One for the thumb.
Tom Brady already has won a fifth Super Bowl to adorn his thumb with a fifth ring. Now we will see if said thumb will stand in the way of needing another hand to wear some more jewelry.
What looked to be an easy path forward for Brady and the Patriots in their seventh straight AFC Championship Game has taken a dramatic twist that suddenly has turned a matchup against the unlikely Jaguars into a nail-biter.
A freak collision during practice Wednesday resulted in a reported gash on Brady’s thumb, and despite the Patriots’ best efforts to low-key the injury, there is no denying the potentially huge consequences.
Add in the controversial Jimmy Garoppolo trade to the 49ers earlier in the season, and it’s almost as if there will be a re-litigation of a deal that already has drawn plenty of scrutiny.
If the injury winds up having a negative impact on Brady and the Patriots actually lose to the underdog Jaguars, there will be plenty of second-guessing of Bill Belichick’s decision to deal Garoppolo for a second-round pick before the trade deadline rather than run the risk of losing him for no compensation as an unrestricted free agent.
Should Belichick have simply thrown caution to the wind and kept Garoppolo in the event of a situation like this, when he might need an adequate backup in a must-win situation with a Super Bowl berth on the line? Or was the coach correct in at least getting something in exchange for the fourth-year quarterback?
In many ways, it was a no-win situation for Belichick. Even if he believed that Garoppolo was capable of being the Patriots’ starter well into the future, could he really have expected to simply dump a player who has been the key factor in the Patriots’ seven Super Bowl appearances and five championships? In a business in which cold, hard decisions have to be made — and Belichick has made plenty of them along the way — there’s just no way he could have moved on from Brady right here and right now.
Brady is the presumptive winner of this year’s MVP award, and the Patriots can become the first team since 2003-04 to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
The last quarterback to do that: Brady.
If he had gotten to this point and expressed indecision about his immediate future and wondered openly about retirement, perhaps it would have been understandable to keep Garoppolo, potentially move on with him down the road and let the chips fall where they may. But the 40-year-old Brady has made it perfectly clear that he wants to play another five years or so.
History may indicate that no other quarterback this side of George Blanda has ever done that, but history has never seen a player like Brady, who keeps himself in exquisite condition and has lost nothing off his fastball. At least nothing that we can see, despite a somewhat subpar final month of the season before a brilliant performance in last week’s playoff win over the Titans.
Best-case scenario for Brady and Belichick: The thumb injury, which reportedly was a cut that required stitches and might force him to use a glove on his throwing hand Sunday, is not a major impediment against a Jaguars defense that is considered one of the best in the league (last week’s performance in a 45-42 win over the Steelers notwithstanding).
After Brady missed practice Thursday and both he and Belichick treated his condition as a state secret, he reportedly threw well in practice Friday, prompting a huge sigh of relief for the defending champions.
“He looked good,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said after Friday’s practice.
Will he be out there Sunday?
“Tom always tends to show up in big games,” Amendola said. “This is a big game.”
Brady’s thoughts about the injury?
“I’m not talking about it,” he said.
Thumbs up or thumbs down for Sunday?
Did he throw any footballs in practice?
“I’m not talking about that.”
Did he practice?
“I was out there.”
How was practice?
“It was fun.”
How confident is he about playing?
OK, we’ll answer for him: Brady will play, period. Unless this was a fractured thumb, which would mean he wouldn’t have much control over his passes and the pain might preclude him from being out there, he’ll start — and likely finish — the game.
Brian Hoyer, the former 49ers starter who signed as Brady’s backup after the Garoppolo trade, will be ready just in case. But unless something changes between now and kickoff, there is no “just in case.”
This is too big a moment for Brady, regardless of the five fingers’ worth of rings he already has.
“It’s a great challenge,” he said. “It will be a great game. We are playing against a really good team that is good in all phases. We are going to have to play really well.”
Might as well replace the “we” with “I,” because there’s no way Brady misses this one.