FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Dec. 14, 2005) -- Tom Brady walked to his locker without a limp, stretched with his teammates and said he was feeling better.
A few hours later, Dec. 14's injury report came out, listing the Patriots quarterback as questionable with shin and shoulder injuries, the first time that's happened this season but hardly a guarantee that his 84-game playing streak will end.
"I'm doing better than I was a few days ago," he said.
Then the gag rule kicked in and he followed his coach's orders not to discuss his condition three days after he hurt his left leg in the first quarter of the 35-7 win over the Buffalo Bills. At least the injury report revealed the part of his leg that was hurt.
The questionable category means a player has a 50-50 chance of playing. The report will be updated Dec. 15 or 16, and speculation is likely to continue about whether the player the Patriots can least afford to lose will play in one of their toughest games of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4).
The Patriots (8-5) would clinch a playoff spot with a victory or a Miami loss to the New York Jets.
"We'll see how it goes. Hopefully, I'll be out there," Brady said. "I wish I could elaborate, but Belichick said, `Don't say anything about it,' so what the boss says, that's what I do."
There were some clues.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP and 2005 NFL leader in yards passing walked without limping. He participated in calisthenics with his teammates for the nine minutes the media were allowed to observe practice. But for the first time this season he was listed as missing part of practice.
On Dec. 12, though, Belichick said Brady was "fine," and Brady said, "I don't think it's anything too major," on his regular appearance on WEEI-AM.
Brady had been listed as probable before every game this season with a right shoulder injury but, according to the reports, had never missed part of practice.
The Patriots' second-string quarterback is 43-year-old Doug Flutie. He has played twice this season, both times in the fourth quarter -- once in a blowout loss to Indianapolis and in the rout of Buffalo. He's completed 4 of 9 passes for 27 yards.
Brady is one of 13 Patriots players listed as questionable, a category Belichick uses liberally.
Of the 11 players listed as questionable for Week 14, six played and four started against Buffalo. Of the 10 players listed as questionable for Week 13, eight played and six started in a 16-3 win over the Jets.
The Patriots have developed consistency after key players returned from injuries. They're still missing some from the offensive line where only two starters against Buffalo were in the positions they played in the season opener.
"I don't have to worry about those guys because I do have a lot of confidence that they're going to get the job done," Brady said, "just like when they look back they have confidence that I'm going to get the job done."
Brady has started every game since Sept. 30, 2001, his first start as a pro, in a 44-13 win over Indianapolis.
"It's something I'm very proud of. I think there is something about showing up and playing every week," he said. "I've been very fortunate over the years not to have any major injuries that would keep me out."
Brady's shin injury came less than 10 minutes into Week 14's game on his 3-yard scoring run. He was hurt while diving into the end zone, where he was hit by linebacker Jeff Posey. He was healthy enough to run twice more, throw a block on a reverse and play until midway through the fourth quarter.
But he stuck to the game plan when asked which part of his leg he hurt.
"Oh, man. You guys know Belichick doesn't like me talking about this stuff," Brady said. "He gave me strict instructions to keep quiet, so that's what I'm doing."