When Patriots rookie offensive lineman Tre' Jackson went down with a left knee injury in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's game against the Dolphins, it looked serious.
Jackson writhed on the ground in pain after Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon collided with the outside of Jackson's leg while Jackson blocked defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Jackson grabbed his helmet and pulled at his face mask, appearing to be in a significant amount of discomfort as team medical personnel attended to him on the field. Eventually Jackson walked off to the Patriots sidelines under his own power with an unstrapped knee brace clinging loosely to his leg.
That knee brace, something that the Patriots have long asked their linemen to wear under coach Bill Belichick, may have saved Jackson from a season-ending injury. Belichick was asked about the team's knee-brace policy during a conference call on Monday.
"The braces that the players wear now are a little different than the braces that we first started wearing back in the 80s when I was first with the Giants and then Cleveland," Belichick said. "They were kind of like a steel hinge that was usually taped or wrapped to the side of the knee, as opposed to the brace, the bigger DonJoy braces that most guys wear now.
"I can remember on multiple occasions, seeing the brace, like, literally bent in half. Not maybe in half, but bent significantly so that it's taken a blow. The brace bends and the player had a minor injury or a low MCL sprain or something like that. And the braces were strong. Had they not taken that blow and protected the player, you'd have to imagine the injuries would be a lot worse. I think that was a pretty vivid image that I had. We did that with the players as well, too. When that happened in a meeting, you'd just hold the brace up and say, you know, 'It's fortunate that so and so was wearing this protective brace. Looks like he might miss a week or two, or maybe he isn't going to miss any time at all, but I think we can all picture a more severe injury if he didn't have this protective equipment on.' That type of thing.
"The braces now, at least the way they're constructed. They're not really conducive to that type of a visual example. But you still see plays on film where guys get hit in a way that it looks like it's going to be a pretty bad injury and then it isn't as bad as it looks. I'm sure part of that is the protective equipment."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wears a brace on his left knee, something he started doing during training camp of the 2013 season after he took a hit to his left leg during a joint practice with the Buccaneers. Brady's first inclination was to continue playing without the brace, but he acquiesced to owner Robert Kraft's wishes and has been wearing one ever since. On the play when Jackson was injured, Brady actually took an awkward low hit to his left leg from Vernon as well.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said during a conference call on Monday that he thinks the braces have helped keep Patriots players on the field.
"I think the knee braces are great," he said. "Look, the most important thing for us is the health of the players. If there's something that we can do to help protect them in a game that obviously has enough injuries as it is, then I think it's worthwhile. I don't think it's a big hassle to do that in either practice or games. And I think it's a very good precaution to take.
"I don't know that we'll ever know how many injuries we've prevented, but hopefully you're putting guys in a position where they can withstand a fall or an awkward pile or something and then come back and continue to play. I would suggest and certainly recommend it. I'm all for it because I certainly think it helps our guys stay healthy."