FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady describes himself as spiritual, but doesn’t limit himself to one religion.
“I think we’re into everything,” Brady said in a New York Times Magazine piece last year. “I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.”
He was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic high school. On his bookshelf at home, he proudly displays a Jewish menorah.
And on Tuesday, as Brady returned to work following a two-day excused absence, he had a small statue of the Hindu god Ganesha displayed in his locker at Gillette Stadium. In the Hindu faith, Ganesha is the god of new beginnings and is widely revered as a remover of obstacles.
Brady, it seems, is still looking for answers on how to overcome his current obstacle: the four-game suspension he is set to serve at the start of the NFL regular season.
The suspension doesn’t begin until Sept. 3, but it has thrown Brady’s world into flux. For the first time since 2001, the Patriots aren’t unquestionably his team.
Getting Jimmy Garoppolo ready to play the first four weeks is the priority, Bill Belichick reiterated Tuesday. Brady has been forced to share more snaps at practice than he has in 15 years. He hasn’t played a snap through two preseason games, for the first time ever.
Last Thursday, Brady was a last-second lineup scratch against the Bears. He suffered a cut on his right thumb before the game and was seen leaving Gillette Stadium about 30 minutes before kickoff.
“I was just trying to get something out of my shoe and the scissors slipped; just a silly accident,” Brady explained Tuesday. “I wanted to go, and Coach said it’s probably best, for what I was going to go out and do, if we just take it easy. So that’s what I ended up doing.
“It was a crappy way to not be out there because it was, like I said, a silly mistake.”
Brady was back at practice Tuesday, and nothing seemed amiss. He didn’t have any bandages or other protection on his right thumb.
But it’s still a little hard to accept the various explanations for how Brady has been handled the last few days — the last-minute scratch against the Bears, and being excused from practice Sunday and Monday for “personal reasons,” according to Belichick.
We now know the thumb injury wasn’t very serious, because on Tuesday, Brady said he would have played through it in the regular season.
“I’ve always felt like the team is counting on me to be out there, and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there playing,” Brady said. “I wanted to go the other night, but I think Coach made a great decision.”
So that led to an obvious question for Belichick: What was the reasoning for sending Brady home from the Bears game if the injury wasn’t serious?
“I said after the game that it was my decision not to play him, and the players that were injured were not on the sideline, so what’s the question?” Belichick said.
Are all injured players sent home from the stadium, or told to stay away?
“Some are, some aren’t, but what difference does it make?” said Belichick. “It doesn’t make any difference.”
He’s right, in the sense that Brady has nothing to prove in these preseason games, and it mattered none if he watched the game from the sideline or his living room. But it does make us wonder if there was more to the decision to send Brady home than the severity of his thumb injury.
It could be that Belichick didn’t want Brady to be a distraction for Garoppolo, so he sent him away from the public’s prying eyes. It also could be that Brady didn’t react too well to being told that he was being pulled from the lineup. This is a guy who, even at 39 years old and with four Super Bowl rings on his résumé, hates giving away snaps in practice, and is still dying to play in the preseason.
“I’ve been missing playing and I want to get out there with my teammates,” Brady said. “I feel like that’s what my job is and responsibility is to go out there and be with my team, so it was tough not to be out there.”
In the hours leading up to the game, when reports emerged that Brady would in fact play against the Bears, a source with knowledge of the quarterback room said that Brady “insisted” on playing against the Bears. He wanted to play as many as three offensive series to get in a rhythm with his receivers and offensive line.
Then, suddenly, he was pulled. And then Brady was excused for two days for “personal reasons,” which no one has explained.
“I just had to take care of something, so it’s good to be back with the team,” Brady said Tuesday. “It’s a big week for us, going to Carolina and just kind of cramming a lot of things in today so I can be ready for practice, but I feel good.”
Brady came back ready for practice Tuesday, but he may not take a snap in any of the four preseason games. Belichick didn’t shed any light on his quarterback plans for Friday’s preseason game at Carolina, but everyone expects Garoppolo to get the start and play into the third quarter.
“All three quarterbacks are extremely important,” Belichick said. “Jimmy’s preparation for the Arizona opener is the most important. Nothing has changed and nothing is going to change. That’s the way it is going to be.”
Brady is dying to play Friday night, but Belichick has to decide whether it makes any sense. Brady would be playing mostly with third-stringers and guys who won’t be making the team. Does the benefit of getting him a few game reps before his suspension outweigh the risk of Brady suffering an injury in a meaningless preseason game?
Brady knows the risks, but he wants to play anyway — even if he’s throwing to DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien instead of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
“I’d like to be out there every time I get a chance to play,” Brady said. “I’m getting so many opportunities left in my life, so I’d like to take advantage of any opportunity, any and all of them if possible. When you see your teammates out there in their uniforms and ready to go, you want to be out there with them.”
We’ll see if Brady even makes the trip to Carolina, let alone plays in the game. He’s trying to approach every day of training camp and the preseason as he has the thousands of practices and hundreds of games he has played in during his 17-year NFL career.
But it’s not the same. He has to split his practice time with Garoppolo now, then be banished for four weeks. And Brady is still figuring out how to overcome these obstacles.