Tom Brady has the best chance of leading his team to a title in a cold-weather Super Bowl. (AP)
FOXBORO — Tom Brady knows the potential of these Patriots. He also knows it’s about time they start showing it for a whole game.
This weekend presents that opportunity as the 4-8 Cleveland Browns come calling at Gillette Stadium for a showdown with the 9-3 Patriots, who with a win, can clinch a playoff spot and possibly a division title.
With so much on the line, the Patriots do not want to come out and begin the game like they did last Sunday in Houston against the two-win Texans. They trailed 10-0 early and 17-7 at halftime.
“I know, We’ve started slow too many times this year, and it’s hard to keep playing from behind,” Brady said. “I think we talk about it; we’re trying to get better at it. There’s no magic formula, just like there’s really no magic formula to what we’re doing in the second half. It’s just really the execution needs to be a lot better at the start of the game, and really we’ve got to have great execution for the entire game.
“That’s the most important thing. We’ve played some really good teams, really good defenses that have put a lot of pressure on us, so it’s hard sometimes to play 60 good minutes of football, but we’ve got to start doing that at some point. We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve got to put together a good game.”
Brady was also asked if he had heard about or seen the video of Cleveland back-up QB Alex Tanney, who is splitting reps in practice while Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden are cleared for activity but not practice. In the video, Tanney is the “Minnesota Fats” of football, turning every pass into a trick shot.
“I haven’t seen it,” Brady admitted. “I will look it up. I remember the kicking [video]. That was pretty good. I saw that one.”
Brady was advised that the video is a “must see.”
“All right, I’ll check it out,” Brady said.
Q: Obviously the personnel changes, but remembering back to Week 2 of last year with Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton with the Cardinals, do you see a lot of carryover in what he’s doing with Cleveland?
TB: Yeah. I mean it’s his defense, and they do a lot of real good things. I think that’s important to kind of know their style and know where it all comes from, and I know he came from Pittsburgh too, so there’s some influence there. But they’ve got a good team, good defense, I think they’re ranked pretty high. Again, I feel like every week I’m about to talk about the top-10 defense, but they’re like fourth or fifth in all the categories, and really good. Stout up front, and Joe Haden’s one of the best cover guys in the league, so it’s a good group. We’ve got to somehow put together 60 good minutes. Hopefully we can do that.
Q: What makes Haden so good? Is he aggressive on the ball? Does he jump routes?
TB: He’s really smart, so I think he – does he jump routes? Yeah, when you throw it. And then when you don’t throw it, he doesn’t jump them, so it’s just – he has really good instincts, and he kind of knows when to take his chances. He’s got great ball skills. When the ball is up in the air, he tracks it, makes interceptions, so he’s a really talented player. He’s a very confident player. You can see that he has a lot of confidence in his skill set, so you’re able to be aggressive, and he’s one of the – he’s an aggressive player. He doesn’t just give you easy throws out there.
Q: We’ve seen Rob Gronkowski take advantage of a lot of matchups this year. Have you seen a one-on-one matchup where he hasn’t had the advantage this year?
TB: I mean, that’s kind of what he does best. He’s such a physical presence on the field. His size, his length, and his speed, his quickness. He’s a tough matchup. It’d be like in other sports where you have great matchups in basketball or something like that, where it’s truly a one-on-one and you have a physical advantage. Gronk always seems to have a physical advantage, it’s just a matter of if the scheme can help find a way to get him open. But the other teams are pretty conscious of what he’s doing there. They don’t often just let him run free in the secondary or get down the field, so we’ve got to find different ways to get him the ball. If they do that, then you’ve got to throw it to other guys. You’ve got to throw it to the other tight end, you’ve got to throw it to the receivers, the backs. That’s what really complements an offense, when you can have different things to go to when they’re taking away something that you want to go to.
Q: How does Shane Vereen allow you to create mismatches against the defense?
TB: Shane’s got a lot of versatility in what he does. He can run the ball [well] from the backfield, he does a good job as a receiving back, so there’s no question that he’s a big part of our offense. Not that the other backs aren’t receiving backs; they are, it’s just Shane has more of that role. That’s what we ask him to do, whether it’s blitz pickup, running the ball… You’ve got to have someone back there who you really trust, and he’s gained the trust of everybody.
Q: What has James Develin brought to this team? He had first touchdown last Sunday.
TB: Yeah, on a great run. His power, what he’s able to do physically in the run game, same thing, blitz pickup, he really brings the element of toughness to the team. That’s one spot, too, specifically where the fullback, that’s what that job is. It’s a very selfless position. You’re not going to get a lot of carries or catches. It’s really about springing holes for other people, and whether that’s the running back or protecting for the quarterback so you can drop back and throw it to the receivers, it’s all about the team at that position. He brings it. I mean, he’s earned that spot, he earned it throughout the offseason; done a great job coming in this year and [filling] a big void that we really didn’t have anyone in that spot the last couple of years.
Q: Did you have to double-check when the call came in to give him the ball on the goal line?
TB: No, we knew that was something that we wanted to do, and I think he gives everybody confidence that he can do those things. Then when you give it to him and you see a fourth or fifth effort on a score, you want to give the guy more opportunities. That’s what it’s like. You do something good, you get more opportunity, and you keep gaining the trust of the coaches, you’re going to have more chances as the season goes on.
Q: You had the best view of that play. After he was stopped the first time, did you look back towards the coaches to see what the next play would be?
TB: I know, he went up and then he got knocked back and bounced off, and then I think it was just great second, third, fourth effort, and by the offensive line too. That’s what we’re going to need this week. These guys are really stout against the run, so we’re going to need some of those second, third efforts against this team too, because they’ve got a bunch of big guys in the front and really athletic linebackers, so we’re going to need that same type of effort.
Q: One of the sadder stories to come out of Sunday was the two security guards getting fired after taking pictures with you. Do feel like that was kind of harsh?
TB: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t have any comment on that. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t make the rules.
Q: Tom, we’ve seen Bill up there at the podium many times before and he is always very stoic and serious. Do you get to see another side to him? Does he like to joke around and laugh?
TB: Sure, we do. I know up here he is all football and all business. We’re certainly around him a lot more than you guys are so we get different sides of him. I’ve got different sides of him for a long time. We’ve got a great relationship.
Q: Can he tell good jokes?
TB: Can he? He’s got some great jokes. He’s got some great jokes, yes. They’re not appropriate to tell my young children, but they’re good jokes.
Q: Do you guys think about the opportunity to clinch the division of the conference title at all?
TB: I mean, I think this week is about Cleveland and trying to beat those guys. So, most importantly it is about making improvements and trying to figure out some of the things we haven’t been doing right so we can do them better for 60 minutes. This team is going to be big challenge for us. They’ve got some really good skill guys on offense. They’ve got a really good defense, one of the top ranked defenses in the league. So, I think all that stuff will ultimately take care of itself. There’s nothing we can do about January this week. We’ve got to try and put ourselves in a great position by going to win.
Q: How much does it help that you have experienced a couple comeback wins early in the season rather than trying to explain to the younger guys what it is like?
TB: I don’t think we really feel like we’re out of it. We’ve never really had that sense on the sideline. I think there is urgency to what we’re trying to do, but I don’t think there is a panic. We’ve got some mental toughness, we’ve got a little resiliency. We’ve overcome some slow starts throughout the year. We’ve overcome some fourth quarter deficits. We haven’t won them all, but we’ve been in it. So, we’ve just got to keep fighting until the end. It’s never over until the refs blow that final whistle. We’ve got a chance as long as we’re on the field.
Q: Earlier in the season there was talk about the offense’s third quarter struggles. Now it seems as if the struggles have flipped and you are starting off games slowly. What are some of the biggest reasons why that has happened?
TB: I’m not sure. You know, I wish it was easy for us to figure out, too. Believe me, we’re not trying to go out there and not play well in the first half or the third quarter. We’re always trying to do the right thing. I just think it’s probably a post-season evaluation where you figure out, OK, what plays were we running? What do we have to do better? What didn’t we execute well? I think it is just that type of evaluation more than anything. But, like I said the other day, it’s not like after the first drive you come off and you think that you have no clue what is going on. You’ve got to play it out and see what you’re doing and see how the flow of the game is going. Hopefully you get off to a good start and you can play from ahead. I think ultimately that’s what we always try to do. We just haven’t done that in several games this year. We’re got to try and do a better job of that.
Q: Isn’t winning the division at the top of the to-do list at the start of the season?
TB: I mean, that’s where it starts, yeah. You’ve got to take care of the teams in your division and we’ve still got four weeks to go. There’s a lot of football left to be played and winning this game is critical for us. There’s nothing we can do about the other games we’ve played in the past or the ones we have in the future. We’ve got this game and this is the one we’ve got to focus on.