The sight of backup quarterback Ryan Mallett getting first- team and scout-team reps Wednesday was the last thing the Patriots would have expected at this point in the season. But Bill Belichick and his players were determined not to spend too much time discussing Tom Brady's absence.
Brady didn't practice because of an unspecified illness -- only four days before the AFC Championship Game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
When asked if there is any reason to doubt that Brady will be available for Sunday's game, Bill Belichick said: "We'll give the injury report later on this afternoon.''
When it appeared, all it said was that Brady (shoulder, illness) did not practice.
And players were just as tight-lipped. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard advised media "to talk to Coach Bill'' when questioned about how different practice felt without Brady. Wide receiver Julian Edelman admitted, "When he's not out there, of course it's a little different,'' but said he and his teammates were focused on their own assignments, not who was at quarterback.
Although it appears Brady's illness isn't serious (he dealt with a cold last week, but still played every snap in Saturday's divisional win over the Colts), no one on the Patriots was willing to say Brady definitely will be good to go Sunday.
"You know, I'm not a trainer, nor am I a doctor,'' Edelman said. "So you'd have to ask him.''
Belichick also did his best to avoid questions about his extensive history with Brady: 14 seasons, five AFC championships and best of all, three Super Bowl rings. The typically terse coach tried to keep the focus of his news conference on Sunday's game rather than his long-standing relationship with the future Hall of Famer.
"I don't really look at this game any different than a lot of the other games,'' Belichick said. "I meet with Tom on a regular basis, meet with the quarterbacks on a regular basis weekly all year long. We'll do the same thing this week that we've done every other week.''
But when a reporter asked him when was the last time Brady "surprised him,'' Belichick broke out a smile. "This morning,'' he said, causing the room to erupt in laughter.
But naturally the Patriots coach wouldn't shed any more light on their conversation.
Said Belichick: "We'll keep that between Tom and I.''