Parse through the answers and the phrasing from Tom Brady the last few days, and it has become obvious — the Patriots quarterback is dealing with a minor knee injury.
You know it, I know it, he knows it, we all know it.
“It’s been 15 weeks of football, and there’s always bumps and bruises you deal with,” Brady said Monday night on Westwood One Radio.
The Patriots’ offense has fizzled the last two weeks, scoring 10 points in a loss at Pittsburgh and looking inept in the passing game in their win over Buffalo on Sunday.
Brady doesn’t look like a healthy quarterback. He’s bailing on a lot of throws at the first sign of a pass rush. He’s not always stepping into his throws. He looks less mobile than usual.
Brady has tried to deny it, but his denials basically confirm that he is dealing with a left knee injury.
“There are a lot of guys dealing with a lot of things,” Brady said Monday. “It’s the nature of the sport. It is about having mental and physical toughness and grinding through whatever you have and try and go out there and help the team win.”
Brady first popped up on the Patriots’ injury report with a knee injury on Nov. 21, 10 days after their loss at Tennessee. He reportedly tweaked his knee on his 6-yard reception on the gimmick play against the Titans. Brady also had an issue with his knee brace in the Miami game Dec. 9 that sent him to the turf for a minute, but it is unclear if that was injury related.
The Patriots had a bye following the Titans game, but for the next three weeks — leading up to the games against the Jets, Vikings, and Dolphins — Brady appeared on the Patriots’ injury report as “limited” in practice with his knee injury at least one day per week.
Brady has practiced fully in each of the last two weeks and hasn’t been listed at all on the injury report, but that doesn’t mean he’s fully healthy, either. He was not on Wednesday’s injury report.
Go back and watch the Bills game. Brady bails on a screen pass to James Develin, even though the play is set up perfectly. He skips a throw to Cordarrelle Patterson because he doesn’t follow through completely. He bails on another throw that should have been a big gain to Julian Edelman over the middle.
Brady finished with 126 passing yards, his lowest output since 2013. Brady may be 41, but this isn’t the Brady we’re used to seeing, even from earlier this season.
Bill Belichick took Brady out of the game with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter, and later said, “I thought that was the right thing to do.” The Patriots were up, 24-6, at the time, but Brady rarely comes out of the game at that score, especially since the Patriots were only handing the ball off.
“I’m never going to talk about injuries or things that I have,” Brady said last week. “Obviously I dealt with a knee injury a while ago, but I’ve been off the injury report for a few weeks, so I’m feeling great.”
Brady got a little snappy about it in his weekly WEEI segment on Monday.
“I am not getting into specifics of injuries,” Brady said. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Nothing benefits me talking about injuries and my injuries and so forth.”
It doesn’t benefit Brady to put a bull’s-eye on his knee for opposing defenders, or to let them know that he can’t always step into his throws.
It certainly doesn’t benefit Brady to make excuses. Brady is not the only Patriot playing through injury right now.
A knee injury doesn’t benefit the TB12 brand, either. Brady’s whole persona and brand revolves around him staying healthy and being able to fight back against Father Time. Struggling through a nagging knee injury is no way to sell foam rollers and pliability workouts.
“I feel great. I really do,” Brady insisted on Monday. “I mean, I was on the injury report for I think three or four weeks with a knee, but I have been practicing every day since I came off that.”
Then the knee definitely can’t be an excuse for the Patriots’ struggling passing game of late. The fact that Brady is practicing every day and suiting up for games means he has a standard of performance he is supposed to live up to, injury or no injury.
“I obviously get frustrated when we don’t execute the way we’re capable of executing,” he said. “I’d love to see a game where we put it all together and see the outcome of that game, because I think we’d all feel pretty positive about that.”
Time is running out for that to happen, with just one regular-season game left before the playoffs. There’s little reason to think the Patriots’ passing attack will snap out of its funk.
Brady’s arsenal has been diminished with the suspension of Josh Gordon. Rob Gronkowski is a shell of his former self, and Brady isn’t even looking at Chris Hogan or Phillip Dorsett. Add in the fact that Brady isn’t moving as well, isn’t always stepping into his throws, and has a tendency to bail in the face of the pass rush, and it’s hard seeing how Brady could just snap his fingers and start firing off 300-yard games again.
Edelman is the only player who can win one-on-one matchups consistently. And Brady has almost no deep ball right now — in the five games since the bye week, Brady has just seven passes of more than 30 yards. One was a 42-yarder to James White on the final play of the first half against the Vikings, who were playing all the way back on the goal line. Another was the 63-yard touchdown to Hogan on a massive coverage breakdown by the Steelers.
With Brady hobbled, expect the offense to continue to look as it has the past few weeks, relying mostly on deception: Play-action passes, jet sweeps, and bubble screens to Patterson, screen passes to White and Rex Burkhead, the double-fake-reverse play-action pass that Brady threw to Hogan. Anything to get the defenders off Brady’s back, and the ball out of his hands quickly.
Because while Brady isn’t on the injury report, it’s clear that he’s not quite right.