Tom Brady may be less than 100 percent this week as his Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Philadelphia Eagles on "Thursday Night Football." A banged-up thumb on his throwing hand will leave the 44-year-old fighting through pain on every throw.
Other players would be forced to sit out weeks. But with Brady? Does throwing with four fingers even matter?
The Athletic's Greg Auman reported Monday the thumb was wrapped with tape. Brady's response? "It's a little bit sore but nothing I'm not used to. I've certainly had worse."
The Miami Dolphins sure didn't find an injured Brady easier to handle. A five-touchdown performance, Brady's second in five games this season, sliced apart their defense to the tune of 45 points. He's now on pace for 51 TD passes this season, a new career high for the first player to do the unthinkable: wage war against Father Time and win.
Keep in mind Brady likely suffered the thumb injury early on Sunday. It means he's already used to playing — and succeeding — through the pain as Tampa Bay took sole possession of the NFC South. The Buccaneers appear fully recovered from a tough two-week stretch, losing to the Rams and then going through a once-in-a-career moment for Brady facing the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium.
Into this buzzsaw come the Philadelphia Eagles, a team plagued by inconsistency on both sides of the ball. A 2-3 record has produced some ugly losses (41-21 to the Dallas Cowboys) but also some promising performances, including last week's fourth-quarter comeback against the Carolina Panthers.
Can the Eagles carry that momentum into this latest clash with Brady? Or are they just the latest team to get bulldozed in the Bucs' quest for back-to-back Super Bowl success?
Thursday Night Football: Tampa Bay (4-1) at Philadelphia (2-3)
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 14 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network/Amazon Prime
Spread: Buccaneers -7
Three Things To Watch
1. Will Brady be bothered at all?
Brady's thumb will be scrutinized more than any other NFL injury this week. But how often have we seen this superhuman play through similar problems? He just played an entire Super Bowl-winning year with a knee injury that required offseason surgery.
Since replacing Drew Bledsoe in the middle of 2001, Brady has only missed 19 out of a possible 323 NFL regular-season starts. Fifteen of those were for a torn ACL suffered in the first quarter of Week 1 in 2008; the other four were for a suspension due to the Deflategate scandal in 2016. In between, Brady's been one of the league's most durable quarterbacks, quietly playing through a variety of ailments that often flew under the radar.
"In my younger days, I probably would have never showed you guys [the thumb]," he said after Sunday's game. "I'd probably try to keep it a secret. But, I think, at my old age, I don't care so much."
The Eagles' defense will certainly care as they try to throw Brady off his game. Problem is, two weeks ago they had another MVP quarterback come to town as good prep work for Brady's arrival. They failed the test, as Patrick Mahomes torched the Eagles for five TD passes and the Kansas City Chiefs never punted in seven offensive possessions.
Linebacker Eric Wilson did pick off one Mahomes pass, a brief moment where the Eagles looked like they could get back in the game. But Mahomes has been a step below MVP level this year, committing a turnover in four straight games as the Chiefs have regressed to 2-3.
Brady? He hasn't had an interception since Week 1. The Eagles' passing defense is still ranked third in the NFL despite that Mahomes blip, but I expect they'll still have their work cut out for them Thursday night.
2. Which Philadelphia offense will show up?
The Eagles' offense has been defined by inconsistency. They've scored 22 points or more just twice in five games, and one of those was the season opener against the Falcons.
Last week, the Eagles condensed their offensive roller-coaster into a single game. They scored six points in eight first-half possessions, giving up a safety to the Panthers, then adding a fumble and an interception to start the second half before turning on the jets.
Their 15 unanswered points were driven by a trio of young Eagles players: first-round pick DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, and Dallas Goedert. It looks like Smith, in particular, is settling into the NFL and developing chemistry with a former Alabama teammate: 14 of his 25 catches have come in the last two weeks.
Smith will be a tough matchup for the Bucs secondary, even with Jamel Dean back in the lineup, although Antoine Winfield Jr. will miss another game due to a concussion. But Goedert will not play after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday. So who will Jalen Hurts turn to as a third option? Former Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz has been invisible, making just one meaningless catch Sunday. Ertz now hasn't had a game with more than 70 receiving yards since 2019 and will be hard-pressed to match Goedert's performance.
3. Who can run the ball?
The Bucs have been hesitant to put the ball on the ground this year, ranking 26th in rushing offense despite scoring 33.4 points per game, second in the NFC. No one on the team has put together a 100-yard rushing performance despite Leonard Fournette averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry.
Is Thursday night when they'll try and spread their wings a bit to take the pressure off Brady's thumb? Fournette had a season-high 5.6 yards per carry against the Dolphins, earning his first rushing touchdown of the season on 67 yards.
Just as important will be how the Bucs' front line manages the legs of Hurts and Miles Sanders. Sanders has had a disappointing start, rushing no more than 74 yards in any games as head coach Nick Sirianni has been accused of abandoning the run too early. The Penn State product has just 214 yards this year, less than half of the total he put up during his first five starts of 2020 (434). Part of that has to do with the emergence of rookie Kenneth Gainwell, who has 21 carries for 100 yards and two scores plus 14 receptions for 122 yards out of the third-down role.
Hurts fancies himself a Lamar Jackson redux, piling up the second-most rushing yards of any QB this season (256, more than Sanders to lead the Eagles). But Jackson's record (4-1) shows his ability to utilize his runs at the right time. To win Thursday night, Hurts will need to get better with his decision-making, focusing on moving the chains rather than padding his stat line.
The Eagles came up with a quirky win last week, helped a bit by a blocked punt in the fourth quarter while Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold came down to earth after a hot start (three interceptions).
It would be a miracle for the Eagles to get the same type of turnover luck against an experienced Buccaneers team. Brady just has too many weapons, from Antonio Brown to Mike Evans, along with an underused rushing attack in Fournette. Even with Rob Gronkowski out, healing from broken ribs, this one should be a cakewalk for the defending Super Bowl champs.
Imagine what would happen with Brady at 100 percent…
Prediction: Buccaneers 38, Eagles 20
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.