super Bowl XLII against the Giants. Brady was sacked five times, pressured on nine other occasions and fumbled in the 17-14 loss to New York that ruined New England’s hopes of completing the NFL’s first 19-0 season.
Light admitted he felt “horrible” after that defeat. His mental state probably wasn’t much better after the Patriots lost to New York again in November. New England’s offensive line was improved but still imperfect, surrendering two sacks and three hurries.
New York’s defensive linemen feel so good about their chances of affecting Brady again that they’re talking smack trying to get into the quarterback’s head.
“It starts with hitting him,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. “Even when you don’t actually get sacks, just keeping people around him so he can’t step up. I think he gets a little frustrated when he has to go to his second or third receivers. You can kind of confuse him sometimes with our coverage. There are a lot of things that can get him rattled.”
Brady seemed amused Wednesday when the topic was broached.
“That’s just what defensive football is all about,” Brady said. “It wouldn’t be the Super Bowl if they weren’t talking about coming to knock me down and try to knock me out. That’s what I expect. You know what? That’s why our offensive line gets paid, too, because that’s their job — to keep those guys out of there.
“This team has a very good pass rush. I’ve seen it game after game this year with them. They can get to the quarterback and hit him. It does force the quarterback into some bad decisions and throws. But we’re going to try and eliminate those. We really can’t afford too many of those on Sunday. We had too many of those the last time we played them. We’re not going to be able to win the game making mistakes.”
New York’s baiting also includes claims by defensive end Osi Umenyiora that Light is a dirty player after they exchanged post-whistle blows in two of their past three encounters. Umenyiora sarcastically offered him well-wishes on Tuesday — “Please get well soon. I hope to see you on Sunday. You are one of my greatest friends.” — and claimed that Light “does all that extra pushing and tries to hit you over the pile and stuff like that.”
Light admitted he and Umenyiora weren’t “pen pals.” But as an 11-year NFL veteran who has spent his entire career immersed in the “Patriot Way,” Light knows better than engaging in a pregame war of words. It’s also likely that Light will see far more of Giants star right defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks) than Umenyiora, who is now used primarily on the opposite side.
“Can you have an individual rivalry? I thought rivalries were maybe between teams in general,” Light said with a smile. “Look, I’m ready to go out there and play whatever game I’ve got to play. We’ll have fun doing it. I’m not sure it comes at a personal level, though.”
But protecting Brady has become personal for Light. The two form the NFL’s senior quarterback-left tackle tandem. Both became starters in 2001. Light was a second-round draft pick from Purdue; Brady was promoted to replace the injured Drew Bledsoe and never ceded the spot.
“I’ve always felt like he’s had my back and I try to have his,” said Light, who has started 153 career games with Brady under center. “I think that’s the way the relationship works.”
That bond with Brady may be the biggest reason Light is still with the Patriots. The 33-year-old Light was an unrestricted free agent last offseason coming off shoulder surgery. The Patriots also drafted a tackle (Nate Solder) in the first round and already had a potential heir apparent waiting in the wings (Sebastian Vollmer).
Light, though, ultimately was re-signed to a two-year, $12 million contract that included a $6 million signing bonus. Asked whether he thought a return to the 2011 Patriots was likely, Light said, “You know, there’s a reason for everything without getting too far into it.”
Light knows this might be his last game with the franchise. The same goes for running back Kevin Faulk, the only other Patriots player besides Brady remaining from the franchise’s first Super Bowl-winning squad.
“It’s hard to believe in one career you can go to this thing five times,” Light said of New England’s Super Bowl appearances. “It never gets old. It’s always been a lot of fun. To have guys that have been with you the whole time, Tom and Kevin, that’s something we’ll never forget. I couldn’t ask for two better guys to go through this with.