FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick is known to throw curveballs at his players to keep them prepared and on their toes at all times. But when Tom Brady walked out of Gillette Stadium about a half-hour before kickoff Thursday night against the Bears, this was hardly a case of Belichick being up to his old tricks.
Brady was supposed to start on Thursday night — Belichick acknowledged during the pregame radio show that Brady would make his preseason debut — but Brady sliced his thumb with a pair of scissors while toying with his cleats before the game, Brady’s agent, Don Yee, confirmed to the Globe. It is unclear which thumb Brady injured, the extent of the injury, or whether he needed stitches.
“An accident occurred and Tom will be OK in time,” Yee said.
Belichick declined to provide any insight into Brady’s injury, saying only, “I made the decision for him not to play tonight.”
Jimmy Garoppolo said he didn’t know he would be starting until minutes before kickoff.
“I found out like literally right before the game. It was pretty sudden,” Garoppolo said. “Didn’t think I was going to [start], and then some stuff came up and got tossed in there. It was a good test, I guess, and just always keeps you on your toes, kind of just how Coach always preaches. You never know when you’re going to go in or when your number is going to get called. You’ve got to be ready for it.”
This was only a preseason game, and Brady can’t play until Week 5, so this isn’t a disaster. Garoppolo played admirably, completing 16 of 21 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown in a little over two quarters of work in the Patriots’ 23-22 win.
But there was an unnecessary amount of drama at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night for a second preseason game. That “in time” part of Yee’s quote is a bit unsettling. How much time are we talking here? Once Brady’s suspension kicks in, he won’t be able to practice with the team until Oct. 3, giving Brady 6½ weeks to heal. But will this injury cost Brady the rest of his training camp? Considering that he won’t be able to practice or play for four weeks, he needs as much work with the starting offense now in training camp that he can get.
Thursday’s game was supposed to be Brady’s welcome-home party. He missed the preseason opener against the Saints to attend the memorial service of a family member. And he probably won’t play in the third or fourth preseason games. Garoppolo will likely play the majority of the third game, and there’s little sense in playing Brady with the third-stringers at the end of the third game or for the entirety of the fourth game, when no one of significance ever plays.
There was plenty of chatter around New England that Brady should sit out the second game, too — Garoppolo needs as much work as he can get, and we already know what Brady can do. It wouldn’t be worth risking an injury to Brady, the theory went.
All true, and all valid. But Brady didn’t see it that way.
A source close to the Patriots’ quarterback room said Brady “insisted” he play against the Bears. Brady badly wanted to play at least three series, even if he wouldn’t be throwing to Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, or Dion Lewis.
This is a man who hates giving up a rep in practice, and rarely lets his backups play even in garbage time during the regular season. It must be killing him to split reps fairly evenly with Garoppolo in training camp.
Belichick has stated unequivocally multiple times this preseason that Garoppolo is the “priority,” but Brady wanted to make clear Thursday night that the Patriots are still his team.
Instead, he couldn’t even make it out to warm-ups on Thursday, victimized by a little clumsiness. That the Patriots didn’t let Brady hang around and watch the game on the sidelines is a bit worrisome. We’ll see if any more updates emerge from Fort Foxborough in the coming days about the extent of Brady’s injury. The hometown fans will now have to wait until Oct. 16 to see Brady play at Gillette, when he makes his home debut against the Bengals in Week 6.
But one positive did emerge from Brady’s thumb-slicing — it taught Garoppolo a valuable lesson about always preparing to start. He says he always prepares the same way before a game. Thursday night that was put to the test, and he aced it.
“That’s part of football — things happen that are unexpected,” Belichick said. “He’s been prepared for that from the day he got here.”
The Patriots scored points on four of Garoppolo’s six drives, but it should have been five of six if Brandon Bolden hadn’t fumbled the football away inside the 5-yard line.
It’s still the preseason, of course, and these Bears weren’t exactly the Monsters of the Midway, but Garoppolo showed tremendous improvement in the second preseason game compared to the first one. Included in his solid performance was a beautiful 16-yard touchdown to A.J. Derby, a throw that Garoppolo squeezed into an incredibly tiny window (Derby made an impressive catch, as well).
Garoppolo stood confidently in the pocket, had a much better sense for the pressure this time around, and threw some darts to Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, and Derby. It was the type of performance we’ve waited to see from Garoppolo, to see how much he has developed in his two-plus NFL seasons. At minimum, Garoppolo showed poise and confidence, and looks like he belongs in the NFL.
The Patriots have had enough drama the past two years, what with Deflategate and the Brady suspension. The last thing they needed was Brady slicing his thumb an hour before kickoff on Thursday night.
Photos: Patriots vs. Bears preseason game
Video: Ben Volin analyzes Patriots-Bears
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.