FOXBORO — Tom Brady is pretty sure of one thing – it won’t be as easy as it was on Dec. 10 against the Texans.
That night he was 21-of-35 for 296 yards, four touchdowns and a 125.4 quarterback rating in the 42-14 destruction of the Texans.
One of the main points Brady was trying to make Wednesday is that great teams find a way to win even when their quarterback is off.
The game he brought up Wednesday was not last year in the AFC championship – when the defense overcame a rough performance – but further back. The Patriots were trailing the Chargers in the 2006 divisional playoff in San Diego, 21-13, when Brady threw his third interception of the day to Marlon McCree midway through the fourth quarter. But Troy Brown saved the day when he stripped the ball loose, allowing the Patriots to tie the game on a TD and two-point conversion. They would win, 24-21, advancing to the AFC championship in Indianapolis.
Brady was asked Wednesday about the finality of that fact that any one play at any time can end the season.
“I don’t think you can play so conservative that you’re not able to go out and make plays. I think part of that is the mental toughness,” Brady said. “If you make a play – like we won in ’06 we beat the Chargers – I threw three picks in that game. Look, you’ve got to overcome mistakes. If you make them, you’ve still got to do everything you’ve got to do to win and give yourself a chance to move on.
“I think the important part is if you do make a mistake, you‘ve got to hope you don’t make another one. Because if they capitalize on it, you’re going to have to dig yourself out of that hole and make a lot of good plays. The more mistakes you make, the harder it is to win. You can make mistakes and still win, but they’ve got to make mistakes, too.
The most important thing to Brady in the playoffs?
“It’s always about risk-reward in football,” Brady said. “I think there are calculated risks and judgment that you make as a player on every single play, whether that’s my position or whether you’re a defensive tackle. Should I try to go for it or should I not? I think that’s what you train yourself to do over the course of a long season. That comes through experience. That comes through playing a lot of games. Certainly when you play better players, you don’t have as long to make that decision. The better players you face, the less margin you have to be able to make those split second decisions.”
Brady could set history this weekend by becoming the winningest quarterback in NFL playoff history. He also knows it won’t be easy. With a win, Brady will improve to 17-6 all-time in the playoffs, passing the 16 wins of idol Joe Montana.
“It’s very hard to win that final game of the year,” said Brady, who won his first 10 playoff games but is 6-6 in his last 12. “We’ve had a chance a lost a few; it’s hard to win this game. The best teams bring out the best in the players, they bring out the best in the teams.” Brady was asked whether he was aware of possibly making history this weekend.
“With that question I guess I’m aware of it,” he laughed. “I’ve been fortunate to play with so many great players and great teams. Football is a team game, and I’ve been fortunate to play here and have the opportunity, there’s no place I’d rather be.”
Of course, Brady and the Patriots hammered the Texans, 42-14, on Dec. 10 at Gillette. In preparing for that game, the coaching staff used tennis rackets during practice to simulate the length and height of defensive end J.J. Watt, whose nickname is J.J. “Swat” for his reputation for batting passes down at the line of scrimmage. Watt didn’t have a sack, a tackle for loss or a pass defensed for the only time this season.
“More of the same,” Brady said of rackets at practice this week. “It gets frustrating at times, but I think it’s a very good thing that coach does, and [Bill Belichick] just subliminally gets it in my head of [Watt's] ability, and their ability as a defense to defend passes at the line of scrimmage. Teams try to do (that) every week, but they get them every week, so that’s a big difference.”
Here’s the rest of Brady’s press conference from Wednesday at Gillette:
Q: Is there a disadvantage to playing a team in the playoffs that you’ve already faced?
TB: I wouldn’t characterize it as a disadvantage to be playing in the playoffs. If I’m playing in the playoffs, that’s a pretty good thing. Whoever we play, we play; it happens to be Houston this week. They’re a great football team that has played really well all year. We had a chance to play them five weeks ago and we understand the challenge that it takes to beat them and the type of plays we need to make and the type of plays we can’t make. The more of those we make – the good ones – the better it’s going to turn out for us.
Q: When you have Gronkwoski and Hernandez healthy together, what’s the biggest matchup problem that creates for opposing defenses?
TB: Like I said, it’s about execution. Whether it’s Rob and Aaron or Daniel [Fells] and Rob or Deion [Branch], whoever’s out there needs to be able to make the plays that are called. We have a lot of good football players on this team and everyone has an opportunity to contribute at some point and if your number is called, you [have to] go out and execute well.
Q: Do you almost try to forget your first game as if it didn’t happen or do you want to acknowledge it because of the things you did do well?
TB: I think you learn from it. You also understand things aren’t going to be the same. They’re going to see things that they’re working on that are going to be different for us this time around. We do the same thing. I think you put a game plan in like we always do and you see if it works. And if it works, great, you win the game. But the next time you play them, you have to figure out another game plan. It’s never ‘let’s just take a bunch of those plays and just run those again.’ It’s ‘what worked? What didn’t work?’ Because although the score was good, every play wasn’t perfect; it was far from it. I think there are a lot of things we can learn from and we can understand what we need to do better.
Q: Of all the things the Texans do well defensively, what’s maybe the one thing you’re most concerned about?
TB: I think there’s a lot to be concerned about. They’ve got a great front, some very experienced players at linebacker, a very athletic secondary. You saw what they did last week playing at home against Cincinnati there in the first half was pretty impressive. There are a lot of challenges for us, certainly from my standpoint. We just tried to have a good day of practice yesterday and get off to a good start and try to string a bunch of those together.
Q: Last time you guys played them, we talked about racquets and brooms at practice to simulate the Texans defense. What did you see yesterday?
TB: More of the same. It gets frustrating at times, but I think it’s a very good thing that coach does and it just subliminally gets it in my head of his [J.J. Watt’s] ability and their ability to defend passes at the line of scrimmage, which I’m sure teams try to do every week, but they get them every week. So that’s a big difference.
Q: How much can that week off help you guys get healthy? Did you notice a little extra pep in everyone’s step yesterday at practice?
TB: I think it was a week for us to really identify the things that we need to do better and to put a lot of work in on those things. I think we spent extensive amounts of time on all the situational football and tried to understand why we did things well over the course of the year and things that we need to do better. I think it was more about improvement than anything else.
Q: Physically do you feel like a new man after a few days off?
TB: I always feel pretty good. I play football for a living. There’s a lot to feel good about doing that. So to have a chance to play in this game, there’s a lot of excitement. Not many teams have this opportunity. It’s the second round of the playoffs, and to be here and have this chance, I think we all look forward to it and it’s why we work hard: to be in this situation.
Q: Can you talk about the fine line between wanting to repeat what you did so well against them the last time and also throw in new wrinkles?
TB: Yeah, I think there are things that we did well. I think there are things that we can do better and things we didn’t do well and I’m sure they feel the same way. I know the score looked like it was a certain way, but there were certain plays that we could have done a better job on and hopefully we can do a better job of this week. They’re going to give us [their] best game and were going to try to give them our best game. It will be a good game.
Q: Speaking of new wrinkles, Rob Gronkowksi didn’t play last time but will be back this weekend. Is that something you can exploit more than usual since they didn’t see him last time?
TB: Well, I think it’s a matter of execution more than anything. Just because he may have the opportunity to be out there on a particular play doesn’t matter if we don’t execute it well. I think there are things that we did in the last game with the guys who played in the last game that did a good job execution-wise. I hope the guys that are in there this week do a good job execution-wise, because it comes down to, like I said, there’s nothing [relevant] about last game – giving us an opportunity to have this game at home, I think that’s the important thing about last game. Other than that, this is going to be a whole different game full of our own execution, our ability to try to beat a very good football team that’s played well all year.
Q: How hard is it as a team to totally put the last victory out of your mind and separate the two?
TB: I think we always try to put the previous week behind us. This has been a while now. There’s nothing in the Dolphins game that will help us this week. Like I said, we tried to use last week to our advantage, but that time has come and gone and now we’re on to this week and it’s about our preparation this week and the amount of time and energy that we spend trying to prepare for this team, and hopefully it’s time well spent. Every week is different. The playoffs are different than the regular season. This is just a very different game.
Q: But what’s different about the preparation for a team you played so recently?
TB: I think you try to put the same amount of time and energy in. I don’t think you take for granted that you know everything about them. The more time you have, the better you can understand, so to have a second week in five or six weeks to have the chance to prepare for them, yeah, you learn a lot of things. And it’s not like they’re going to be able to put in a whole new defense for us, but I’m sure there are things that will be different. There always are. I don’t think any game ever goes as planned. I think there is always a part of seeing how they’re playing you, being able to adjust and who can make the adjustments? Who can get those on the field and execute under pressure? That’s the team that’s going to win.
Q: When you have both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the field at the same time, what kind of challenges does that present to a defense that we know likes to bring pressure and play a decent amount of man coverage?
TB: Like I said, it’s all about our execution. It doesn’t matter if they’re out there together. They were out there a lot together last year and when we executed well it looked good and when we didn’t, it looked bad. So like I said, whoever’s out there, we expect to go out and execute well and that’s what we’re hoping we do.
Q: As a quarterback do you take stock of the health of your offensive line and have you noticed a difference in them after a few days off?
TB: I haven’t played too much attention to that, to tell you the truth. I’ve just been trying to focus on Houston and what I need to do to prepare. The guys that have been out there in practice, they’re doing what they need to do. Everyone is just trying to get ready and listen to what coach is talking about and telling us what to do and we’re going to go out there and try to do those things well.
Q: As you self evaluated last week, did you get a chance to look at Houston as well as the other two teams?
TB: We did a lot of studying on ourselves and what we need to do better. We had an extra day, so we’ve had a lot of time to prepare and get started once that game finished that Saturday and a lot of the energy and attention was focused on them.
Q: This time of year, how much does your family life take a backseat to football?
TB: This time of year like football season or the playoffs?
Q: The playoffs.
TB: It’s pretty much all of football season for our families, so they get the short end of the stick a lot of times this time of the year – meaning football season. Even when you’re at home, your mind is on football and what you need to bring to practice every day. I wouldn’t call this a low-stress environment that we work under. But you’ve got to bring your energy and enthusiasm and I think in order to do that, when you’re at home you can’t be going out and doing lots of things. When you mature as a player, you understand how important these days are and you don’t get these back. So to be the kind of leader that you need to be, to bring the kind of energy and enthusiasm that you do at practice, you need to make sure you get plenty of rest.
Q: You also have a new infant at home. Does that hurt you at all?
TB: There’s not much I can do to help at this point. Mom is doing a lot of that.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on Robert Griffin III’s injury, and having gone through it yourself, any advice?
TB: You hate to see guys injured and I certainly wouldn’t wish that injury on anybody. It’s tough. You’ve seen plenty of guys, like on our team, come back from that. We’ve had quite a few players. It’s a physical game and it takes its toll and it’s not an easy game. But you try to be mentally and physically tough and the teams that do that over the course of the season continue to advance. Certainly injuries play a part of every season. We’ve had guys injured. Houston has plenty of guys injured. It’s just part of the season, but the more depth and quality that you have on the football team, the better you’ll be over the long run and the better you’ll be able to sustain it.
Q: You’ve gone to the playoffs almost every year. Is it always as exciting? Is it as fun as in the past or maybe even more so?
TB: I mean, you certainly never take it for granted. It’s hard to get to this point. You’ve got to work pretty hard. There are a lot of teams that have worked hard, but certain things have to go your way and you have to win a lot of games and put a lot of practice in, a lot of preparation to get to this point. It’s as exciting as there is. This is why we work hard. This is why we put the time in: so we can be at our best.
Q: Are you aware that you could become the all-time winningest quarterback in the postseason with a win this weekend?
TB: With that question, I guess I’m aware of it. I’ve been fortunate to play with some many great players and great teams. Football is a team game. I’ve been fortunate to play here and have the opportunity. There’s no place I’d rather be.
Q: When you look at video from the 2001 Super Bowl win against Saint Louis of you with your hands on your head after the game, is that you or is that some kid?
TB: That was some kid back then. You really don’t quite understand what has happened or what has been accomplished until you try so many times and you don’t get to accomplish those things. It’s very hard to win that final game of the year. We’ve had a chance and lost a few. It’s hard to win this game. The best teams bring out the best in the players; they bring out the best in the teams. The margin for error is less. You make one mistake, and you’re going to be watching next weekend. A lot of what we talk about in our meetings is making sure that we’ve got everything covered. You spend extra time talking about every little detail of every little play. Not that last week wasn’t important, but the ramifications are different. We’ve got to be at our best.
Q: You guys have had a lot of winning seasons and a lot of playoff berths since your last Super Bowl win. Yesterday Matthew Slater and Vince Wilfork were saying that without the title, it’s a little bittersweet? Do you think that’s fair?
TB: I think every year – I said to someone yesterday: we try to win every game. I hate to [say] ‘that season meant nothing.’ I think there is always something to be gained from every game every season. But at the same time, I think that when you lose a game – I don’t care whether it’s the first game of the year or the last game of the year – no one wants to be on the losing end. I just think you put everything you can into it. If you win, great; you continue to move on. When you lose, you learn from it and hopefully it motivates you more for the next year.