FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady wore red gloves to practice Thursday. Technically, he didn’t actually practice. He was on hand, but not hands on, which will lead to inevitable accusations of the Pats using a sleight of hand.
Hands down, the health of Brady’s right hand is the biggest story in all of New England and the NFL. The right glove is the most important garment in these parts since Curt Schilling’s bloody sock. How a glove looked on a famous athlete hasn’t been more scrutinized since the O.J. Simpson trial.
As pictures of Brady’s pre-practice garb ricocheted around the Internet on Thursday afternoon, the questions loomed: “Is his thumb swollen?”
“Is there a wrap under his glove?”
“Why is Brady wearing gloves?”
The analysis on Boston sports radio came just short of calling in an orthopedic to eyeball potential thumb swelling.
In case you missed it – and it would be hard to around here – Patriots quarterback Tom Brady injured his hand at practice on Wednesday. He officially didn’t practice Thursday, although he was photographed on the field during the warm up portion.
— Matt West (@westipix) January 18, 2018
The fear and loathing over Brady’s status gripped New England like an arctic cold front. With the Patriots playing in their seventh straight AFC title game on Sunday against Jacksonville (a game that will livestream on the Yahoo Sports app at 12:05 p.m.), the possibility loomed that Brady’s health could be compromised. Could the Patriots be forced to roll out a starting quarterback inferior to Blake Bortles? Will Brady get treatment from the team’s staff or seek his health guru Alex Guerrero, potentially re-opening that controversy?
The worst place in America to go for further information on Brady’s health was the Patriots’ locker room. The back-and-forth exchanges between the media and players about Brady’s status were about as insightful as reading Chekov in Mandarin. The Patriots trotted poor center David Andrews out to the podium, and he looked visibly nervous attempting to avoid the hailstorm of Brady queries.
“I’m not a doctor or anything like that,” Andrews said. “I’m focused on what I have to do to get ready for this week.”
And so it went. Patriots players like lineman Joe Thuney, backup QB Brian Hoyer and tailback James White avoided questions about Brady’s hand as if they were laced with cyanide. The totality was a game of Evasive Patriot Cliché Bingo.
Thuney: “I’m just worried about my individual performance,” “team effort” and “I’m just focused on what I can control.”
Hoyer attempted to avoid questions about whether his practice reps increased by holding a back-and-forth that rekindled Bill Clinton’s questioning the meaning of “is.”
Hoyer: “I don’t know. It just depends on what would be more. Some days is more. Some days is less. It’s a matter of what day it is, really.”
This devolved into him asking reporters if they checked the injury report and for them to ask Brady himself.
And there was this from Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty:
Devin McCourty, ladies and gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/Nv9Ye0soM4
— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) January 18, 2018
The Patriots put Brady on the injury report as limited with a “right hand injury” on Wednesday. The Boston Globe reported that Brady’s injury occurred in practice when a teammate ran into him while he was attempting a hand-off. Brady was scheduled to talk Thursday, but that got cancelled as well. And it was later revealed that despite the pictures from practice that were examined like forensic evidence, Brady didn’t officially participate in practice. (This surely will conjure up a round of Patriots conspiracy theories).
From talking to sources around the league, one pointed out that if Brady were in any significant health danger for Sunday, Bill Belichick would have already brought in another backup quarterback for the game. The Patriots have just two quarterbacks on their roster, and the ultra-prepared Belichick knows that running Dion Lewis out of the Wildcat isn’t an ideal way to win the AFC championship. If there were any way that Brady’s performance would be indelibly altered by the hand injury, Belichick would surely not get exposed with having only Hoyer available on the roster.
Brady is still expected to play and start. And the most telling sign of the significance of Brady’s injury comes is the lack of a roster move by New England. When you see a vagabond quarterback like Garrett Gilbert or Taylor Heinicke pop up on the transaction wire, then it’s time to panic.
The possibility is real that the injury could impact Brady’s play to some degree. And that’s led to the observational version of palm readings on Brady’s hand. The appearance of a glove on Brady’s throwing hand at practice was unusual, as he prefers a bare hand. One Patriots beat writer scrolled through a series of Boston Herald photos and tweeted: “Hard to tell if there’s a splint or tape on the thumb, or if the light accentuated the knuckle in a previous photo, or if the glove just isn’t broken in yet.”
Got that? In other words, no one really knows.
Were the Under Armour gloves a tell? Patriots beat writers were quick to track down Brady’s historical comments about wearing gloves, why he prefers not to and read into what the gloves could mean in the grand spectrum of Brady’s condition. (It was also cold out on Thursday, with the temperatures around 30).
ESPN’s Mike Reiss tracked down this quote from late December about Brady’s glove preferences: “Early in my career I tried using a glove on my throwing hand a little bit. It didn’t go too well. I think it’s better without.”
Brady is scheduled to talk Friday, which at least assures us misdirectional theatrics from a primary source. Until then, New England will be staring at photos, analyzing potential thumb swells and remain frozen in fear.
And the reality is that we likely won’t have any answers until Brady rolls out on the field Sunday. Until he rips a few balls in game action, the reality of the significance of the injury at hand will be hard to grasp.