Tom Brady is hoping to advance this weekend against the Colts. (USA TODAY Images)
Back in 2002 in his first playoff appearance, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played with reckless abandon against the Oakland Raiders and didn’t appear to show much in terms of nerves.
He was confident, he was cocky, and he certainly didn’t look like a first year quarterback during their championship run that season. Â That approach served him well, and the result was an upset of the ages after Brady beat the Raiders, the Steelers, and eventuallyÂ took care of the St. Louis Rams to clinch the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.
That’s the type of player he was in 2003 and 2004, which isÂ a span that was certainly one of the more impressive runs we’ve ever seen a team have. Â Fast forward 10-years later, and Brady is surrounded by a group that has the team in their 9th AFC Championship and with seemingly enough talent to complete the job. There’s a great mix of veteran players and youth on this football team, and Sunday will require the veterans to help keep the younger guys focused at the task at hand.
On the offensive side of the football, Brady is that guy. While he’s surrounded by veteran players like Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, it’s still going to come down to the 15-year quarterback to help them move on.Â The Colts are playing relatively well offensively and are likely going to put up points, which means that Sunday’s battle against Indianapolis is going to again put Brady in the spotlight against a team that he’s dominated in past match-ups.
Obviously on paper, it’s easy to say that the Colts have no shot and to just punch the Patriots’ ticket to Arizona. Â One big thing that could change all that would be for Andrew Luck to come into Foxboro and play the way that Brady did in Pittsburgh during their final Super Bowl run during the 2004/05 postseason when they went into Heinz Field and stomped the Steelers 41-27. Â Brady played a pretty flawless game after going 14-of-21 (67%) for 207-yards and two touchdowns. Â It wasn’t a great game by any means, but he didn’t make any mistakes. Â Not to mention the fact Deion Branch had a big game while catching 4 passes for 116 yards including a 60-yard touchdown.
In that game New England’s defense played well, picking off Ben Roethlisberger three times, including one by Rodney Harrison that he returned for a touchdown. Â At the time the Patriots were ranked 9th defensively in the NFL while Pittsburgh had the league’s top ranked defense. Â The bad news for the Steelers was the fact New England turned the tables, forcing mistakes while not making any of their own against a team that many thought would knock out the Patriots. Â Instead Bill Belichick’s team ended up in Jacksonville, where they went on to beat the Eagles to win Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Colts could be that team this weekend, and that’s what the Patriots need to avoid. Â All eyes will be on Luck, who already did the unthinkable and knocked Peyton Manning out in Denver last weekend. Â His confidence is likely pretty high heading into Foxboro, and as much as Indianapolis would love to see him help his team advance, he also has the benefit of being a player with nothing to lose since either way that team heads into the offseason with plenty of optimism and a bright outlook heading into 2015.
That’s a dangerous combination. Â Brady doesn’t play defense, so the two won’t really be battling head-to-head. Â But should Luck’s offense start putting up points, it will be up to Brady to answer. Â This is going to be a critical time for Brady to play well and he’ll need to play with that same confidence and ability that endeared him to the fans here in New England.
Brady said the experience of being there in the past will help him, but it won’t matter unless he plays well.
Tom Brady admitted on Wednesday that the nerves are still there even now.
(USA TODAY Images)
“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,” said Brady. Â “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.”
Brady’s now 37 years old with thatÂ opportunity sitting in front of him. Â Win, and they’re heading to another Super Bowl with a group that certainly has enough talent to compete with anyone, which they’ve shown after a rocky beginning. Â After starting the season 2-2 and being written off by many experts throughout the league, the Patriots went on to lose just one more meaningful game the rest of the season against Green Bay. Â In that game they held their own against a team that could very well become Conference champions themselves this weekendÂ shouldÂ Aaron Rodgers upset Seattle, and it could set up an opportunity for redemption on a neutral field.
But that will only happen if Brady takes care of business against Indianapolis, and he admitted that like last week against Baltimore, it won’t be easy. Â They won their first meeting in week 11 42-20, but Brady didn’t exactly have his best game. Â He threw two first half interceptions and New England went into the locker room up just 14-10 at the half.
Jonas Gray came out and rushed for 101 yards in the second half and Brady missed just two passes over the final two quarters after finishing 9-of-11 for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns, and it was that performance that helped carry New England to a win.
This time around he’ll likely be hoping that he’ll play a more complete game. Â Brady said on Wednesday that while familiarity helps, they’ll need to be at their 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,” said Brady. Â “I just try to stress that to everybody and hopefully we can go out and execute as well as we can on Sunday.”
Regardless of how Luck plays, the Patriots need Brady to put together a solid outing. Â Aside from an interception toward the end of the first half last weekend against the Ravens, Brady put together a pretty good performance, and it wasÂ one of the better postseason games he’s played in a while against a tough defense.
Brady admitted there will be some nerves, but the preparation they put in this week will be the difference between starting the offseason next Monday, or boarding a plane to play one more game.
“I think that’s part of playing sports,” said Brady when asked if he still had that “nervous energy”. Â ” 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.”
Hopefully it will equal another strong effort on Sunday.