Let’s get this out of the way first: Tom Brady is playing Sunday. The New England Patriots’ legendary quarterback will start in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
A source told NESN.com that information Saturday morning, and the reaction from many NFL fans was, to paraphrase, “No duh.” It might seem obvious now. Hell, it even seemed obvious Wednesday when we first heard of Brady’s hand injury, which he reportedly suffered during a botched handoff to Rex Burkhead. Wednesday also was when a source told NESN.com Brady “should be OK.”
But there was a solid 24-hour span between Brady not participating in practice Thursday and the QB’s bizarre news conference Friday when it wasn’t so obvious. Brady would only say “we’ll see” when asked about his playing status. Plus, all we heard was radio silence from those close to the QB and Patriots. Maybe it was clear he would play to some, but it wasn’t to the potentially dumb author of this article.
Brady seemed legitimately nervous Friday while answering questions (or not answering them) about his injured throwing hand. The QB seemed, well, shaken as he came directly off the practice field wearing two red gloves to shield the media from his mangled right hand. Maybe he’s just a great actor. Perhaps he’s improved since he appeared in “Ted 2.”
Maybe it was just disappointment and annoyance. He worked so hard all season to get to the AFC Championship Game, and then suddenly he was dealing with an unforeseen ailment that not would only increase his stress level but also prevent him from preparing as originally intended.
When Brady battled shoulder and Achilles injuries earlier this season, he stepped up to the podium declaring he would play that Sunday. This news conference was a departure from what had become the norm this season.
Then we found out Brady threw at practice Friday, looked like himself and the extent of his injury might have been a bit overblown.
Sunday’s AFC Championship Game will wrap up another uniquely bizarre and surreal week in the world of the Patriots. There’s been a lot of them in just the past five seasons. There was Tim Tebow, Aaron Hernandez’s arrest, Deflategate, Chandler Jones’ bizarre synthetic marijuana episode, Donald Trump, Hernandez’s death, Alex Guerrero, “friction week” and then Brady’s hand. There’s probably some we forgot. Feel free to yell at us on Twitter about them.
But this is when the Patriots almost seem the most comfortable: when they can control the narrative of the week with non-answers and deflections. We started the week asking players about bulletin-board material, and by the end, there was nothing else to write about but the greatest quarterback of all time and his cut-up throwing hand.
Who is New England playing again?
If the QB’s hand never was a real concern — if it was just stitches and if the Patriots always knew he would play — then Brady and head coach Bill Belichick did one hell of a job playing it up by refusing to address it. At the very least, they set the Jaguars (ah, that’s who they’re playing) up for disappointment when Brady, not Brian Hoyer, goes under center Sunday.
There’s a misconception out there that New England doesn’t like distractions. The reality is that they love them, just as long as they’re distracting everyone in the periphery and not themselves.
Regardless of how Sunday unfolds, this AFC title tilt always will be remembered as the “Brady hand game.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images