Every game needs a story. Every season needs an arc. A great story is told in many parts. We expected to see the culmination of a multi-season storyline when the Steelers and Patriots returned to the AFC Championship to face off one more time. This time, James Harrison is a Patriot. This time, The Steelers were prepared. This time, Tom Brady would have his favorite weapon, Rob Gronkowski, on the field. The Steelers had been upended last year, and beat in a heartbreakingly close game during the season. The game was built to have all the makings of a classic.
And then the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42.
After over a year of build up to get back to this point, the NFL made a last minute decision to send the Jaguars to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1999. Now, the Jaguars making a deep playoff run is already a story in itself, and some would argue that you could probably (and probably should) just rally behind that story. An unlikely young team about to step up against Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots. But the League doesn’t think like that. The problem with that story is that Tom Brady only plays a supporting role – and Tom Brady is a main event player.
So instead of taking the Jaguars upset win and using the momentum to get over an exciting, fresh young team, they go with this:
#Patriots QB Tom Brady was limited during practice today with a right-hand injury. Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee were limited.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 17, 2018
THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD IS INJURED. What does this mean!? Will Brady be able to play? How will he perform? Is this the payoff of the Garapollo trade? Just like that, all eyes (and drama) are back on Brady. The NFL needed a storyline for the game, and this is what they can come up with on short notice. Fine. If anything, it proves that even the slightest Brady story will get fans and media all whipped up.
A little outside drama from pundits speculating about a hand injury would be fine, but it has become the dominant story of the game, thanks to the League’s increasingly ridiculous dramatization of it. They need their five-time Super Bowl champion to look like the underdog against a team that by all accounts is just happy to be there.
Tom Brady wore gloves on both hands at his press conference today. When asked about his status for Sunday Brady said: “We’ll see.”
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) January 19, 2018
Of course he’s going to play! Does anyone really believe he’s not going to play!?
Give the League a little credit, in less than a week they’ve managed to re-focus the spotlight away from their impulsive, punitive booking decision last week, and onto Tom Brady, who they have somehow sold as an underdog against a team who was 3-13 just one season ago. The NFL wins. Brady wins. The Patriots and their fans win.
You know who loses? The Jaguars. Not just in Sunday’s game, but they lose out on an opportunity to have been built into a game that meant something so much more after the improbable win over the Steelers last week. The story of a team who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, who scoffed at adversity, who tuned out the critics and who took on all-comers and beat the odds on their quest to prove that they belong here. But we don’t get that story, because Tom Brady’s hand is more important.