It's clear now, six weeks later, why some of the Patriots seemed to take exception to the talk about how tough the Tennessee Titans were, particularly quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George. For one, the Patriots aren't allowed to talk about their injuries. New England's players play hurt, too, starting with quarterback Tom Brady.
Like McNair, Brady, as it turns out, can play at a high level without the benefit of practice. The two-time Super Bowl MVP recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder to "alleviate some lingering soreness," according to a statement released by the team, from a separation suffered near the end of the 2002 season. Apparently Brady is not the superstitious type, as the procedure was done in Boston Friday, Feb. 13. It took 30-45 minutes.
Brady, who is wearing only a small bandage on his shoulder indicative of a minor operation, is looking at about a six-week recovery period. In their statement, the Patriots characterized the quarterback's prognosis as "excellent."
Brady originally injured his throwing shoulder Dec. 16, 2002, at Tennessee. Attempting a pass at the end of the first half, Brady suffered a first-degree separation on a hit from Tennessee's Jevon Kearse. Brady completed 14 of 29 passes in that game (48 percent), one of three games in 52 career starts in which he has completed fewer than half his attempts. He was limited the following week in a home loss to the New York Jets, in which he completed 19 of 37 (51 percent). In the victory over Miami in the 2002 finale, Brady reinjured the shoulder, this time sustaining a second-degree separation.
Brady rehabilitated for several months the following offseason rather than have surgery. He played in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and participated in the "Quarterback Challenge," winning the distance competition with a throw of 62 yards. And he looked sharp in the 2003 exhibition season, throwing six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
But it wasn't all good for Brady. He was on painkillers and anti-inflammatories all last season. It was so bad, in fact, that the Patriots, in an attempt to preserve their franchise quarterback's arm, held Brady out of Wednesday practices. Some weeks, he only practiced on Friday.
Things got worse in Week 2 when Brady banged his right elbow on another player's helmet. His elbow swelled to the size of a grapefruit and bothered him for some 10 weeks.
The shoulder pain, meanwhile, never went away. He could hear the joint clicking when he threw. Teammates heard him grunt after passes. It hurt to lift his right arm. Throughout the year he wore a protective sleeve that extended from his wrist to his shoulder.
"He couldn't throw," one offensive teammate said. "A lot of people didn't know how bad it was. He was hurting." Brady also took a helmet to one of his thighs in the regular-season finale against Buffalo. Fortunately for him, a bye week followed. And then there was the bum ankle he played with for part of the year.
But Brady's physical problems rarely manifested themselves in the team's results. Brady finished third in league MVP voting and led New England to a 17-2 record (including postseason), including 15 consecutive wins to end the season. He won his second Super Bowl MVP award by completing 32 of 48 attempts for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"In a team sport you don't want to let anybody down," Brady said in September, after aggravating his elbow injury against the Jets in Week 3.
A week after the Super Bowl, Brady continued to play through pain -- in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He barely could swing his golf club. According to a report in Wednesday's Palm Beach Post, he did not play in the Dan Marino Foundation
Brady's busy offseason continues with vacations in the Caribbean and Europe before he reports to Foxborough next month for the team's offseason conditioning program. . . .
New England hired Kent State head coach Dean Pees as linebackers coach yesterday and assigned Pepper Johnson, the inside linebackers coach since 2001, to the defensive line.