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Brady follows orders

He won't discuss his injury in detail

FOXBOROUGH -- Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden opened a pair of news conferences yesterday -- one with the media in Tampa and another a teleconference for Boston-area reporters -- with some detailed information about the status of his injured players.

Bill Belichick did not.

Basically, the only details concerning the injured leg of quarterback Tom Brady came via the official injury report: questionable; shoulder/shin; missed portion of yesterday's practice.

The shoulder listing is a standard practice for the Patriots, who have placed Brady on every injury report for the last two seasons, denoting him as probable with an unidentified shoulder issue, though he hasn't missed a practice or a game.

Brady hurt his left shin diving into the end zone in the first quarter of last Sunday's 35-7 win at Buffalo. Though he winced in pain and limped for some of the game, he played until the contest was out of hand.

Yesterday, Brady offered a limited update on his condition. (According to league rules, the term ''questionable" means he has a 50-50 chance of playing.)

''I'm doing better than I was a few days ago," Brady said. ''You guys know Belichick, so I'm not going to talk about this stuff. He's given me strict instructions to keep quiet, so that's what I'm doing.

''We'll see how it goes, so hopefully I'll be out there. I'm excited about what [Saturday's game against Tampa Bay] means for us, it's going to be a great challenge, one of the best teams in the NFC.

''I wish I could elaborate, but Belichick said, 'Don't say anything about it.' So, it's what the boss said, it's what I do."

Brady has started 84 straight games since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in the third game of the 2001 season.

''I've said that's something I'm really proud of," Brady said. ''There's something about showing up and playing every week. I think that's the goal of everybody in this locker room. Everybody wants to be out there. Sometimes you're limited and you just try to see where you're at.

''I've been very fortunate over the years, not to have any major injuries that would keep me out. When I separated my shoulder a few years ago, it was the last game of the year. But that was really it."

Apparently the statute of limitations has run out on the old shoulder injury from the 2002 season. Brady has never acknowledged it being separated.

During the portion of the workout the media was allowed to view, Brady did practice and appeared normal.

Tampa is the only NFL team that Brady has never started against, though that has no effect on the Bucs' admiration for the Patriots' signal-caller.

''Future Hall of Famer. That's what comes to my mind [when I think of Brady]. He does everything well. He's a total package," said Bucs defensive end Greg Spires, who played three seasons with the Patriots and was Brady's teammate in 2000.

''He doesn't really run out of the pocket. He's not a [Michael] Vick. He's not [Aaron] Brooks. But he has different things he does to buy time, get the ball off, find open receivers."

Brady leads the NFL in passing yards with 3,630, giving him a 340-yard advantage on the Colts' Peyton Manning. Should Brady maintain that pace over the last three games, he will finish with 4,468 yards, more than 700 better than his career best from 2002.

Much of Brady's increase in yardage is directly related to the Patriots' inconsistent running game. New England averages just 7 total yards more per game than it did through 13 games last season. But at this point a year ago, the Patriots were eighth in the league in rushing (129.2 yards per game); this year, the team is 22d overall on the ground, averaging 94.1 yards a game.

''We made some progress in the last few weeks and I think we played more to our style and more the way we're capable," said Brady, who threw for more than 300 yards in three of the first five games, but has topped that mark only once in the last eight games, and that was this past week against the Bills. ''I don't think we're playing as well as we would like to, but that's something that we have a few more weeks to really get better at.

''This week would be great to put it together. This would be a great week to have our best game of the year and we're going to need it because we're playing a very, very tough team who obviously isn't intimidated by going on the road this year. They have the best road record in the NFC. They're No. 1 in their division. They're good in all three phases of the game."

With a victory over the Bucs, who are 5-2 on the road with wins at difficult stops such as Atlanta and Carolina, the Patriots will claim their third straight AFC East title.

''Well, we really haven't played well enough early in the year to put ourselves in a position to win it," Brady said. ''We haven't really played the way we're capable over the course of 13 weeks and we haven't played a really consistent style.

''But obviously, if we win this week, we could [win the division] and I think that's the goal. That's something we're going to be working hard to accomplish."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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