FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Talk to Tom today?

Ryan Mallett heard a simple question and responded Wednesday with a simple answer: Yes, he had. He is Tom Brady’s understudy at quarterback and the game with the Denver Broncos for the AFC championship is Sunday. Of course they talked.

So Tom can talk?

Mallett’s eyebrows went up. For a second or two he was puzzled before he understood he was being grilled, kiddingly or not, about the star quarterback who was the prominent no-show on the practice field at Gillette Stadium for practice. The Patriots’ practice report detailing who participated in Wednesday’s practice had yet to be released.

Yes, said Mallett with a grin, Brady can talk.

Any idea how he’s doing? “That’s above my pay grade.”

Brady’s absence was the big wrinkle in what was a business-as-usual day.

The Patriots went to meetings and put in repetitions on the practice field. This is their world.

If outsiders wanted to persist in asking about Sunday’s historic significance of the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup at quarterback or the magnitude of the game, the players would play along.

To a point.

“We’re just preparing to play a football game we want to win,” said Coach Bill Belichick. Which is pretty much what he says before every game.

Belichick did permit himself a grin when he was asked the last time Brady had surprised him. “This morning.”

He was apparently alluding to Brady telling his coach he was ill.

Belichick wouldn’t say for sure. Neither would he talk about the morning’s surprise. “We’ll keep that between Tom and I.”

Belichick’s grin broadened a little.

The crack in his usual stoicism was obvious.

How sick was Brady? Was the illness a cover for a severely damaged body part? Will he able to play Sunday?

The Patriots have been hit with so many injuries, alarms are quickly triggered.

Losing Vince Wilfork or Rob Gronkowski is one thing. But losing Tom Brady would be unthinkable, no offense to Ryan Mallett.

“I’m not a trainer nor am I a doctor,” said Julian Edelman, the receiver who became Brady’s go-to target this season. “So you’ll have to ask (Brady).”

Brady may have the flu, measles or a dislocated joint. He felt poorly last week.

The practice report simply said he didn’t participate. Illness and right shoulder were the reasons.

“When he’s not out there (in practice) of course it’s a little different. But Ryan came in and ran the offense. More importantly I was just worried to get my assignments done and get my work in,” said Edelman.

Wednesday was a work day for the team even if the media turned it into a mystery dinner theater with its search for clues. Logan Mankins and Devin McCourty and Chandler Jones and Matthew Slater were all part of the chorus: Their attention was on the details that would enable each to beat the opponent in front of them Sunday. Fundamental stuff. Special stuff.

“Coach Belichick does a good job of honing our focus on the fundamentals, just like we did from day one of training camp,” said Slater, the special teams captain. “We try not to acknowledge all the noise and hype surrounding games. There’s a fine line between playing with a sense of urgency and playing tight. I think it’s important not to play tight.”

You didn’t see or sense tight Wednesday. You heard chatter and light banter. Business casual, perhaps. In a corner of the locker room you saw defensive tackle Chris Jones and a few others sitting and crooning along with a newer version of the Temptations, who were part of the Motown sound back in the day.

“Not ramping up too soon is important,” said Chandler Jones, the defensive end. That will happen soon enough. “Leading up to the game, I’ll be listening to calming music. Just before the game I have head-banging music on. No, I don’t want to be nervous.”

Playing in Denver against one of history’s finest quarterbacks makes the Patriots underdogs for Sunday’s AFC title game. Hearing that Brady, one of history’s other great quarterbacks, was not at Wednesday’s practice because of chickenpox or the mumps might make you nervous.

Relax.

Ryan Mallett did.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway