With the thermometer at or above 90 degrees, Friday was easily the hottest day of camp thus far. Perhaps that contributed to the flare-up of tempers on the field.
For the second time in three days, player skirmishes broke out during full contact team work. Like the brawl on Wednesday night, today's first fracas erupted during goal-line action.
Running back Danny Woodhead took a handoff and was met around the 1-yard line by linebacker Bobby Carpenter and safety Patrick Chung. Together, they pushed Woodhead back, and as they fell to the ground, an offensive lineman lunged onto Carpenter. That ignited several other shoving matches that all wound up in one big pile of bodies.
Several plays later, another post-tackle pileup resulted in players swinging at one another, while off to the side, offensive lineman Kyle Hix and cornerback Sterling Moore squared off.
At that point, the coaching staff had seen enough. Whistles blew and the dust-ups dissolved quickly, but head coach Bill Belichick ordered the entire team to take three, 200-yard penalty laps as punishment.
Tomorrow's scheduled day off couldn't be coming at a better time, it seems.
Afterward, with cooler heads prevailing, several players lamented their collective bellicose behavior.
"Competition is good, fighting is not," stated a remorseful Carpenter. "So, there's a fine line between taking it to the whistle and taking it a little bit beyond. "Coach Belichick talked to us, hopefully that won't happen again. We can't be fighting ourselves, we've got to be working to improve."
"Everybody's just trying to compete at the end of the day," mused defensive tackle Kyle Love. "It's football."
Maybe so, but Belichick clearly wasn't pleased with the melees, which not only could be costly in terms of causing injury, but also in wasting valuable practice time, which is limited by the collective bargaining agreement approved last year.
"It's definitely a fine line," noted wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. "You want to be aggressive… but you don't what to hurt [anybody] in practice. We're a team at the end of the day.
"We've just got to realize, I mean, we're all here on the same team trying to go for the same goal…when someone gets hurt, it's going to hurt the team."
"That's the first time I've done three laps probably since high school," added Carpenter, "so it was definitely a surprise for me."
When the players were done running their penalty laps, quarterback and 2011 team captain Tom Brady called a players' only huddle at midfield.
"Brady's our leader, man," running back Stevan Ridley explained. "It's Brady's show out here, so for him to say something and voice his opinion, that's nothing that we haven't heard before. He's only going to tell us what's best for this team and for us to get better. We all listen, we all key in when he talks, because we know that end of the day he's just trying to get to another championship."
"He's a leader. We expect nothing less from him," echoed Gaffney. "Once he gets fired up and gets going, we all have to follow behind him."
As for what exactly was said, Love and his teammates chose not to divulge details.
Gaffney may have summed up today's violent outbursts best when he alluded to the upcoming arrival of the New Orleans Saints for joint practices starting Tuesday.
"We've been getting after each other a little bit the past couple days, so it'll be good to see another color jersey come in here next week."
As has become a training camp tradition, several astute fans turned up to watch practice today bearing signs wishing Brady a happy birthday. Some even donned birthday party hats and brought faux birthday cakes to the practice fields.
On a number of occasions throughout the afternoon, fans serenaded Brady with spontaneous refrains of "Happy Birthday."
After the way practice turned out, however, Brady didn't appear to be in much of a mood to celebrate. This, by the way, was Brady's 35th birthday.
One bright spot from today's session, on-field attendance was up. A whopping 21 players weren't in uniform on Thursday, but by Friday, that number was cut by a third. Five players who either missed practice entirely or left the field early yesterday were back in action today. In addition, offensive lineman Nick McDonald and rookie defensive back Nate Ebner suited up for the first time this summer.
Buy:** Vince Wilfork – The big man in the middle of the d-line had a disruptive day. Case in point: during 1-on-1 pass rush drills, he used one hand to throw mammoth o-lineman Robert Gallery to the ground.
Sell: The offensive line – Not only were they out-muscled more often than not in 1-on-1 drills with the d-line, they also seemed to instigate today's throw-downs.
Play of the Day: Hoyer to Gaffney TD – In 11-on-11 period, backup QB Brian Hoyer executed a flawless play-action fake and fake end-around before lobbing a deep ball to Jabar Gaffney. The pass was slightly off track, causing Gaffney to adjust twice while the ball was in the air, but he came down with it in the end zone after having beaten the safety coverage by a good five yards.
For more details about today's practice, please visit the PFW blog.