FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady’s knee seems fine. So does his shoulder.
His excitement level? Just about the same as it was heading into last year’s opener before a left knee injury midway through the first quarter ended his season.
“Personally, I’m excited like all the guys are excited,” the New England Patriots quarterback said Wednesday. “I’ve played a lot of games, so it’s not like it’s the first game of my rookie season, that type of excitement. I think there’s just an excitement for a new season and to see what kind of team we have.”
He’s also played in three exhibition games, time enough to get rid of “those first-game jitters” and become comfortable wearing a knee brace, he said.
On Monday night, he’ll lead his team in his first meaningful game in more than a year against the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s always exciting to start on a Monday night against a division rival and a team we have a lot of respect for,” he said.
During the exhibition season, Brady proved he could take a hard hit. A couple of them, actually.
Cincinnati’s Robert Geathers came in around the right side and slammed Brady to the ground on his left side as he dropped back to pass. Washington’s Albert Haynesworth rushed from the left side and drove Brady’s right shoulder into the turf. The Patriots said he had a sore shoulder, but Brady was throwing a few days later.
Last year, Brady didn’t play any exhibition games while he nursed a foot injury. And when he did play, he suffered torn ligaments in his left knee when he was hit by Kansas City’s Bernard Pollard.
“I’m very happy that I was able participate in the pre-season this year,” Brady said. “That was really important to get out there and play and get a feel for the game.”
He played in the first three exhibition games, then sat out the fourth and final one along with nearly all the other first-string Patriots.
“Tom’s knee must be fine,” guard Logan Mankins said. “He made it through all pre-season.”
Brady made it through 128 consecutive starts, including the post-season. But the last start in which he stuck around until the end was in the 2008 Super Bowl, when the New York Giants scored a touchdown with 35 seconds left for a 17-14 win.
The Patriots did get the ball back at their 26-yard line with 29 seconds left and Brady had four plays left: incompletion, sack, incompletion, incompletion.
“Every loss that I think I’ve had here in my career I can remember because they’re always important losses,” Brady said. “You learn from them and you understand that every time you take the field, there’s no guarantee to victory.
“We’ve applied things that we learned in that game to what we’re doing today.”
A healthy Brady may be even more important now than a year ago.
That’s when Matt Cassel was starting his fourth year as Brady’s backup and knew the offensive system well despite rarely playing. When Cassel was forced into action, he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record last year that helped him get a six-year, US$63 million contract after he was traded to Kansas City.
Now the only backup on the active roster is Brian Hoyer, a rookie free agent from Michigan State.
“I don’t think about that at all,” Brady said.
Coach Bill Belichick is focusing primarily on one thing: the next game.
“My expectations for Tom are the same as everybody else: to prepare for Buffalo and to play the best on Monday night,” he said.
Brady, meanwhile, is showing his customary smile and relaxed demeanour. That should change Monday night when the fans let him know how much they missed him.
“I love being out there,” Brady said, “and there’s a real excitement when you’re out there.”