FOXBOROUGH - On the day they got the news that quarterback Tom Brady will be out for the rest of the season, the Patriots put on a brave face, masking the season-altering blow that Brady's injury represents. Instead of being deflated by the loss of the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, the Patriots were defiant, saying their season isn't over simply because Brady's is.
The Patriots and coach Bill Belichick confirmed yesterday that Brady is done for the year. The iconic quarterback, who threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes in 2007, suffered a serious left knee injury during the first quarter of the Patriots' 17-10 season-opening win over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday. Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard dived into Brady's leg as the quarterback stepped into a 28-yard completion to Randy Moss, his 11th pass of the game. It turned out to be his last pass of the season.
Belichick deflected all inquiries regarding details of Brady's injury, but based on the need for season-ending surgery, it's most likely an anterior cruciate ligament injury, with possible damage to the medial collateral ligament and cartilage in the knee.
"I feel badly for Tom," said Belichick, who has gone 87-24 during the regular season with Brady as his starter. "Nobody has worked harder at football and meant more to this team than Tom has since I've been here. So, I feel badly for Tom."
But there was no time for the rest of the team to bemoan its fate.
"Injuries are a part of the game," said defensive end Richard Seymour. "It's a tough break, especially from the quarterback position because they have the ball in their hands 90 percent of the time, and a lot of the decision-making comes through them. He's done a great job for us, to say the least, Tom has, for the past several years.
"But it isn't like we're going to tank it. That's not going to happen. We won't accept any excuses. We always feel like there is a way to win. We just have to find a way. That's something that we were able to do [Sunday], and we will have to continue to do."
The team's statement was not specific, saying simply, "After extensive tests, it was revealed that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's left knee, which was injured in the first quarter of yesterday's game, will require surgery. He will be placed on injured reserve and will miss the remainder of the 2008 season."
When Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a left knee injury in an almost identical manner during a playoff game on Jan. 8, 2006, he tore the ACL and MCL, damaged cartilage, and dislocated his kneecap. Dr. Lonnie Paulos, who operated on Palmer, agreed there was similar trauma.
"It was very similar," said Paulos, who cautioned that he has not examined Brady and said the severity of the injury depends on how much weight Brady had on the knee and its angle and flexion at impact. "It looked like a typical clipping injury, and I'm optimistic it will not be near as severe as Carson's was."
Paulos said doctors usually wait two to three weeks for the swelling to go down before operating. In Palmer's case, because of the severity of the injury, he was operated on two days after he was hurt. He returned to action in an exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 28, 2006.
"That's pretty typical," said Paulos. "I wouldn't expect anything less than that from Tom."
In Brady's absence, Matt Cassel, who led the Patriots to victory Sunday, takes over as the starting quarterback. The four-year veteran will make his first NFL start this Sunday against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium, ending Brady's streak of 128 consecutive games started, which began in 2001 when he replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe.
The Patriots plan to rally around the 26-year-old Cassel, who hasn't started a football game since high school. Belichick said the team did not conduct workouts or give physicals to any free agent quarterbacks yesterday - although, according to a league source, they flew in Tim Rattay and Chris Simms, then sent them home - and that no quarterback auditions were planned for the week, as of yesterday.
"There is nobody on this football team that we don't have confidence in," said left tackle Matt Light. "If we don't have confidence in them - and, more importantly, if the coaching staff didn't have confidence in them - then they wouldn't be here.
"[Cassel] is going to go out there, and he's going to play well, and we're going to rally right behind him. He's our leader. He's our guy on offense."
Cassel won't be asked to do anything more than a doe-eyed, unknown, former sixth-round pick in his second NFL season was asked to do in 2001 - manage the game. Before Brady blossomed into one of the game's great signal-callers, he was a caretaker QB.
"I think if you look at it, Brady was in a good situation himself. It isn't like he was thrown to the wolves," said Seymour, a member of that '01 team. "If you look at Brady's first couple of years here, he managed the game for us, and we did a lot on defense as well. We're just going to put Matt in a lot of good situations, and play good, sound defense."
Seymour said he texted Brady to wish him well.
"His spirits are still up," said Seymour. "Happy that we pulled it off, and he's sure we can overcome his injury."
So are his teammates.
"I would like to think that we've always been a team that goes out and tries to play the game the best that we possibly can, regardless of who the quarterback is," said linebacker Mike Vrabel.
"Now, it's going to be Matt. You feel bad for Tom, and our thoughts are with Tom and whatever situation he's going to have to deal with. But life goes on. There are a lot of games left. We've won a lot of football games and that is not going to change."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org