NFL: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scrambles against the Buffalo Bills during New England’s 24-12 victory on Sunday.

Is Tom Brady hurting?

Yep.

Will it stop him from playing?

Nope.

As you unwrapped your presents Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the thought had to be nagging at you – at least in the back of your mind – if you ware a Patriots fan.

Will he be OK for the playoffs?

If you missed it, Brady had a rotten day throwing the football in Sunday’s 24-12 win over the Bills – kind of historically rotten. But the Patriots ran the ball a lot and cruised to the win that clinched their 10th straight AFC Least title.

But with 6:39 left in that game and the score 24-6, Brady was replaced. And to any of us who have seen Bill Belichick keep his QB on the field with scores much larger, the move came as a surprise.

One report after the game had Brady running toward the locker room after the handshakes and then having to stop.

He’s 41 and has a sore knee. Maybe even two sore knees. But he shrugged it off after the game and did it again Monday on WEEI.

“I am not getting into specifics of injuries,” Brady said on his regular Monday appearance. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Nothing benefits me talking about injuries and my injuries and so forth. Again, it’s football. There are a lot of guys dealing with a lot of things. It’s the nature of the sport. It is about having mental and physical toughness and grinding through whatever you have and try and go out there and help the team win.

“Yeah, I mean I was on the injury report for I think three or four weeks with a knee, but I have been practicing every day since I came off that. I feel great. I really do. Everyone has little bumps and bruises. It’s just football. It is a long season, but for this time of year I feel great. I feel ready to go. I am excited for this week. I would like to go out there and play our best game, play a lot better than we did (Sunday) in the pass game and complement our run game and try and go out and see if we can get a really good win against a tough team, a tough division team. Try and make sure we can get ourselves a first-round bye if we get a win.”

The events in Foxborough and elsewhere Sunday may well have been the greatest remedy for Brady’s pain. By winning, the Patriots, and with the Texans suffering a last-second loss in Philadelphia, the No. 2 seed became a virtual lock – only a win over the Jets this Sunday, a win that completes an 8-0 home slate, standing in the way. And a bye means a rest for the 41-year-old quarterback.

Former teammate Rob Ninkovich thinks it’s the age, not the injury, finally slowing his buddy down.

“I don’t know if he’s hurt or if he’s just getting older,” Ninkovich said on WEEI. “Everyone seems to have this false sense that Tom is invincible but he’s 41 years old, playing a position where you get 300 pound guys landing on you, hitting you, big guys all around you. It gets a little hairy in there. I just think that we’re seeing Tom slow down a little bit.”

A slowed-down Brady is better than most at this time of year and get this – the Patriots are also in long-shot position to take home field throughout the playoffs.

How? Later Sunday, at night, the Chiefs also lost. That means if KC loses to Oakland and the Chargers lose at Denver Sunday – OK, not a likely Daily Double – and the Pats win, then they secure a No. 1 seed and will have gone from a wild card to No. 1 in eight days.

Late drama

The Pats were in their locker room when they saw the Eagles, the team that beat them in last year’s Super Bowl, rally past the Texans with a late field goal.

Monday, also on WEEI, Belichick said, “We were in the coaches locker room and we saw the last couple plays of that. It was a big win for the Eagles and it certainly helped our situation. Now the most important thing for us is to go out and win Sunday.”

Yes, it was the Eagles who helped out on Sunday, leading the Patriots to tweet: “We never thought we’d say this in 2018, but ... Thanks Nick Foles! #StNick”

Yelled Julian Edelman: “Fly Eagles fly.”

And Dont’a Hightower said, “I can’t believe I’m rooting for the (bleep) Eagles right now.”

Special man

More WEEI: Brady on his owner: “Mr. (Robert) Kraft has been like a second father to me in so many ways. He’s been part of so many important events in my life. He was at my wedding. I love him like a dad. He’s always around. He does a great job. There is a lot to manage when you own a team, there is a lot going on. He gives contributions to our team. He provides great guidance and leadership.

“He really cares so much about us and provides us with facilities, all the food, everything. He’s a very giving man. He does a lot for our community. His foundation does a lot for our community and I can’t obviously say enough good things about him and what our relationship has been and what it always will be. It is a wonderful family. Jonathan, and what he contributes to the team. Danny, Josh. Josh runs the foundation.

“I obviously have known the family for 19 years. I think all of New England should be happy they are the owners of our team.”

The passing game was quiet Sunday, but optimistic offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday, “Nobody is happy with what we did in the passing game yesterday, and it starts with me. I have to do a better job of getting us in the right positions no matter what the defense is doing and then get our guys to execute it properly when we have our opportunities.

“We have good stretches this year when we’ve executed well in one phase or the other. And we’ve had some stretches where we’ve executed in both phases. Certainly the opponents deserve a lot of credit when we are disrupted ... we have to work hard to try to improve those things as quickly as we can because we have a huge challenge coming up.”

On the other side of the passing game, it still looks to these eyes that there’s too much available over the middle against the Patriots.

Not a hero

Chris Hogan was on the field for more offensive snaps than anyone Sunday. He was targeted exactly ZERO times.

From Mike Giardi via Twitter: “Chris Hogan led all recievers with 62 snaps. He was not targeted once. Frustrated? ‘Not at all. We won.’ Hogan spiked his helmet on the sidelines after the team scored a TD & later sat on the defensive bench, away from his offensive teammates. Said it was superstition.”

The Patriots came within 1:08 of keeping the Bills from scoring a touchdown in two games.

As NESN’s Zack Cox pointed out: “In two games against the Patriots this season, LeSean McCoy had 18 carries for 22 yards. Not great.”

Former receiver great Steve Smith doesn’t like how the Patriots build their wide receiver corps, saying Sunday, “They need to stop going down to the Salvation Army to get their wide receivers. They need to get some real-deal wide receivers.

They also need to figure out a way to get the ball to Rob Gronkowski. Yes, we know all about how important the big fella is to the running game – 273 yards Sunday – and to getting other guys free, but No. 87 also had only the third shutout of his career Sunday.

Is he hurt? Is he disinterested? Is he thinking about already being in retirement? We shall see.

Sunday’s win had to be even more special to a pair of Pats cornerbacks – Jason McCourty, who played for the 0-16 Browns last year, and J.C. Jackson, an undrafted rookie.

McCourty’s twin brother Devin won his ninth AFC Least title. Jason won his first, and will be going to the playoffs for the first time.

“Hat and T-shirt!” he said after the game – after he picked off a pass with a great catch and also forced a fumble. “First one. I am excited about that. Matt Slater said it to us at the end of the game that there is a lot more to our story but you do not take any moment for granted. It took me ten years to be able to say that I have won my division and you put a hat and shirt on.”

From WEEI’s Ryan Hannable, who works as hard as any reporter on that beat: “J.C. Jackson played 100 percent of the snaps (61 out of 61) vs. Bills. Clearly, the undrafted rookie has impressed last few weeks. Other CB snaps: Stephon Gilmore 51, Jason McCourty 33, Jonathan Jones, 24, Keion Crossen 14.”

Jackson, who also had a pick, after the game: “Quarterbacks are going to throw to my side anyway, but when they do, I’m going to make them pay for it.”

Speaking of Slater, what a special teams game he had Sunday. He caught a pair of Ryan Allen punts, on the fly, inside the Buffalo 10 and also deflected a punt.

Finally, an ecstatic P.K. Subban, not a big fan favorite around Boston, was in the locker room after Sunday’s game and swapped signed equipment – Brady jersey for a Subban stick.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.