Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in his weekly chat with Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning, talked about Sunday night’s 30-23 victory over the Falcons that put New England at 4-0 heading into next Sunday’s game against the Bengals, and he lamented the loss of veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
Wilfork, who suffered an Achilles injury that reportedly is season-ending, has been one of the team’s defensive leaders for almost a decade.
“He’s such a great presence obviously in the locker room, as a leader, as a veteran player, as a guy who’s been in so many big games and big situations. It’s such a disappointment to lose him,” Brady said. “He’s irreplaceable. We’ll have to find a way collectively as a team fill the void. But it’s an unfortunate injury. Injuries are a part of the game. But the season-ending ones are always tough to swallow.”
A five-time Pro Bowler, Wilfork has missed only six games in his nine-plus NFL seasons.
“He makes everybody job a lot easier when you play at that caliber and that level that he’s played at for so long,” Brady said. “He’s so dependable, consistent, and he makes his biggest plays in the biggest moments. Someone else is going to have to step in and do that, and I think we’ve dealt with injuries in the past. The league really doesn’t slow down for anybody. I’ve said before, no one really feels sorry for the Patriots. We’re going to have to go out and try to find a win regardless.”
Added Brady: “His message was always taken to heart by everybody. Vince always backed it up on the field. Coach always talked about tough, physical teams, and that was Vince. The other guys, hopefully they’ve watched, the other guys on the roster have watched and learned a little bit about how Vince was able to do some things. And maybe that aspect of what Vince’s leadership has provided will pay off for our team.”
Cornerback Aqib Talib had an impressive game against the Falcons, picking off a pass and coming up with the game-clinching pass breakup in the end zone in the final minute.
“He’s doing great,” Brady said. “He’s been another positive influence on our team since he got here. He’s just been great on the field, great off the field. In the offseason he was a full-time participator, he won the offseason award. I think that really shows what his leadership style is all about, too. And then to go out against one of the best offenses in the league, with that caliber of receiver that he was matching up against all night — Julio Jones and Roddy White — and to play as well as he did was really a huge boost for our team.
“The guys who are as talented as Aqib on our team need to play at high levels every week. That’s what we’re going to need to have. We just don’t have a lot of margin on error right now. Who knows if we will all year, but in order to win these games we’re going to have to really be at our best.”
Added Brady: “I love having Aqib on the team. I go against him every day, and I know how hard it is. He’s really got a unique combination of size and speed and ability to play the ball in the air. His length is impressive. I know a lot of times when I throw the ball in practice and I feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got the completion, I got it over the top of him,’ he’ll jump up and knock the ball away. You go, ‘God, he’s just hard to throw over the top of,’ because of his reach, his wingspan, his ability play the ball at the highest point. And when you make a mistake, he makes you pay. That’s something that I see on a daily basis.”
The offense looked sharper Sunday than in the first three games as the Patriots continue to await the return of some key players who are out with injuries.
“We’re doing OK,” Brady said. “We’re just trying to grind it out. Hopefully we have a little margin of error. Hopefully when guys get healthy we’ll be a little bit more more well-rounded in our offense and be a little tougher to defend. But I don’t think we’ve got everything figured out quite yet. We’ve got a long way to go.”
On how winning a big game like Sunday’s can spark the team: “When you win games in the first half of the season, they pay huge dividends late in the season. As the season goes on, typically our team has found ways to improve. Over the course of these weeks you learn more about what your team does, and you learn more about what the other team does. I think that’s really the trademark of a Bill Belichick-coached team. In November, December you start to really understand and play to your strengths, as well as the coaching — because I feel we have the best coaches — that we’re able to really hone in on what the other team does well, or what they don’t do well, and we try to attack those areas.
“In the early part of the season, the mental toughness, the discipline, the worth ethic of teams really never shows up, because you’re only four games in. When it starts getting hard in November and December, you see what you’re made of. So, if you can win these games and put yourself in a great position for the second half, it really sets you up to really be dangerous when it matters the most.
“We went to Atlanta, I think our team certainly felt great about the game going in. We didn’t lack any confidence. We felt we could go in there and beat a really good team that plays really well at home, and we did just that. There wasn’t, like I said, much room for error. But we’re 4-0, and that’s a pretty good place to be at this time of the year, considering all the circumstances we’ve been through.”
On injured tight end Rob Gronkowski and how he’s progressing toward a return to game action: “He’s like every other injured player, he comes out there and he does whatever really the team has asked him. He’s been able to practice, and we’re just trying to work him back in to getting where he’s physically and mentally prepared to play. Whenever he’s ready, that’s when he’s ready to go.”
On if he’s seen any limitations with Gronkowski: “I’m not really a doctor to evaluate those things. Honestly, my week is focused on what I need to do. And then the guys that play, play. The guys that don’t, don’t. I don’t sit here and evaluate a guy from week to week. That’s not really my responsibility.”
On unsigned Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour saying he has no interest in returning to the Patriots: “I love Richard. He was a great part of our success here for a long period of time. I didn’t really like playing against him too much in Oakland. I think he’s enjoying his retirement. So, good for him.”
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