FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — No sniffles, no coughs, no watery eyes.
Patriots fans can breathe easy now that Tom Brady is back at practice.
“Doing very well, thank you,” the quarterback who will lead New England into the AFC championship game said Thursday.
Brady was removed from the injury report one day after being a no-show at practice because of illness. And teammates weren’t concerned that the lost time would affect him Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
“The most important thing is that he’s healthy and that he’s ready to go,” running back Shane Vereen said. “He’s been doing this for a long time, so he’s the last one that I’m really worried about.”
The 14-year veteran has been nursing a cold for a while. He showed signs of it four days before the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 in an AFC divisional-round game last Saturday night.
“A little bit,” he said then, “but I’ll live.”
Special teams captain Matthew Slater, whose locker is next to Brady’s, smiled when asked Thursday if he was worried that Brady might be contagious.
“I didn’t put up a barrier. I think he’s feeling better,” Slater said. “We’ve got to keep everybody healthy. It’s the cold and flu season.”
Brady wouldn’t say what his illness was — “It was nothing. I feel great. Nothing at all.” — and didn’t think his one-day absence would set him back.
“We’ve been at it for a while now,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of football over the whole season.”
Lately, that’s involved handing the ball off more than throwing it. In the last three games, all wins, the Patriots (13-4) have averaged 41 rushes for 214 yards and 25 passes for 153 yards. For the first time in three seasons, Brady has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three consecutive games.
But that’s not how the three-time Super Bowl champion measures success.
“I think it’s just about winning,” Brady said. “If we need to throw for 500 yards, hopefully we can do that. If we need to throw for 50 yards, I’ll throw for 50 yards. As long as we win and whatever it takes for us to score more points than the other team, that’s what we have to do.”
They’ll probably have to score a lot.
The Broncos (14-3) set an NFL record this season with 606 points. That’s 37.9 per game. The Patriots, dealing all season with injuries to key players and a developing passing game, averaged 27.8. But they did beat the Broncos in the 11th game, 34-31 in overtime, after trailing 24-0 at halftime.
The Patriots turned the ball over on their first three possessions in that game but won on Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal after a punt hit Denver’s Tony Carter and New England recovered.
“However the game ebbs and flows, I think we have to be prepared to just play for 60 minutes,” Brady said. “You’re not going to play 30 minutes against this team and then think you have it all figured out. They’re going to change, we’re going to change.”
And if he’s not feeling well? It shouldn’t make a difference.
The day before the AFC championship game in January 2005, Brady had a sore throat and a fever of 103. Then he had the highest passer rating (130.5) in his eight playoff games to that point, all victories. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 win at Pittsburgh, where the temperature was 11 degrees with a wind chill of minus-1.
Two weeks after that win, the Patriots beat Philadelphia for their third Super Bowl championship in four years.
“We had a lot of tough guys,” Willie McGinest, a linebacker on those Patriots, said Thursday, “guys like Tom and some of the other guys we had on those teams, we had to drag them off the field.”
Brady expects to be there to the end on Sunday, expecting a high-scoring game against the Broncos.
“We better be ready to score some points because that’s what they do best. They outscore you and they can score quickly,” he said. “They’ve been playing great since the opening day of the season. We’ve kind of had to find our way a little bit. But none of it really matters. It’s just all about this game.”