Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl, just as we all expected.
Or should have anyway.
A throwing hand that was sliced open four days ago or a deficit in the fourth quarter — it doesn’t matter. Time and time again, Brady has proven that he’s going to find a way to overcome whatever obstacles are in his way.
How could anyone have thought this week, this game, would have any other outcome?
“Well I said, ‘We’ll see,’ ” Brady said after the game, referring to his comments Friday regarding the injury. “So how’d it go?”
His status questionable since Wednesday because of a mysterious injury — are there any other kind in New England? — to his right hand, Brady not only played, he staged one of his patented fourth-quarter comebacks, throwing for two touchdowns to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season and third time in four years.
“The competitive drive, the sense of urgency that he has — for him to be able to get into this mode, this warrior mode, and go out there and have the game that he had after everything that happened this week, it shows how he can block out the noise and focus on what he has to do,” backup quarterback Brian Hoyer said after the 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
For days, the nation was transfixed by Brady’s hand. He’d injured it in practice, the Patriots acknowledged, saying little more beyond the daily update of his practice status required by the NFL for the injury report.
Brady played right along, wearing gloves on both hands during the brief periods when practice was open to reporters and when he finally met with the media Friday. Even when he arrived for Sunday’s game, he kept his right hand jammed deep in his pockets and out of sight — a departure, Brady watchers were quick to note, from his usual bag-in-right-hand stroll.
When a cameraman, trying to zoom in on the hand, got a little too close as Brady took the field for pre-game warmups, he yelled an expletive and told him to back off.
But as in all totalitarian societies, details slowly trickled out.
Another player, reportedly running back Rex Burkhead, had run into him and cut Brady’s hand, possibly on the buckle of a helmet. He’d needed stitches. He’d injured a tendon, too, which was why the Patriots had concerns about his ability to play. And once Brady came out for warmups, he could hide no longer.
“I thought out of all the plays, my season can’t end on a handoff. In practice,” Brady said. “We didn’t come this far to end on a handoff.”
He’d rather not have had any kind of bandage, but that wasn’t an option with the stitches. So he wore a thick piece of black tape between his thumb and forefinger. Prior to the game, he repeatedly flexed his fingers between throws.
“I’d rather not wear it, but I guess that’s kind of arrogant to say with how the game went,” he said. “It does sound arrogant, doesn’t it?”
When you do what Brady does, a little arrogance is allowed.
New England’s first series showed that Brady’s hand was fine, the first play a 5-yard pass to Dion Lewis and the second a 31-yard laser to Brandin Cooks. Four plays later, facing a fourth-and-1 at the Jaguars 30, Brady uncorked a 20-yard pass to Danny Amendola.
Oh, there were moments of doubt. Like when Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game with a head-to-head hit by safety Barry Church that was so bad it probably should have resulted in an ejection. And all of the third quarter, as the Jaguars doubled up on the Patriots, 20-10. (Yes, the field goal came in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. You get the idea.)
But Brady is at his best when he and the Patriots are supposedly dead and buried. Did you not watch last year’s Super Bowl? Can he ever be counted out after that? Remember, he staged that comeback without Gronkowski, too.
“We always have confidence. We really do,” Brady said. “It’s never really over until it’s over with this team.”
Needing to convert a third-and-18 from his own 25, Brady found Amendola deep down the middle for 21 yards. He followed that with a 31-yarder to Phillip Dorsett — the first time Brady had looked at Dorsett all day, mind you.
After an incompletion, he went back to Amendola for a 14-yard pickup and then the 9-yard score.
Four minutes later, Amendola’s 20-yard punt return gave the Patriots the ball at the Jacksonville 30. Five plays later, Brady found Amendola at the very back of the end zone for the go-ahead, 4-yard score. One last defensive stand, and the Patriots were back in their familiar victory formation.
Yeah, Brady was fine. And the modern NFL’s most enduring dynasty is rolling on for at least another two weeks, likely to pick up a sixth Super Bowl title along the way.
As we all expected.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.