FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The objective behind the Bucs' visit with the Patriots this week was continued improvement, something that would be achieved by three days of practices against one another.
But when one of the game's greatest players, quarterback Tom Brady, fell to the turf Wednesday and clutched his left knee, the Patriots wondered if that progress would be erased by a monumental setback.
But an MRI exam on the knee was negative, Brady was diagnosed with a sprain and he could return to practice as early as today, according to multiple media reports. His status for Friday's preseason game between the teams was not reported.
During a full-speed 11-on-11 drill, Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn pushed tackle Nate Solder back just as Brady released a pass. Solder fell into Brady's planted left leg, the same one in which he tore his ACL in 2008 and missed 15 games.
"I bull-rushed the tackle, and he hit Tom Brady and fell on him," Clayborn said. "This feels like an interrogation."
Asked for details, he said, "I wasn't paying attention at all. I was just doing what I was supposed to do."
Brady left the field momentarily before returning for several more snaps. After he continued to appear as if he was in pain, team trainers escorted Brady to the team's training facility.
The Patriots offered no update.
But team president Jonathan Kraft told Boston radio station 98.5-FM the injury might not be as serious as it appeared.
"I understand from people who were standing out here it may have looked serious," he said. "I don't have a definitive answer. I will tell you … I don't believe it's serious."
Safety was a key aspect of the teams' agreement to work together this week. Though the teams wear different colors, there has been no live tackling and a limited amount of contact.
Earlier this week, Bucs coach Greg Schiano and Patriots coach Bill Belichick made it known overly aggressive play wouldn't be tolerated, especially where quarterbacks were concerned.
"Coach Belichick and I stressed to our teams to let them throw the ball," Schiano said. "Rush the passer but don't get around him. I hope he's okay."
Quarterbacks are considered off-limits during any NFL practice, and they wear bright jerseys that signify they are not to be hit. But the immediate aftermath of a play can be dangerous for quarterbacks, even after the ball is thrown.
"You have to be very aware because these guys up front are battling," Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman said. "Guys are dueling each other left and right. Defenders are coming around, and they might've just come off a block and be right at your feet. So you just have to keep a general awareness when you get rid of the ball. It kind of comes naturally because you understand there are people at your (feet)."
It was too early to know if Wednesday's scare will impact the willingness of the Patriots to conduct future joint practices. Belichick is a major believer in them, with the Patriots most recently spending last week practicing against the Eagles before the teams' game.