FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots followers need no reminders of how fragile things can be when it comes to NFL franchise quarterbacks. The 2008 season, when Tom Brady sustained a season-ending injury on the 15th offensive play of the opening game, will not soon be forgotten around these parts.
Hopes can be high and then … poof! … the picture changes in an instant. For a brief moment Wednesday, the possibility of a 2008-type repeat was there for a capacity crowd at training camp to digest.
It had been a beautiful day, the energy level from spectators high and the competition on the field between the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers high as well, and then everything changed when Brady didn't get up after firing an incomplete pass toward the right sideline.
He reached down for his left knee, rubbed his hands across the knee and down his leg, and everything pretty much went quiet for about 5-10 seconds.
Brady's limp to the sideline didn't exactly provide any more comfort for those in attendance, but the news was about to get better. Brady quickly returned to practice to thunderous applause, and after finishing the drill, he called it a day after consulting with head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head athletic trainer Jim Whalen. The idea was to be cautious, and an MRI on his left knee was negative. A sprain was the initial diagnosis, and a major scare was averted.
The turn of events served as a reminder to when Brady acknowledged how his outlook had changed with injuries. He once said that athletes sometimes feel like they are invincible, and then when they experience something like he did with the season-ending knee injury in 2008, it can lead to a different outlook.
"You count your blessings when you come off the field," he said in September 2010. "I think you have a new appreciation when you do come off the field, win or lose. You're trying to win every time out, obviously, but I think you also pinch yourself every time you walk off the field healthy. … That's a different approach that I've taken over the years because you really never know when your last day may be."
Brady, who of course took over for injured starter Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season, has said that he wants to play into his 40s, and he's in top physical condition to possibly do so. But one never can predict injuries -- whether it's an offensive lineman being blocked into the quarterback or a safety rolling into him -- and Wednesday was yet another reminder of that.
Those are questions that few around these parts want to find out the answers to, but Belichick naturally has to keep them in mind when building his roster.
It's why he has spent third-round draft choices on quarterbacks in recent years, first with Kevin O'Connell in 2008 and then Mallett in 2011. As Belichick has said in the past, if there isn't a quarterback capable of running the offense, given the importance of the position it puts the entire offense at risk.
O'Connell didn't pan out, but in describing the Patriots' thinking at the time, owner Robert Kraft said: "This is a game where you never know on one snap what can happen. What happened with Drew [Bledsoe] and Tom is a perfect example, so having insurance at key parts of any business is good business."
For a brief moment Wednesday, the Patriots were forced to turn to their top insurance policy, Mallett. They can feel thankful that it doesn't appear to be a long-term situation. No one needed the reminder that things can change in an instant, especially around these parts. But it came anyway, a big scare then a big sigh of relief.