By Howard Ulman
---- — FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady looks just fine. His fans and teammates are relieved.
The key to the success of the New England Patriots participated fully in the team’s walkthrough Thursday. He jogged with other players at the start. He dropped back normally to throw passes. And he didn’t limp.
An alarming situation — he had left Wednesday’s practice with an apparent left knee injury — was just a false alarm.
“I’m good,” was all Brady told waiting media members as he walked off the practice field Thursday after removing the black brace he wore during the workout. “You can all go home.”
Then, after signing some autographs and posing for pictures, the star quarterback walked back into Gillette Stadium where he may or may not play in Friday night’s exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t speak with reporters after the third and final day of joint practices with the Buccaneers.
Brady was knocked down by left tackle Nate Solder after releasing a pass midway through Wednesday’s session. Solder had been pushed into Brady by Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn. A person with knowledge of the situation said Brady sprained his left knee and an MRI was negative. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Patriots did not make an announcement about Brady’s health.
But players knew quickly that their two-time league MVP was OK.
“Right after practice, actually. We got the news pretty quick,” running back Stevan Ridley said. “It was a scary moment, but really, with Tom, I know he’s a competitor and he’s going to do whatever to get him out there. I’m just glad they took him out, checked him out and made sure he was good. So ... my heart’s at peace knowing that he’s OK and knowing that nothing major’s going on.”
Brady suffered a season-ending injury to the same knee in the 2008 opener but hasn’t missed a game since that year.
“That’s our leader, man,” Ridley said. “We ride with Tom Brady all the way and anytime you see somebody go down like that, kind of everything stops in front of you. But, for us, we just have to move on and hope for the best and that’s what we did and we found out later that day at team meetings that he was OK and that was all the news that we needed to know, that our quarterback was going to be with us.”
For a while, with no information coming out, fans wondered if Brady was hurt badly. Many of them expressed their concerns on Twitter.
“I think there were a lot of fans at home probably pulling out their hair,” safety Devin McCourty said.
It was a big story until reports surfaced that the injury wasn’t serious.
“I think you guys had more communication and more opinions than we did,” McCourty told reporters. “We actually got to see him in the locker room and all that, so it wasn’t as crazy as, I think, the media made it seem.”
Solder even had a restful night, despite his role.
“I didn’t let it affect my sleep,” he said. “It’s part of the game.”
The brace Brady wore Thursday was heavier than the one he had on a day earlier and similar to what he wears in games. He moved smoothly through the slow-speed walkthrough.
During a hurry-up drill, Brady dropped back and completed two passes to tight end Zach Sudfeld and one to Aaron Dobson against minimal coverage. There was no sign that his knee was hindering him.
After practice, he spent about a half hour on the field with his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, their son Benjamin, 3, and Brady’s son Jack, with actress Bridget Moynahan. He turns 6 on Wednesday.
She threw a pass to her husband. He ran with his children. Jack threw the ball to her.
Then Brady walked the length of the field and past the cameras and reporters, with a football tucked under his left arm and a steady stride.
Belichick will decide whether he plays on Friday night. It’s only an exhibition game, but Ridley said it matters whether Brady plays or not.
“It’s all a different ballgame when Brady’s in the game,” Ridley said. “I think it matters for everybody who’s watching sports as well as the team that’s out there on the field.”