On Wednesday, Tom Brady was added to the Patriots’ injury report after a teammate ran into him in practice, jamming Brady’s hand. He missed that day’s media availability while he met with medical staff, but X-rays on Brady’s hand came back negative and it seemed like this report was only a fleeting speed bump on the road toward New England’s AFC championship matchup with the Jaguars.
On Thursday, Brady did not speak to the media for a second consecutive day, and warmed up with gloves on both hands. But a pushed press conference and a pair of gloves is no reason to sound any alarms. Brady has been occasionally adversarial with the press in recent seasons, explaining away his absence, and he has worn a glove on his throwing hand in cold weather before. This all seemed like a nonstory. Then, this image surfaced:
It looks unremarkable at first glance, but let’s zoom in:
Zoomed in on @Westipic so you don't have to. That's a bulky looking thumb Tom Brady's got, no? pic.twitter.com/yIxDa7ZKY3— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 18, 2018
As NBC Sports Boston’s Mike Giardi points out, does Brady’s thumb look a little … bulky? Could something really be wrong with the GOAT’s thumb, and therefore his hand, and therefore his ability to win his sixth Super Bowl? Notably, Brady did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Welcome to Thumbgate.
Let’s not jump the gun here: Is Brady’s thumb really any different, or is that just an unflattering photo? Here’s another angle:
The way he is holding his hand, presenting it to backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, is certainly not promising. Plus, is that the beginning of a grimace on the edge of Brady’s mouth? It’s hard to draw any conclusions—we still need a better look at that thumb. Enhance!
There certainly appears to be some boxiness present in this photo. If you haven’t already looked at your own thumb while reading this, take a peek—it probably doesn’t end in a right angle. It’s hard to look at these pixels and think that Brady’s thumb is normal, much less the thumb we’d expect from an elite athlete.
So what could be the cause of a #BulkyThumb? It could be an ill-fitting glove, sure. It could also be a swollen, mangled balloon of a thumb, which could be the reason Brady is wearing the glove in the first place. But the most obvious explanation would be that Brady is wearing something underneath the glove. Local radio producer Jason Rossi tweeted that a “reliable source” told him that Brady’s thumb is wrapped:
A reliable source at Gillette told me Brady’s thumb is wrapped (saw him in the halls post practice) which can indicate a hyperextension. Look closely you can see a dark wrap under his glove. pic.twitter.com/CYk9wXGLoT— Jason Rossi (@JasonDRossi) January 18, 2018
Rossi’s report has to be taken with a grain of salt, as I don’t see any kind of “dark wrap” in the photo above, and I zoomed all the way in on it in Photoshop. Could Brady’s injury really be that bad? Here’s a photo of Brady without the glove, taken at practice Wednesday after the injury:
There certainly appears to be something going on with the digit, but it’s hard to tell whether Brady has sustained a substantial injury or if he’s just enduring the normal wear and tear for an NFL quarterback. Is that swelling above the knuckle? It’s tough to say.
But let’s assume, for the moment, that there is an injury. Would it affect Brady’s ability to win on Sunday? As Jay Cutler eloquently put it when he suffered a thumb injury in 2016, “You know, as a quarterback, you kind of need your right thumb.” The Patriots, though, might see the importance of thumbs a little differently. When Jacoby Brissett injured his thumb in Week 3 of the 2016 season, New England said it wasn’t a serious injury, and Brissett returned to play the very next week.
Brady himself has a history of thumb injuries. Last season, the greatest quarterback to ever play sliced his thumb open with a pair of scissors while trying to dig something out of his cleat and missed a preseason game against the Bears. Of course, Brady had plenty of time to heal from that injury, as his season didn’t begin until he returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension.
The thumb isn’t integral to the release of a football (the ball rolls off the fingers, not the thumb), but it is crucial in gripping it. We know that Brady prefers a slightly, uh, softer football—and his ability to hold onto the ball could prove crucial on Sunday. All it takes is one unfortunate fumble or wobbly pass to open up an opportunity for the Jacksonville defense, which led the league with seven defensive touchdowns.
Of course, maybe we’re just blowing this all out of proportion. Even if Brady’s thumb is disfigured, health guru Alex Guerrero has more than 72 hours to find whatever magical fruit or vegetable can provide a cure. We know it won’t be a strawberry.