Jan 10, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks on after the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 35-31. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Q: In general, what have you learned about getting ready to play a team for a second time and is there a difference in the second time in the regular season versus the second time in a playoff situation?
TB: Well, all the games take on a little bit of a different feel. Anytime you play a team a second time around, you hope you can go in there and do a lot of the same things that you were successful with and, obviously, they know that too, so that’s always the chess match; you try to determine the things that you do well versus the things that they didn’t do well and they know their matchups, too, so you have to prepare for a lot of things. We’ve played this team quite a few times over the last few years and none of them as important as this game here, so I’m sure they’re going to be doing the things they’re most confident in, we’re going to do the things that we’re most confident in and then see how it all shakes out.
Q: This is going to be your ninth AFC Championship Game, but for you what’s different, unique, special about this team that you’re leading there?
TB: That’s a good question. I haven’t had much time to reflect on this particular group of guys, but you know it’s been a lot of fun to be on this team. We’ve fought through a lot of adversity over the course of the year. We’ve got a lot of mental toughness, we’ve got a lot of guys that can grind with the best of them. We’ve shown a lot of improvement and it all leads to this moment, so we’ve got to be at our best. Obviously, you want to play your best, you’ve got to be at your best physically and mentally, so whatever it takes for us to get there over the course of the next four or five days is what we have to do. I just try to stress that to everybody and hopefully we can go out and execute as well as we can on Sunday.
Q: Can you use the experience factor of being there nine times to help you guys? Especially the veterans leading this team?
TB: Well, I mean at some point you don’t have the experience and that’s certainly [like] when I was younger and it didn’t matter much to me when I was younger. As you get older, experience is definitely good as long as you play well. It’s a game like all the other games; I think it’s just, there’s a finality to this game and obviously only one team advances. It was the same as last week, so we’re very fortunate to be in this position; to have a chance to play in it, I think more so than anything, you’re just excited for the opportunity to be able to do it. It’s hard to do and our team found a way to get there this year, so hopefully we can take advantage of the opportunity.
Q: Are there still nerves as you are going through the process? Like you said, every game has a different kind of feel to it and the bigger the game, the bigger the feel. Do you still have that nervous energy as you start these championship games and playoff games?
TB: Absolutely. I think that’s part of playing sports. Being in a competitive situation like we are, I don’t think that ever goes away. You never know what’s going to happen on game day, you work as hard as you can to kind of prepare for everything and like I said, to be physically and mentally right, but no one can predict what’s going to happen. You have your vision of the way you want things to turn out on a particular play or scheme or something like that and if it does, great; if it doesn’t happen the way you want it to, which is most of the time, you’ve got to figure out something to do. I think that’s where a lot of the nerves come into play, the anxiousness of just the anticipation of what’s going to happen versus what we’ve prepared for, so you just have to prepare for a lot of things.
Q: You mentioned a few questions ago the adversity you guys faced this season. In hindsight, was that almost beneficial for this team to go through some negative times and toughen it up?
TB: Well, I think it’s good to always build on whatever experiences you have, so there’s definitely times where you’re kind of back against the wall and you’ve got to show a lot of mental toughness and a lot of fight. When you can draw on certain things – and we’ve been in tough situations over the course of the year, and I think coach [Bill Belichick] makes it pretty tough for us on a daily basis. I think he tries to really challenge us mentally to be at our best every day, so when you get put in tough situations on the field you’ve got something that you put in the bank. The best teams that I’ve been around have been the most mentally and physically tough teams and anything that can challenge those and strengthen those definitely ends up being a positive.
Q: Neither your or Julian [Edelman] was drafted real high, as you know. Have you talked to him about that because now you’re one of the best combinations in football? What does that say to you either about scouting or how once you’re here, no matter where you were drafted, you can succeed?
TB: Yeah, I think that’s something that’s really great about the NFL. Everyone starts at a certain place, but you earn what you get in the NFL. The competition is tough, so a guy like Julian, for example, who has fought every single day of his life to get to this point; talk about something that strengthened him over time, obviously his experience as a younger athlete did. When you get to the competition and that’s just what’s in your character. He fought every day since he got here and he doesn’t stop now, even though that you’d think, ‘Wow, take the foot of the gas a little bit,’ but he’s become that kind of dependable, consistent player for us where he just wants to be better and better and better and he stays after and works on different things and every week tries to elevate his game. He’s a great teammate to have and he’s got a great work ethic. He’s going to need to come up big for us this weekend, he knows that. A lot of guys are going to have to come up big, that’s what it’s going to take. We’re playing the other best team in the AFC, so it’s going to take everything that we’ve got.
Q: You alluded to Julian taking his foot off the gas a little, maybe. You haven’t changed in terms of on-field, day-of-game intensity. Whether it was John Mobley in 2001 or Drew Bledsoe before the Super Bowl or Daniel Graham, you’re still bananas when the game starts. Is there ever a point when you say, ‘Alright, I have to back it off a little bit when the game starts,’ or does that level of intensity help you with your edge?
TB: I’m not sure. I’m not sure, I know it’s an emotional game and I need to be emotional out there to play at my highest. I try to rest up all week and I’m actually pretty mellow most of the time, as you guys know. It’s just for those three hours on Sunday that you get to let it rip, which is really, I think, when you can be yourself. You’ve got to go out there and bring a level of energy and enthusiasm and all the guys do that. And certainly making good plays helps that. When you see your teammates make good plays that’s all part of it. Hopefully we make a lot of good plays.
Q: In your role, you can’t necessarily play like a safety or linebacker, you have to have that poise in between plays. Have you ever had discussions where you said, ‘You know what, I went a little bit off the rails in terms of intensity and getting swept up?’
TB: I mean, I can always find a way to bring it back to balance, however I need to be able to; I don’t think I ever lose track of plays or things that I need to do to help coordinate our offense when we’re on the field. I just think the emotional part is a really important part for me and I think that’s always been a part of the way that I play. It’s a lot of fun, what we get to do for a living, so certainly to get to this moment and play in this game, there’s nothing better.
Q: You probably don’t know much about the guys that Bill brings in here. Whether they’re drafted guys or free agents, but you said earlier this week that Brandon LaFell is one of the toughest guys that you’ve ever played with. What exactly has he done that has impressed you so much because you’ve played with a lot of receivers in 15 years?
TB: Yeah, a lot of great players. He’s brought a real toughness to our team, physically. Playing through injuries, playing through bumps and bruises and then when he gets out on the field he brings the physical presence that you don’t often get from the receiver position. He’s in there on crack blocks, he’s in there blocking down field, like he did on Danny’s [Amendola] score. He’s a big, strong guy, so he has that physical element to his game. We haven’t always had the biggest guys at receiver here, but having someone like that, who can really bring a little more of that physical presence at that position brings an edge to it. I think he’s had that since he got here and, like I said, he’s fought through some injuries this year, been mentally tough, never complains, always does what you ask him to do, even though it may not be the most glamorous thing, he just wants to do it to help the team win. It’s a great trait.
Q: You mentioned the mental toughness. I think he had zero catches in his first couple of games and he even, sort of, publicly said he would love to be more involved. How did he get through that? He was so determined to not be that guy that we’ve seen come in here and flame out. How did he work through that?
TB: Yeah, I think that’s part of his mental toughness and his ability to, like, say even early in the year it was – whenever you get a new player, it’s hard to really figure out exactly how it shows up on game day until you get to game day and see how it shows up. In training camp there’s no tackling. Mental toughness comes into play a little bit during training camp, but not much. The games don’t matter. When you really see what someone is all about is when it matters. And when they’re not feeling good and when you’ve been at it for awhile, you can really see what someone’s character is. It’s been great to see. Certainly him showing up last week and fighting through some injuries to get to the game and then for him to make a game-winning catch was pretty sweet.
Q: You mentioned revving it up for the three hours during the game. A few minutes earlier you also said you have a case of nerves, even after all of these years. In that spirit, how does that manifest itself during the week? Are you cranky, edgy, happy, anecdotal? What’s your mood as a departure from other weeks?
TB: Yeah, it depends. Yeah, it’s a good question. My wife asks the same thing, ‘What’s your problem?’ But I get pretty edgy. I just think there’s a high level of pressure every week and I think the pressure is on from the moment that – I’d say it’s like watching the games on Sunday. You watch the first game, like the Cowboys-Packers game, and it’s kind of fun and you get to watch the game. And then all of a sudden, you watch the Denver game and Indy play, and as soon as that game ends it’s like, ‘Boom,’ and the clock starts. It’s a race to see who can prepare the best over the course of the week. There’s not many opportunities you get during the season to have a time where you don’t know who your opponent is. After, obviously, we won on Saturday and then you have that little moment of time where you’re not really preparing for anybody and then as soon as you know the opponent the anxiousness starts building and building. You do everything you can through the preparation to get an understanding of what the team is doing and how you’re going to play and which plays you’re going to install and how you’re going to run the plays and did you execute the plays and then did you execute the plays and all of those things lessen your anxiety because you can go out and perform and build confidence in what you’re doing. It’s kind of the ebbs and flows of the week. Sometimes in a good mood, sometimes in a [bad] mood. Sometimes it just ebbs and flows.
Q: You’ve played for one coach. How has that continuity helped you coming into these games and how have you seen coach change over those years that has kind of helped you?
TB: Coach hasn’t changed much. I think he’s so consistent and I think we as players know what we can count on with him and he always talks about consistent, dependable players and we have the most consistent, dependable coach. Every day we show up to work knowing what to expect and he expects a high level of concentration from us. He wants us to go out there and perform at our best every day and when we don’t he lets us know. He motivates us in different ways and he’s always trying to get the best out of us. He holds everybody accountable, certainly holds himself accountable and I’m very fortunate to play for him.
Q: How does a picture of you riding an Indianapolis Colt end up on your Facebook page? A team that doesn’t like bulletin board material.
TB: That was just a friendly post. You don’t’ like that? You’ve got to like that [laughs]. I didn’t make that graphic.
Q: But the people responsible, you’re OK with that?
TB: Yeah, I liked it. Thank you guys. Have a good night.