From start, QB was on a roll
PITTSBURGH — Tom Brady? Foot injury?
It didn’t look like there was anything wrong with Brady against the Steelers last night.
His feet looked fine. His arm was pretty good, too, particularly when he wound up and spiked the football in the end zone after his 3-yard plunge gave the Patriots a 23-3 third-quarter lead and silenced Heinz Field.
Working without the aid of crutches, Jacoby Ellsbury’s body cast, or Paul Pierce’s wheelchair, Brady carved up the vaunted Steel Curtain on NFL Sunday Night Theatre. He completed 30 of 43 passes, threw for three touchdowns, and ran for a fourth as the Patriots beat the conference wannabe kingpins, 39-26, to improve to 7-2.
“We know what they’re about and I think this shows what we’re about,’’ said a jubilant Brady after midnight. “We’re excited. We haven’t been this happy in a long time. We’re 7-2. There’s a lot of football left.’’
The Super Bowl is officially up for grabs, ladies and gentlemen. There are no great teams this year. “Any given Sunday’’ is more than a slogan. It is reality. And in a year in which almost any team can run deep into the playoffs, the Patriots have the guy who has been there before and wants to go back again.
Brady looks ready. He’s slicing and dicing. He’s checking off. He’s yelling at his offensive linemen. He’s fooling TV announcers with his play fakes. He’s not getting sacked. He’s not throwing interceptions. He was significantly better than Ben Roethlisberger last night as the Patriots improved to an amazing 4-1 at the Big Ketchup Bottle.
As the Sunday special unfolded, it was hard to remember that we actually had questions about Brady’s readiness entering this game.
There had been four days of speculation about Brady’s health after he failed to practice Wednesday because of what the Patriots listed as a “foot injury.’’
Naturally there was no information regarding Brady before last night’s game. We didn’t know afterward that he was hurt last week in the stinker against Cleveland and we didn’t know he was hurt when he submitted to his one-and-only media availability Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium.
The injury report, issued later Wednesday and updated the rest of the week, reported Brady experiencing “right shoulder/foot’’ problems. According to the Patriots, Brady has had shoulder problems for approximately 900 consecutive weeks. Coach Bill Belichick enjoys making a mockery of the league-mandated injury report. But Brady’s foot citation was something new.
Which foot, you ask?
We don’t know. We don’t know which foot and we don’t know when he hurt it.
This is the Patriot way. There is no upside to telling the world where you are hurting, unless of course you are Brett Favre and you want everyone to know that you are an incredible gamer.
Brady did not practice Wednesday. That seemed suspicious given that he loves to practice and given that many Patriots cited a “bad week of practice’’ before the Cleveland debacle.
The QB was back on the field Thursday (limited participation) and the sleuths on the beat tried to detect some trace of Brady favoring a leg. There was not much to report.
Brady came out for warm-ups at 7:36 last night, less than an hour before kickoff. His pregame routine was . . . routine.
Once the game started, he looked like the same old Tom. With better hair, of course.
Brady moved the Patriots 70 yards on eight plays in four minutes on their first drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes, including a 19-yard bullet over the middle, hitting tight end Rob Gronkowski as the big rookie crossed the goal line.
It was almost too easy. It temporarily took the crowd out of the game. It reminded Football America that the Patriots were not going to be humiliated two weeks in a row. And it smothered the suggestion that Brady was too hurt to help. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 180 yards in the first half. He was not intercepted, nor was he sacked.
Meanwhile, Belichick’s young, maligned defense made Roethlisberger look like the guy who should be in the infirmary.
Brady was unusually animated throughout the night. He didn’t like the drops and penalties that stopped drives in the first half and he let his teammates know about it. But at the end of the night he spread the credit around. He was particularly happy with his pass protection.
“I love those guys — those are my boys,’’ he said.
Brady found Gronkowski for a 9-yard touchdown pass at the start of the third quarter that made it 17-3. His 3-yard keeper made it 23-3 near the end of the quarter. While Logan Mankins tangled with some angry Steelers linemen, Brady spiked the ball in front of stunned Pittsburgh fans.
“I don’t run much,’’ said the smiling QB. “Coach made a great call and I was able to fall forward. I don’t score very often, so the times when I do get in the end zone I like to spike the ball. Growing up watching the 49ers, Tom Rathman used to do that. So I like to do it.’’
We didn’t see this coming, just like we didn’t foresee the beatdown in Cleveland one week earlier. The Patriots finally played a complete game, and old reliable Tom Brady was once again their ace.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.