The Patriots have been their usual elusive selves when it comes to Tom Brady's injury this preseason, which is to be expected. But after the display we saw from the backup quarterbacks in Game 2, the natural question on New England fans' minds today is: when do we get our binky back?
It's not like Brady's absence was what made the defense so porous last night, especially against the run, as the Projo's Robert Lee astutely points out. It's uncertain whether or not his presence would've made the offensive line block better or the wide receivers catch all those dropped passes.
But of all the problems the Patriots are exhibiting so far, faith in Belichick's coaching makes the expectation that greater systematic issues will be resolved; there's not much he can do, with the current crop of backups, if Brady is truly hobbled.
Thinking about this, and knowing the Patriots, two equally plausible scenarios come to mind. The first is of Belichick, wanting his backups to prove what they know, deliberately holding a mildly-injured Brady back from traveling so the second and third string have to fend for themselves. It's also totally reasonable to believe that Brady could probably play in a meaningful game, but it's not worth aggravating the injury in the preseason. There's also the point that Brady has already been perhaps more durable than is reasonable to expect: Mike Reiss points out "Brady has started 127 consecutive games - 110 in the regular season and 17 in the playoffs. It's the third-longest streak among current quarterbacks - behind Brett Favre and Peyton Manning - and the third-longest streak in NFL history." Finally, though it pains me, as a homer, to admit, Brady won't play forever.
I'm also on record as wondering after the Super Bowl what the Patriots would do to minimize Brady as a target for opposing defenses. His importance on the team translates into an easy way to beat the Patriots: eliminate him. As I wrote back in February, "do they clip Brady’s wings a bit or do they risk losing him too early, and for good?"
But what I had in mind wasn't quite what might be happening here. I was thinking about strategy, Brady's role in the offense, and mixing up the play calling a bit more than when Brady and Randy Moss were going for records. I wasn't thinking, eliminate him from the picture entirely.
Because then there's the other scenario. The scenario in which Brady's injury is truly one that will keep him sidelined for even one regular-season game, and that the scrutiny on the backup quarterbacks this preseason has not been for general, long-term team building purposes. Brady says he'll play, and Belichick is nonchalant, but knowing what we know about the Patriots and the press, would these things be any different if he was significantly hobbled?
It might be a fundamental problem for Belichick that for all his lip service about a team with no stars, Brady has become the one player that bucks his system by being irreplaceable. It might be as abstract as that. Or it could be as immediate as truly having a quarterback issue, to put it mildly, to start this season.
If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that Patriots officials and Brady aren't going to tell us in their press conferences; only seeing Brady looking reasonably healthy (or not) over the next two weeks will show what the real story is.