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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Outside linebacker James Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he took about 30 snaps in his first practice with the New England Patriots on Wednesday and has been told that he will play in Sunday’s season finale against the New York Jets.

Furthermore, Harrison told reporter Gerry Dulac that coach Bill Belichick “has not asked me one thing” about the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Harrison’s first full day with the Patriots on Wednesday began when he was introduced to his new teammates by Belichick in a full-team meeting, and he acknowledged them with a wave, according to players. Players said they didn’t need to hear a list of Harrison’s career accomplishments because they are well known.
Then, about four hours later, Harrison took part in his first Patriots practice, wearing his trademark tinted visor and having been given his No. 92 by third-year defensive end Geneo Grissom. Harrison was a visible presence in the locker room after that when reporters were present later in the day, his locker directly to the right of fellow veteran linebacker David Harris.

Offensive tackle Nate Solder, who has gone up against Harrison in the past, described his addition as “excellent” because the team has “another tool going against the Jets.”

As for what it’s been like facing the 6-foot, 242-pound Harrison in games, Solder said, “Strong, physical guy who knows what he’s doing, smart, obviously well-versed with everything that comes on the football field.”

Harrison’s physical makeup was noted by players, with safety Devin McCourty saying, “He’s a well-put-together human being. Scary looking, some would probably say.”

The physical presence of James Harrison, No. 92, was felt by the Patriots in his first full day with the team. "He's a well-put-together human being," Devin McCourty said.

The physical presence of James Harrison, No. 92, was felt by the Patriots in his first full day with the team. “He’s a well-put-together human being,” Devin McCourty said.

Asked what it means to have Harrison on the team, linebacker Marquis Flowers added, “I know the edge will be set.”

There was widespread respect for Harrison from those in the locker room.

“What he has done in the league, just his whole story, undrafted free agent, how he wasn’t the most polished but just kept getting better and better,” safety Duron Harmon said. “It’s a pleasure to have him here. Try to welcome him with open arms and hopefully he can do some things to help us.”

Added defensive end Trey Flowers, “He’s been doing a lot of great things through his whole career. I’m looking forward to being on the field with him making plays and him continuing his career here.”

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BOSTON — Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez suffered severe damage to parts of the brain that play an important role in memory, impulse control and behavior, a researcher who studied his brain said Thursday.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, stressed that she could not “connect the dots” between the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the behavior of the 27-year-old who hanged himself in April while serving life in prison for murder.

But McKee said CTE had significantly impacted key parts of Hernandez’s brain, including the hippocampus — which is associated with memory — and the frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, judgment and behavior.
“We can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors,” said McKee, who has studied hundreds of brains from football players, college athletes and even younger players, donated after their deaths.

Hernandez hanged himself in prison days after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston and just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.

Prosecutors contended he gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub — and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.

He had been serving a life sentence without parole in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd when he killed himself.

Hernandez, who said he was innocent, did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players and boxers and others who suffered repeated head trauma.

BU researchers confirmed in September that Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3, out of 4, of the disease. But McKee had not publicly discussed her findings until a conference at the university on Thursday.

After Hernandez’s CTE diagnosis, his attorneys filed a lawsuit against the NFL and football helmet maker Riddell, accusing them of failing to warn Hernandez about the dangers of football. The lawsuit, which seeks damages for Hernandez’s young daughter, said he experienced a “chaotic and horrendous existence” because of his disease.
While the outside of Hernandez’s brain appeared normal, the inside was riddled with CTE, she said. There was evidence of previous small hemorrhages, which experts associate with head impacts, she said. Other parts, like the hippocampus, had begun to shrink and large holes were found in his brain’s membrane, McKee said.

The next youngest person whose brain they’ve examined that showed such serious CTE damage was 46 years old, McKee said.

“These are very unusual findings to see in an individual of this age,” McKee said. “We’ve never seen this in our 468 brains, except in individuals some 20 years older,” she said.

Hernandez inherited a genetic profile that may have made him more susceptible to the disease, McKee said.

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Luxury brand Aston Martin has begun selling a special Tom Brady Signature Edition car, promising a delivery for early next year.

The convertible, which features Brady’s touches on the company’s Vanquish S Volante model, is limited to just 12 total cars and will cost $359,950 each.

“We started with a blank canvas and finished with a beautiful car,” the New England Patriots quarterback said in a statement. “It’s been great to see it all come to fruition.”
The car has an ultramarine black exterior with dark leather inside and paddle shift tips made out of California poppy leather.

Brady’s signature is on the doorsill plates, and his “TB12″ logo can be seen throughout the vehicle, including on the fender and embossed on the headrests.

The Tom Brady Signature Edition Car by Aston Martin will sell for $359,950 and will be limited to just 12 convertibles.

The Tom Brady Signature Edition Car by Aston Martin will sell for $359,950 and will be limited to just 12 convertibles.

The five-time Super Bowl champion signed a deal with Aston Martin in May after more than a year of talking to the company.

With the guidance of the company’s chief creative officer, Marek Reichman, Brady personalized his car.

“When he does something on the field, he sees the result immediately,” Reichman told ESPN. “His world is very short in terms of timing. So one thing he made clear to us was that he wanted to be able to make a move and feel the immediacy of performance.”

Despite the high price tag and the fact that Aston Martin is only making 12 cars, executives at the British company feel that signing Brady was a good move.

“This car touches people through a voice in Tom that they understand,” Reichman said. “He speaks English in an American’s English, and he’s telling the world why he loves our product. It’s as simple as that.”

Brady’s deal does not include a car, so he’d have to buy one himself.

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BOSTON — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez had a severe case of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, researchers said on Thursday. His lawyer announced a lawsuit against the NFL and the team for hiding the true dangers of the sport.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, said Hernandez had stage 3 (out of 4) of the disease, which can cause violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive disorders.

“We’re told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age,” attorney Jose Baez said.

Hernandez was 27 when he killed himself in April in the prison cell where he was serving a life-without-parole sentence for murder. Baez said Hernandez had shown signs of memory loss, impulsivity and aggression that could be attributed to CTE.

“When hindsight is 20-20, you look back and there are things you might have noticed,” he said. “But you don’t know.”

CTE, which can be diagnosed only in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players, boxers and others who have been subjected to repeated head trauma. A recent study found signs of the disease in 110 of 111 NFL players whose brains were inspected.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court claimed that the league and the Patriots failed to protect their players’ safety, leading to the disease that deprived Hernandez’s 4-year-old daughter, Avielle, of her father’s companionship.

“Defendants were fully aware of the dangers of exposing NFL players, such as Aaron, to repeated traumatic head impacts,” the lawsuit said. “Yet, defendants concealed and misrepresented the risks of repeated traumatic head impacts.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment. A Patriots spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The league recently agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the dangers of playing football.

The “loss of consortium” lawsuit filed on Thursday is independent of the class-action suit that began making payments this summer. Baez said it was the first of its kind.

“If we have to be groundbreakers in this area, it’s something we’re prepared to do,” he said.

Hernandez committed suicide just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory and a week after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston.

Prosecutors had argued that Hernandez gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub, and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.

Hernandez did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial because he claimed actual innocence.

“It’s something I deeply regret,” Baez said.
A star for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name had also come up in an investigation into a shooting.

In three seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez joined Rob Gronkowski to form one of the most potent tight end duos in NFL history. In 2011, his second season, Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns to help the team reach the Super Bowl, and he was rewarded with a $40 million contract.

But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancĂ©e. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; the conviction was voided because he died before his appeals were exhausted, though that ruling is itself being appealed.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski faced aggressive coverage downfield from Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry and others in last week’s NFL opener, and he doesn’t blame them for it.

In fact, he said if referees will allow it, he’d advise it.

“If I was one of those DBs, and you’ve seen film over the last few years, I would definitely be doing that if I was a DB — 100 percent,” he said. “You don’t really see it called ever, so I’ve just got to play with it. Play how the game is called. If I was a DB, I’d do that, too.”
Asked if the opener was a good example of that, he said, “Sometimes.”

Gronkowski was held to two receptions for 33 yards in the game. He was targeted six times.

Berry, one of the NFL’s best safeties, deserves some of the credit for that lower-than-expected production. There were also a few close calls in which officials could have thrown penalty flags for pass interference or holding.

As for his own physicality, Gronkowski relayed that he tries to cut it loose while always trying to stay within the rules.

“I feel like whenever I think about that — ‘I can’t be physical because of the referee, I might get a penalty’ — I actually feel myself off my game. So I feel like I should just play my game and just [don't] worry about what the refs call, and be physical,” he said. “I don’t like thinking, ‘I can’t be physical on this play.’ You just don’t feel right. I’m just going to stick to my game and just do what I got to do, and do it better.”

Meet the self-appointed scout whom Tom Brady trusts

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — To learn a bit about Tom Brady the human being, Foxborough, Massachusetts, might be one of the last places on earth to go. Over the past 16 years, the New England Patriots have been awfully good at a lot of things. Stopping you from humanizing them is near the top of their list.

So you’re better off on the second floor of a college town pizza place 750 miles to the west, where a balding, middle-aged man wearing a younger man’s clothes — red Patriots hoodie, blue Michigan Wolverines sweatpants, a dark high school football cap — labors over NFL rosters and statistics in an attempt to enhance his weekly exchanges with the most accomplished team-sport athlete in America.

Jay Flannelly, 45, is tight with Brady, 39. Flannelly looks and sounds like a fellow son of Andover, Massachusetts, and Brady’s former offensive coordinator, Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien. If you put aside public profiles and bank accounts for a minute, you could argue that the football journey Flannelly has shared with the quarterback has been more prosperous than O’Brien’s.

Brady didn’t win any championships in his five years with the coach, but he did win four Super Bowls in his 20-plus years with the dishwasher/sporting goods worker/self-appointed Patriots scout. Even the most guarded of iconic athletes usually allow room for one outsized, Charles Barkley-esque personality in their skin-tight circles. Derek Jeter had a former minor league hellion named R.D. Long. Brady has Flannelly. He’s the character who reveals a ton about the superstar’s … well, character.

On first inspection, Flannelly doesn’t look like much. He’s 5-foot-9 and wears loose-fitting sweats for a reason — if he’s not heavy, he could still use a couple of weeks on Brady’s lunatic diet. But after five minutes in Flannelly’s company, it’s clear he’s not a man to be physically tested. He says a lifetime’s worth of street fights, bar fights and hockey fights, not to mention wayward hockey pucks, have zig-zagged 400 stitches across his face, give or take, and broken nine of his 10 fingers. These days, Flannelly likes to think of Brady as Wayne Gretzky and himself as a bodyguard and goon. During one of the last times they were together in Ann Arbor, at Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting palooza known as “Signing of the Stars,” Brady asked his buddy not to assault anyone while clearing him a path to his car.

“I’ve told him about Gretzky,” Flannelly said. He was thinking about the Baltimore Ravens in particular, and how they’ve often hit Brady cleanly, hit him late and trash-talked him back to the huddle either way. Flannelly told Brady he needed to carry himself against Baltimore like the Great One used to in Edmonton and jump in the Ravens’ faces — without drawing a penalty — whenever they violated his space.

“Just show up and raise a ruckus,” Flannelly told him. “Messier, Semenko and McSorley will fight for you.”

More on Gretzky and the Ravens later. But first, you should know that understanding Flannelly is its own navigation system for understanding his rich, famous friend. Flannelly was nicknamed the Beav as a grade schooler by a summer counselor and coach who thought he was forever in the middle of things, like the Jerry Mathers character in “Leave It To Beaver.” He grew into a rabid sports fan, into perhaps the only man on the Eastern seaboard who loves the New England Patriots and New York Mets, and hates the Boston Red Sox and New York Jets. Flannelly said as an 8-year-old he asked Jim Rice to autograph a baseball, and that Rice responded by throwing the ball over a building.
The Beav and Brady

The Beav spent time in Queens with his divorced father, and when he asked a few Mets to sign his ball, they acted with more common decency than Rice did. Now Flannelly writes a blog,, when he’s not breaking down Pittsburgh Steelers schemes and coach Mike Tomlin’s pep talks for a modern-day Tom Terrific.

Flannelly was a student assistant in the Michigan football program and a roommate of Jason Carr, son of the head coach, Lloyd, in 1995 when he first met Brady, a skin-and-bones freshman from San Mateo, California. Funny how things work out. Flannelly had been a backup wide receiver and defensive back at Andover High for legendary Massachusetts high school coach Dick Collins, who once suspended him for being quoted in the local paper, The Eagle-Tribune, calling an opposing offensive line “short and fat.” The Beav grew up wanting to throw touchdown passes for the Patriots, and here he embraced the kid who would someday live the dream for him.

Flannelly had been part of the on-campus recruiting team that nearly landed Peyton Manning for the Wolverines. Brady wasn’t that level of recruit. He wasn’t everybody’s All-American. As a third-year junior attending a Michigan autograph session, believing the first-string job was finally his, Brady was stranded near the stadium tunnel while 500 people lined up from midfield to end zone for 10 seconds of quality time with a freshman who was everybody’s All-American, Drew Henson. Flannelly recalled Brady signing no more than three autographs and staring at the ever-growing line to Henson.

“Tommy was looking at it the whole time,” the Beav said. “The whole time.”

Flannelly never left Tommy’s side near the tunnel that day, and Brady would be damned if he’d ever forget it. Whenever the quarterback was booed by Michigan fans or benched by Carr, Flannelly was there to offer counsel and support. They would play catch together at Elbel Field on campus, Beav and Brady, and Flannelly quickly discovered why his friend had been drafted by the Montreal Expos as a high school catcher.

“His hands are incredible,” the Beav said. “I had to have thrown Tommy 1,000 footballs over the years, and he never dropped one.”

When they’d go out to watch a game at Mr. Spots or another local hangout, Brady would sometimes wear a 49ers jersey — he’d idolized Joe Montana — and Beav would almost always wear his Drew Bledsoe jersey. They played on the same intramural basketball team. Flannelly was the last man on the bench, and the one and only time Brady ever screamed at him was the one and only time the Beav didn’t start launching jumpers at the end of a blowout. “When we throw you the ball,” Brady shouted, “we want you to f—ing shoot it.”

One intramural opponent was heckling Brady about Henson, and on the quarterback’s instructions, the Beav ran the frat boy into a vicious blind pick set by Brady while his coach, Lloyd Carr, watched from the stands. No, Michigan wasn’t an easy place for Brady to spend five years. “And he still remembers how hard it was,” Flannelly said, “and how I had a small part in helping him get through it.”

The Beav was an NFL intern at the 2000 draft, and he said he called Brady an hour or so after he was picked in the sixth round by the Patriots, No. 199 overall. As a part-time New Yorker who had attended St. John’s to acquire the grades needed to enroll at Michigan, Flannelly told Brady he’d seen a little of Hofstra’s Gio Carmazzi, who was taken by Brady’s childhood team, the Niners, in the third round. Flannelly said he liked what he saw. Brady didn’t have much of a reaction to that. Flannelly said his friend sounded equally thrilled and relieved to have been finally drafted.

On cue, Brady also sounded fiercely determined.

“I’m going there to take Bledsoe’s job,” he told the dishwasher who dressed in Bledsoe jerseys.

Flannelly knew Brady didn’t know much about his Patriots, so he wrote up a summary of about 25-30 guys on the roster. This guy is a good run-stuffing safety, that guy is weak in pass coverage, Terry Glenn is a talented receiver but seems a bit soft — that sort of thing. The Beav shipped out his breakdowns within a week of the draft, and the 199th pick was impressed with what he read.

On Sept. 23, 2001, Brady replaced an injured Bledsoe in a fateful loss to the Jets. Two days later, the Beav bought a Brady jersey to replace his Bledsoe jersey. And every regular season and postseason week since, outside of 2008 (Brady missed virtually the entire year with a knee injury) and this year’s Deflategate suspension (Brady told the Beav to sit out those weeks), Flannelly has emailed or texted his guy thoughts and suggestions about the upcoming opponent. Flannelly has watched All-22 coaches film, studied tendencies and injury reports and stat sheets. He’s big on matching up Brady with coordinators; in other words, he viewed bygone meetings with the Broncos not in a Tommy-versus-Peyton context, but in a Tommy-versus-Wade Phillips context.

The Beav is realistic. He knows the Patriots have the best coaching and scouting staffs in the business, and that Brady might’ve been merely too polite over the past 16 years to tell him to stop flooding the zone. But he also knows Brady as the ultimate creature of habit, and as a relentless competitor who might scan hundreds of the Beav’s emails and texts just to find one semi-useful nugget that would help him on one Sunday snap.

“He doesn’t need my ‘reports,’” Flannelly said. “He likes that I do it. … It’s part of his routine.”

And nobody messes with Tom Brady’s routine.

The quarterback has offered up a few words of appreciation for every Beav pregame and postgame analysis, with one exception. After the Ravens physically pounded the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game four years ago, and after Bernard Pollard TKO’d Stevan Ridley on a violent strike to the head, Flannelly said he wrote to Brady a scathing rebuke of the Patriots for not confronting the same Ravens safety who had ended Brady’s season in the 2008 opener with a lunging shot to his left knee.

“Tommy was mad,” Flannelly said. “By not responding, he did respond. That was code for, ‘Beaver, I don’t want to think that way.’ … I watched that tape eight times. I was madder about that game than I was for either Super Bowl loss to the Giants. That’s the angriest Tom has ever been at his teammates. He wouldn’t say it, but Tom and I have an unspoken body language and I could see the look on his face. He was sitting there going, ‘Nobody on this bleepin’ team is going to do anything about this.’”

That’s when Flannelly insisted Brady assume the Gretzky role and react to perceived overaggression from Baltimore like he would in New England’s divisional playoff victory two years later. In that game, Brady responded to what he thought was a late hit and then turned irate after Timmy Jernigan poked him in the eye, compelling some Patriots to get actively involved in the scrum.

Two weeks later, before Super Bowl XLIX, Flannelly delivered what he called his all-time best scouting report on the Seattle Seahawks. He said he’d watched 25 Seahawks tapes over a three-week period and had decided, among other things, that their defense was too inflexible, and that Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola could effectively use their quickness underneath against Seattle’s big hitters in the secondary.

His worst report? The one he sent Brady before last year’s AFC Championship Game in Denver. “And I spent 20 hours on that one,” Flannelly said. “I thought I knew the Broncos inside out, and I didn’t.”

His most talked-about report? That one’s easy. In an exchange revealed in a Deflategate dump of Brady emails, Flannelly wrote to the Patriots quarterback in 2014 — after New England had blown out Denver in Foxborough — that Manning “needs things to be perfect to succeed, weather, his system, etc.” Brady didn’t refute the thought before answering, “We are some hard working grinders beav. That’s what our team is all about. Our best is still ahead of us.” A second Brady email to another friend predicting that he’d play another seven or eight years while Manning would be cooked in two inspired the Patriots quarterback to text an apology to his chief rival.

Brady also repeatedly apologized to Flannelly for the disclosure, and the Beav found out why in the coming weeks. Flannelly said he had people knocking on his door at all hours. He said old acquaintances resurfaced on social media looking for signed Brady memorabilia. He said a man offered him $50,000 for access to the quarterback and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who was hired, in part, because the Beav persuaded Brady to call him and recruit him back to his alma mater.

It’s OK, Flannelly said. The headaches were well worth it.

“I am just as amazed as the next guy that No. 12 talks to me still,” he said. “But that’s him. I think he thinks, ‘Why would I not talk to Jay? He stood with me when I was nothing.’”
The face behind the face mask

It’s hard to fathom a time when Tom Brady was “nothing” at Michigan, but consider this scene: A prominent athletic department associate once found himself with a souvenir game program in one hand and a Sharpie in the other while standing near the Wolverines’ bus. The man wanted to keep his souvenir program looking shiny and new, and he was hoping for a signature from an NFL-bound player. He struck up a conversation with Brady but didn’t initially ask him for an autograph because he didn’t think the kid had a future in the pros. The man only caved and asked Brady to sign because doing otherwise would’ve been rude.

The world had changed by the time Brady showed up for Harbaugh’s recruiting show last winter, co-hosted by Jeter’s Players’ Tribune. Brady was swarmed that day, as if he were Drew Henson at that Michigan autograph session way back when. Jeter? He was cast in the role of a young Brady, all but ignored near the tunnel.

In the fall, while serving his four-game suspension, Brady was adored all over again by a Michigan crowd thankful he’d returned as honorary captain for the Colorado game. His old college teammates, the ones who call him Tommy, were all happy to hear it. They were happy to know Tommy didn’t need any more convincing about how people in Ann Arbor felt about him.

Brady remains in touch with a number of those Michigan guys. Aaron Shea, Pat Kratus, Jay Feely, Jason Kapsner, a few others. To this day, even the quarterbacks who were beaten out by Brady, Kapsner and Scott Dreisbach, speak of him as a neighborly, fair, fun-loving teammate, as a giver instead of a taker.

“He had a magnetic personality, and everybody was drawn to him even when he was third string,” said Feely, a 14-year NFL kicker. “He’s one of the most generous, kind people you’d ever meet. He doesn’t have a big circle of friends, especially now, but those that are in the circle, to them he really wears his emotions on his sleeve. And it blows you away sometimes. He’ll come right out and say, ‘I love you,’ and as a man it takes you aback a little bit.”

Brady does almost no substantive public talking about his own emotions and thoughts, so it is left to his friends to occasionally crack open some of those windows. They all agree that Brady was railroaded in Deflategate, and that part of his motivation to win another title centers on his desire to settle a score. The accusation and punishment, Shea said in October, “hurt Tommy a lot more than he’ll let anyone know.”

Again, Brady doesn’t open up about Brady, leaving it to those he trusts to fill in the blanks. They say he hates the Jets and hates being called the greatest quarterback of all time because he knows others have been more talented. They say he likes Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, among others. They say Montana remains his idol but that he slightly prefers Steve Young’s company. They say he isn’t the biggest fan of some current starters, and if you guessed Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler, you might be getting warm.

They say his relationship with Jay Flannelly tells you something about the face behind the face mask.

The Beav washed dishes at the Pizza House for nine years and now works at Moe’s sporting goods store. He is single and without children. Although Brady has offered to help fix him up (presumably with his supermodel wife’s help?), Flannelly figures no woman would tolerate him staying up until 3:30 a.m. studying the Steelers’ blitz packages. Besides, he joked to Brady, “I’m married to you.”

He feels that way for good reason. Flannelly said he was addicted to painkillers in the early 2000s, when he moved from the Boston area back to Ann Arbor, and that he was taking up to 75 or 80 Percocet pills a day at his lowest point.

“Tommy was very supportive,” Flannelly said. “All I had at one point. … He just checked on me. A lot. A lot of, ‘Love you Beav. You will be OK.’ … He realized how bad I was when I moved back from Boston. That was a call for help and he recognized that.”

Flannelly said he has been clean now for 14 years. He’s not sure what in the world he’ll do after Brady retires, but he’s hoping he doesn’t have to find out for another six or seven seasons.

Meanwhile, the Beav will keep wincing every time his guy gets hit like he did against the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs, and he’ll keep trying to learn something about the Steelers that might help for one snap on Sunday night in Foxborough.

“A lot of what I do is common sense,” he said. “Who’s their nickel? Who covers the slot? Can they rush with four? How do they stop the run? I’m just another set of eyes, and I know what Tommy wants.”

What Brady wants, more than anything, is a record fifth Super Bowl victory. He has taken Jay Flannelly along for this historic 16-year ride, week after week after week. That reveals a lot about the competitive athlete, and maybe even more about the man.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — While the New England Patriots entered Thursday night’s game against the Houston Texans with rookie Jacoby Brissett(Jacoby Brissett Jersey) as their starting and only quarterback, they were boosted by the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski initially injured his hamstring on Aug. 15 in a joint practice with the Chicago Bears. He had returned to practice on a limited basis Aug. 24, and has been limited since. On Tuesday, he said he was feeling “decent” before adding, “Obviously you just don’t wake up and you’re 100 percent, but I’m satisfied with the improvements.”

He noted that his game status would be a “coach’s decision, a trainer’s decision” and that “we’ll all come together.”

Gronkowski has roster bonuses in his contract that earn him $31,250 per game that he is active. In his absence the first two games, Martellus Bennett played 149 of a possible 151 offensive snaps. The Patriots have planned to pair Gronkowski and Bennett as a one-two combo that they hope creates matchup issues for opponents.

Meanwhile, at quarterback, the Patriots don’t have Garoppolo in uniform Thursday.

Garoppolo, who sprained the AC joint in his right throwing shoulder on Sunday, was officially listed as inactive for the game.

That leaves the club with just Brissett at quarterback on its roster. The third-round draft pick from NC State replaced Garoppolo in Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins and has worked as the starter in the days leading up to Thursday’s game.

Julian Edelman, who played quarterback at Kent State before the Patriots switched him to receiver in 2009 after drafting him in the seventh round, would likely be the team’s top emergency option. Texans coach Bill O’Brien said earlier this week that he remembers Edelman working at quarterback at times in practice during O’Brien’s tenure as a Patriots assistant.

Patriots linebacker and defensive signal caller Dont’a Hightower was also inactive for the second straight game. Hightower hurt his knee in the team’s season opener.