Tom Brady moves on after knee injury

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?

"I think that's just part of the process," he said. "We'll see when that comes up. There will be plenty of guys to test it. Out here in practice, there are guys flying around. I'm going to get hit plenty this year, so I'm sure it will hold up and I'll be just fine."

To hear Palmer tell it, however, the true test won't come until the regular season begins.

"The only way you get through that mental block is repetitions, and repetitions in live games when guys can hit you low and hit you high," he said. "Practice is practice, Tom Brady's been through football practices. Practice is nothing.

"It's the game, when people are coming after you."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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The career

Tom Brady's career stats:

*--* Season Team G QBRat Comp Att Pct Yds TD Int 2000-01 New 1 42.4 1 3 33.3 6 0 0 England 2001-02 New 15 86.5 264 413 63.9 2843 18 12 England 2002-03 New 16 85.7 373 601 62.1 3764 28 14 England 2003-04 New 16 85.9 317 527 60.2 3620 23 12 England 2004-05 New 16 92.6 288 474 60.8 3692 28 14 England 2005-06 New 16 92.3 334 530 63.0 4110 26 14 England 2006-07 New 16 87.9 319 516 61.8 3529 24 12 England 2007-08 New 16 117.2 398 578 68.9 4806 50 8 England 2008-09 New 1 83.9 7 11 63.6 76 0 0 England Career 113 92.9 2301 3653 63.0 26446 197 86 statistics *--*

Super Bowls in which Brady has participated:

*--* Number Date Site Final score XXXVI Feb. 3, 2002 Superdome

New England20 -- -- New Orleans

St. Louis17 XXXVIII Feb. 1, 2004 Reliant Stadium

New England32 -- -- Houston

Carolina29 XXXIX Feb. 6, 2005 Alltel Stadium

New England24 -- -- Jacksonville, Fla.

Philadelphia2 1 XLII Feb. 3, 2008 Univ. of Phoenix

New York Stadium Giants17 -- -- Glendale, Ariz.

New England14 *--*

Major awards won by Brady:

2007: Associated Press NFL MVP; AP Offensive Player of the Year

2003: Super Bowl MVP. 2001: Super Bowl MVP

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, nfl.com and New England Patriots

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