Just when Patriots fans felt safe breathing a sigh of relief about Tom Brady's health ...
His surgically repaired knee doesn't seem to be giving him any problems on the football field. But after Friday night's 27-24 preseason victory over the Washington Redskins, doubts about Brady's throwing shoulder linger.
During a telephone conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon, head coach Bill Belichick faced continued questions about Brady's health status. In typical Belichick fashion, answers were few and cryptic.
The Q&A session started out with one member of the media pointing out that in the past, Brady has repeatedly been listed on the team's injury reports as "Right Shoulder, Probable." The same scribe then asked if that's how Brady would be listed if an injury report had to be filled out today.
"Well, that's hard to say," Belichick replied. "We'll fill that report out when it comes.
"That's happened before," the coach added, with a hint of a smile that could not be seen, but sensed.
Belichick was then directly asked for an update on his QB's condition.
"You know, I don't really have anything to add … from last night," he responded.
With the Patriots leading the Skins 17-14 on the strength of two Brady-to-Randy Moss TD passes, Brady and the Pats offense faced a third-and-six from their own 28 with 2:11 remaining in the first half. From the shotgun, Number 12 scanned the field, but could find no open receivers.
Finally, to his right deep downfield, Brady spotted WRGreg Lewis a step ahead of a Washington defender. Off his back foot, Brady lofted a desperation pass in Lewis' direction. The ball was slightly underthrown and broken up, forcing the Pats to punt.
As Brady released the ball, however, he was hit on his left side by the Redskins' 6-6, 350-pound defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. With his arm still fully extended from the throw, Brady landed awkwardly, with his right shoulder bearing the brunt of the fall and the mammoth Haynesworth.
That was the last of the New England offense for the first half and the last we saw of Brady in the game.
On the Saturday conference call, Belichick was pressed on the issue.
Did Brady require X-rays on the shoulder?
"I'm not really comfortable getting into a public diagnosis of anything," came the coach's answer. He then sought to deflect attention away from Brady.
"Look, we played a physical game against a very physical team … Short-handed game, a lot of guys with bumps and bruises … a lot of guys who played in the game would fall into that category. That's pretty normal after a game like that," Belichick insisted.
So, is Brady's shoulder concern simply a bump or bruise, a reporter on the call inquired?
"I'm saying," Belichick continued in a deliberate manner, "we made the decision to play other quarterbacks in the second half of the Washington game because we wanted to see them play."
Belichick did indicate, though, that Brady expressed a desire to continue playing against Washington, but that the coaching staff felt it more appropriate to get a look a his backups, Kevin O'Connell andAndrew Walter. The coach further stated that in the fourth and final Patriots preseason game, this Thursday at Gillette Stadium versus the New York Giants, the backups would continue to receive opportunities to play.
That's not at all unusual for a final preseason contest, in which most starting players take the night off. But given Brady's suddenly suspect status, any absence of his between now and the team's regular season opener on Monday night, September 14 will no doubt he under intense media focus.
New England's backup quarterback situation, meantime, is equally intriguing. O'Connell, a third-round pick last season, is the incumbent understudy with limited game experience in the pros. Fifth-year pro Andrew Walter only joined the team this month and is still learning the team's system. The only other signal caller on the roster is rookie Brian Hoyer.
"I think that's a position," Belichick observed, "that's a competition situation and we're evaluating that with all three players. It's an on-going process."
As will likely be the continued speculation and search for answers about Brady's shoulder.