Tom Brady’s thumb injury prior to the AFC championship game in the 2017 NFL season was a growing worry prior to the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And now we know just how serious it was.
Brady and the secretive New England Patriots kept the injury under wraps as best they could — literally and figuratively. But an excerpt in the New York Post from an upcoming book by Jeff Benedict, “The Dynasty,” shows just how worrisome it was at the time.
In practice that week, Brady handed off to Rex Burkhead — but it was far from a routine play. The ball was pushed back into Brady’s hand, causing a huge gash to open on his throwing hand with blood gushing out. According to Benedict, the Patriots were in full-on panic mode when it happened.
Check out this portion of the book:
“... Brady let out a yell and rushed off the field, clutching his hand. Burkhead and his teammates looked on in stunned silence.
“Minutes later, Dr. Matthew Leibman’s cell phone rang. Leibman was the hand and wrist surgeon for the Patriots, Red Sox, and Bruins. He was having lunch outside Boston when Patriots assistant trainer Joe Van Allen reached him.
“Van Allen was frantic. “Matt, we need you at the stadium right now,” he said. “Brady hurt his hand. It’s bad. It’s bleeding.”
“‘What happened?’ Leibman said.
“Van Allen quickly explained that Brady’s thumb had somehow gotten jammed and bent backward during a handoff. “There’s a pretty big laceration,” he said.
“‘Is it his throwing hand?’ Leibman said.
“Van Allen said he’d text a picture.
“Leibman hung up. Seconds later, the image was on his phone. It looked as though Brady’s hand had been slashed by a blade. The base of his thumb was split wide open. The laceration was gaping.
“‘Holy s--t!’ Leibman said to himself.
This excerpt comes from Chapter 42 of the book, aptly titled “Threading the Needle.” Liebman’s immediate concern was that Brady would need surgery, noting that 99 percent of lacerations following a hyperextended thumb result in fracture, dislocation and/or damage to ligaments and tendons.
Stunningly, none of those had occurred. Liebman delivered the relatively good news to all after arriving at Gillette Stadium, including a concerned Brady and Bill Belichick, but few could grasp the bright side at that moment.
Also in the room was Brady’s personal trainer, Alex Guerrero. This was at the height of the tension between Guerrero, Brady and Belichick, and the doctor thought he could lighten the mood just a bit with a quick zinger.
Leibman explained how rare it is to see someone endure such a high-energy injury without damage to the bone or dislocation. With all the hype about Brady’s pliability thanks to the TB12 Method, Leibman figured he’d lighten the mood by referencing it. Looking at Guerrero, he said, “I guess it’s because Tom’s thumb is so …” Then he glanced at Belichick and figured pliable wasn’t the best word choice. “Flexible,” he said.
Belichick glared at Brady.
No one smiled.
That’s how worrisome this thing was just four days before the Jaguars came to town with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
The incredible aftermath of the injury
Brady had surgery with a local anesthetic at the facility. Brady thought his season was over. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told backup Brian Hoyer: “You better get f---kin’ ready.” Burkhead thought he somehow had ruined the Patriots’ season.
Belichick tried his best to keep the gravity of the story from getting out. Most media reports indicated that Brady was OK and that he should be good to go for Sunday. Word got out that Brady needed four stitches — it turns out it was 25.
And making Liebman even more anxious was that Brady had ignored the doctor’s request to immobilize the injury. Instead of resting it completely, Brady tore off his splint and was throwing the following day.
The more Brady threw, the more he was convinced he could play in the game, even if others were not so sure. The days leading up to that Sunday only raised the tension, and Brady told the media nothing about his situation.
But the most incredible scene appeared to play out right before kickoff once it was announced Brady would start against one of the best defenses in football that year.
Five minutes before kickoff, with the rest of his teammates on the field, Brady was back in the locker room explaining to Liebman that he needed the sutures trimmed down. Brady didn’t like the way it felt when he gripped the football.
Liebman wanted nothing to do with that, fearing that they could reopen on the field and cause a new host of issues. Brady pushed back.
“No, you need to do it,” Brady said — with two minutes to kickoff.
It was clear who was winning this battle.
So Liebman trimmed off the very ends of the sutures and rewrapped Brady’s hand.
He gripped a ball and liked what he felt.
“Thanks, buddy,” Brady said.
Then the Patriots legend trotted out onto the field to play a football game.
Brady completed his first six pass attempts in the game but also got hit hard a few times. Early on, the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski for the game to a brutal head injury and trailed 14-3. Hope looked lost.
Then, down 20-10 with just over 12 minutes left, Brady led two TD drives — that included an incredible third-and-18 completion to Danny Amendola — to complete the comeback and lead the Patriots to yet another Super Bowl appearance.
Brady and the Patriots ended up losing to the Philadelphia Eagles. But Brady threw for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards and three TDs in that game two weeks later.
Why McDaniels ever called for Brady to catch a pass in that game is anyone’s guess. But the fact that Brady could throw it as well as he did in either game, racking up nearly 800 yards passing and five TD passes combined (with no interceptions), is just as big of a stunner.
It’s just another chapter of Brady’s greatness. After reading the gory details of his thumb, no one can ever question Brady’s toughness ever again — even if those who did in the first place looked quite foolish already.
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