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Tom Brady moves on after knee injury

But others, who have dealt with the aftermath of their own injuries, including Carson Palmer, say the biggest hurdle will be the mental one.

August 09, 2009|Sam Farmer

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — As a three-time Super Bowl champion and former NFL most valuable player, New England quarterback Tom Brady is used to having fans fall at his feet.

The big question: Can he get comfortable with players doing the same?

Brady, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of last season's opener, says he feels fine now and is looking forward to showing his recovery is complete.

"I've kind of made a concerted effort to move on," he said. "That was last season and this is this season."

But Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who in early 2006 suffered a remarkably similar knee injury, said the psychological effects linger even now.

"The biggest part was the mental block of the confidence of following though on your throws," said Palmer, who, like Brady, suffered tears of the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.

"Still to this day I'm trying to get over this mental block. There's just somebody somewhere near you -- because your eyes are so focused downfield and you're looking at five different things in one play -- that there's somebody two yards away from you, two inches away from you, eight yards away from you, and you feel that."

What's more, Palmer said, it's very easy for bad things to happen to your passes if you fail to complete your throwing motion.

"It's just something where you've got to go out on a limb and just say, 'I'm going to step through every throw,' " he said, speaking last month at the NFL 101 event in Los Angeles. "Because what happens is the ball starts sailing on you, balls start dying, interceptions happen, tipped balls happen, and your completion percentage drastically goes down."

To some extent, Palmer's numbers reflect that. He sustained the injury on the first pass play of a divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh, and returned to action in training camp seven months later after a rigorous rehabilitation. Although his completion percentage dropped significantly from 2005 to 2006, from 67.8% to 62.3%, he threw for more than 4,000 yards in his first season back, something he had never done.

Brady, meanwhile, is essentially coming off an MVP season in which he threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes and led the Patriots to an unprecedented 16-0 record in the regular season. They wound up losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl and finished 18-1.

After sitting out each of the exhibition games last summer because of a hurt foot, Brady made his debut in the opener against Kansas City, and the gruesome knee injury happened midway through the first quarter. He was hit on the knee by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard as he was throwing -- the type of cover-your-eyes collision that every quarterback dreads.

"The situation he was in was the worst you could be in as a quarterback that's taking a hit," Hall of Famer John Elway said. "That's the nightmare hit, where you're rolled over the front leg and let go of a pass, and the guy hits you in the front left leg."

Elway played each of his 16 seasons without an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and had knee-replacement surgery on that leg once his career was over. He understands what Palmer is saying, and agrees with it.

Asked if he thought Brady would need time to recover from the psychological impact of the hit, Elway said: "Yeah, there's no question. Especially the way he got hit. That thing planted when he was coming over the top of it, so it's going to take a little bit of time for him to get used to that. I don't think it will affect him too much, but there's no question that will be there. Psychologically, he's got to get used to people falling at his feet again. He was locked out when he got hit last year."

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said that for a player, dealing with the mental fallout from any serious injury "is a hurdle no one can talk you through."

"I think that's pretty common with all players," Belichick said. "Guy has a shoulder injury and he can bench press more than he did before. But until he actually goes out there and tackles somebody and has a collision with it, he probably doesn't have the same confidence in it that he did. And then when that does happen. . . .

"You know plenty of guys who have come back off injuries, and after they've been hit there, or they've hit somebody or whatever it is, then they're like, 'OK, I knew it was strong. But now I've had that, I held up and I know I'm good.' "

People who know Brady don't seem overly concerned. He's a rare competitor who so far has made a remarkable recovery. He's eager to show he's the same player everyone remembers, and seems unfazed by the brace he now wears on his left knee.

"You forget about it," he said. "It's the last thing I'm thinking about out here. I've got so many other things to think about, trying to complete the ball. You put the thing on and then you take it off. I don't think too much of it."

As for the thought of players coming oh-so-close to his reconstructed knee?

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