FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The black box that is the New England Patriots is intact, but whether Tom Brady’s hand is intact is a separate question. There is no cracking the code on that one, no breaking through the stony silence of this buttoned up organization about his status for the 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 real information on his status, what kind of injury it is or even how it happened, has resulted in a new level of absurd secrecy even for this secretive organization, and perhaps, some messing with their opponents’ heads. Brady showed up on Thursday with his helmet and pads and his hands gloved for the cameras – but didn’t practice once they left. His status Friday morning remained inscrutable. Is the hand scraped, bruised, sprained? You’d 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 if 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,” he said. 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 today?
“Like I said, I am worried about what I’m doing.”
Did you even snap the ball to Brady?
“I snap it to all the quarterbacks. Whoever is back there, I am going to snap it to.”
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 and thrown for 4,577 yards; Hoyer has just taken the ball from under center 23 times. If there was any change in the usual preparations, it would surely involve Hoyer.
Did he take any more snaps than usual?
“Define what is ‘usual?’” he said.
Was there anything different in his preparation?
“I prepare every week like I’m going to play,” he said tonelessly.
Rumors swirled, none of which a Patriot official could confirm. A player had accidentally run into Brady during Wednesday’s workout. No, it had happened on a handoff. It was cut. No, it was dislocated.
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 cryptherapy? Chanting?
On Friday morning, Coach Bill Belichick did his best imitation of a dry well. Was Brady making any progress?
“We’re gonna continue to get ready for Jacksonville.”
Did he regret trading backup Jimmy Garopplo now?
“Gettin’ ready for Jacksonville.”
Did Brady’s uncertain status complicate his game planning?
Then there is the larger question: why do the Patriots do it this way? Why all the shielding, and secrecy, and stubborn obstructionism? To sow some uncertainty in the minds of the Jaguars defenders, maybe. But it seems more than that. This is a proud part of the Patriots identity; it’s self-proof of who they are. They’re the steel-trap team, too tough to talk. While other teams chat and flap their lips, they’re the ones with the discipline to keep their mouths shut even with the headlines blaring. They’re undistractable, lasered in on their jobs, unswerving in their preparation no matter who plays at quarterback, and too firm and principled to gossip.
Here came veteran safety Devin McCourty to the press 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.”
Maybe McCourty’s joking around was illuminating: would he be so cheerful if there was a serious danger that Brady could be out? You had to figure not. Brady has staunchly played through all kinds of 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 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.