FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The impenetrable black box that is the New England Patriots is intact, but whether Tom Brady's hand is intact is a separate question. There was no cracking the code on that one Thursday, no breaking through the stony silence of this buttoned-up organization about the quarterback's status for Sunday's AFC championship game. Not even the man who snaps the ball to him would say how Brady's injured hand is, leaving the world to wonder and the Jacksonville Jaguars to figure it out for themselves.
The mystery-making over Brady's throwing digits — the Patriots' determination not to release even a sliver of information on his status, what kind of injury it is or how it happened — resulted in a new level of cheerful absurdity and, perhaps, some messing with their opponents' heads. Initially, Brady showed up for the cameras in his practice gear, with gloves on both hands. It was only later that the official injury report revealed that their quarterback, the five-time Super Bowl champion and their most valuable player, who has thrown for 4,577 yards, had only stretched and then sat out. The report said, inscrutably, "Did Not Practice," and under the reason listed, "right hand." Was it scraped, cut, bruised, sprained? You would have to be trained in the intelligence craft to find out.
Center David Andrews, who should know the man's hand better than anyone, was a human lock box on the subject. Asked whether he could share any information on how Brady hurt it, Andrews replied with the verbal heel-dragging, "I'm not a doctor or anything like that." Pressed further, he dug down deep and mustered, "I don't really remember."
Give credit where it's due: The man was immovable. He gave new meaning to blocking.
How did Brady look?
"I'm not out there judging how he looks," Andrews replied.
Well, did he throw any footballs Thursday?
"Like I said, I am worried about what I'm doing."
Did you even snap the ball to Brady today?
"I snap it to all the quarterbacks. Whoever is back there, I am going to snap it to."
How confident was he that Brady would play Sunday?
"I know he is getting ready, and I am going to get ready and do my job. That is what I am focused on — my job and what I have to do."
What about backup quarterback Brian Hoyer? Surely no one should be more aware of Brady's status than the man who would have to step in for him. Brady has taken 98 percent of the Patriots' snaps this season; Hoyer has taken the ball from under center just 23 times. If there was any change in the usual preparations, it surely would involve Hoyer.
Did he take any more snaps than usual?
"Define what is 'usual,' " he said.
Asked how Brady had hurt himself, Hoyer without so much as blinking said, "I wasn't there."
Was there anything different in his preparation?
"I prepare every week like I'm going to play," he said. "Whether I do or not, that's really not up to me."
He added, helpfully, "I mean, since I've been here, there's been days when I've taken a lot of reps and there's been days when I haven't taken any. I just do what's asked of me." Rumors swirled, none of which a Patriots official could confirm. A player had accidentally run into Brady during Wednesday's workout. No, it had happened on a handoff.
The assumption is that Brady, of course, will play — he is presumably spending every waking moment in treatment, using all of the methods, holistic and otherwise, that he can avail himself of between the conventional care of the Patriots medical staff and his eastern-medicine body coach Alex Guerrero. But good luck getting any details. Was he using cryotherapy? Chanting?
Here came veteran safety Devin McCourty to the podium, whose turn in the spotlight became more amusing than a comedy club standup routine.
Could he shed any light on how Brady had hurt himself?
"I don't know. I was playing defense."
Could he say how Brady looked at practice?
"Tom looks excellent every day. One of the best looking people I've ever met."
Did it seem like his hand was bothering him at all?
"When you look at Tom, the facial region, it's hard to look at anything else. So I really only saw his face."
Did he take any snaps or throw or participate in any plays?
"I was on defense. I didn't see what the offense did."
So he didn't see Brady throw at all?
"I don't even remember. I wasn't paying attention."
In a way, McCourty's joking around was the first illuminating moment of the day: Would he be so cheerful if there was a serious danger that Brady could sit out? You had to figure not. Brady has staunchly played through injuries throughout his 18-year career — broken fingers, cracked ribs, sore ankles, stress fractures — without letting a complaint sideline him. This season he has battled a bad shoulder and an Achilles' problem. Though he has missed assorted midweek practices, he has always played. He hasn't missed a game, in fact, since 2008, when he blew out his anterior cruciate ligament. He is not likely to miss this one.
"The team always knows Tom is doing a ton of things to make sure he's always prepared and ready to be out there on the field," McCourty said. "He's a guy that I think none of us ever worry about him being ready to play football."
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.