Saturday, January 20, 2018

Curse of the Quarterback's Paw

Tom Brady hurt his right hand this week. The Patriots SAY it was the result of a collision with a teammate at practice, but I think we all know the real story. Somewhere, somehow, Tom's right hand came into inadvertent contact with a tomato.

Really, is that theory any wackier than some of the more conspiratorially minded denizens of NFL-related Twitter and talk shows? Is it any sillier than the frenzy of local television live shots from Foxboro? Our Tommy has an owie! What are we to do? Stay tuned for our updates!!!

The known facts would daunt Oliver Stone's ability to come up with a conspiracy/doomsday theory. Brady missed one day of practice this week, That's been his habit for most of the second half of the season. So what? He already knows how to play football.

 Brady was listed as "limited" for a practice he did attend yesterday and is listed as "questionable" on the team injury report. In league office theory, "questionable" means "50 percent chance of playing" but even in the regular season it translates to "90 percent chance." For a conference championship game, the reality of the injury report is that it has three stages, "playing," "hospitalized" and "deceased."

Most of all, Brady has worn gloves in practice, appeared before the media in those gloves, and refused to answer questions about his hand. Coach Bill Belichick was no more forthcoming.

If, as has been reported, Brady has a cut on the hand, than wearing gloves over a bandage is simply prudent protection for the wound. Just wearing them is all the healthy young maniacs of the Jacksonville Jaguars need to know. It is hard to make an injured hand a target the same way a shoulder or rib can be, but the Jags will surely their hardest to find a way.

As for Brady and Belichick clamming up, how on earth is this anything but New England Patriot standing operating procedure? Nobody in any sport is gonna tell the truth about an injury to a star player that might or might not impact a playoff game. Belichick doesn't stonewall the media out of pure cussedness, although there's a dab of that in his nonanswers. The coach dislikes outright lying, so when he deems the truth counterproductive, he goes into the mumbly Bill persona known to all football fans. You have to admire his dedication to this tactic. Belichick is well aware it makes him a national laughingstock, but he'll take that heat in the pursuit of victory.

Brady doesn't answer inconvenient questions for another reason. He can't lie, or even fib. He has no poker face, hell, no Old Maid face, whatsoever. When he attempts to dissemble on the most innocent of topics, his nonverbal language from the top of his head to the tips of his toes gives him away. This does credit to his upbringing, and also makes answering questions on sensitive topics very dangerous. So Brady doesn't. Since I understand why, I can't blame him.

In this case, Brady and Belichick don't need to be candid for me to take what I'm pretty sure is a correct forecast on how his injury will play out in the AFC title game tomorrow. Brady will play. Nobody reaches 40 in the NFL without being a very tough guy, punters included. Brady's damaged hand may or may not affect his performance, but if it does, it might not be detectable to the naked eye. Say it has a 25 percent impact, which I believe is way, way too high a guess. Seventy-five percent of Tom Brady is still better than 100 percent of about all but 20 other NFL quarterbacks in the league's history.

Risk, however, remains. Brady's right hand will have a bullseye on it drawn by a defense that has shown little care for the niceties of the sport's rulebook (no really good defense ever has). But barring the improbable event of the hand getting hurt more badly, Jacksonville will have to find some other means of pulling their upset. Brady's not going to be the reason the Pats lose.

Come to think of it, he never has been.


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