The postseason is exactly where Tom Brady hopes he’ll end up each year. (USA TODAY Images)
For Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the NFL Playoffs are what he lives for.
Each season sixteen games always seem to be simply an opportunity for him to continue his assault on the NFL’s record books, with the postseason seemingly a foregone conclusion. Here in New England Brady has set the bar to the point where it’s not whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, but how many games they’ll win and whether or not they’ll be seeded high enough for a bye or a home playoff game.
Elsewhere, that’s not necessarily the case. Like Brady, each of his opponents are competing at the highest level for the same common goal. Throughout the NFL every team starts the year with the same record with the same aspirations, all hoping that by the end of the year, it will be their team left standing and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Many obviously end up disappointed. After all, a lot of changes happen every year between the beginning of September through January and those who seemed to be favorites when the season kicks off are sometimes on the outside looking in at this time of the year.
Winning a Super Bowl isn’t easy. Only a handful have been there, and even fewer have ever achieved it.
Brady has obviously done it, winning three in his first four seasons. His last two came in back-to-back years in 2003 and 2004, and it’s probably a fairly safe bet that if you told him as he walked out of Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville that night back in 2005 that he had better enjoy the victory because he wouldn’t win another one for close to at least another decade, he probably would never have believed it.
Yet here he is, nine years later with one of the highest winning percentages in NFL history while carrying the frustration of not having been able to reach the pinnacle that he once made look like child’s play earlier in his career. Nine years with plenty of great moments, but none have left him with the feeling of being a Super Bowl champion.
It’s been a while since Brady and the Patriots have won a championship.
(USA TODAY Images)
Over that span he’s piled up plenty of career milestones and achievements that will one day see his name in Canton, but more importantly it’s not all the records and accolades that have made him the player he is today. Granted he’s won more than he’s lost, but the defeats have given him plenty of perspective.
After all, he’s experienced the highs of winning three championships. But yet he knows what it’s like to be on the other end of things, having walked away as the loser in his previous two Super Bowls as well as being close to a chance at a couple of others after losing two AFC Championship games.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and before the season even started Brady told Peter King of SI.com back in July that one thing he’s learned over the years is how difficult it really is to win it all in today’s NFL. Even more fortuitous was his mention of the term “mental toughness”, which Brady likely could never have realized how right he would be months later given what they’ve experienced this season to get to this point.
“We’ve had our chances. Twice. More than twice, actually,” said Brady at the time. “I still have plenty of chances to do it. What I’ve learned is it’s really, really hard to win the Super Bowl. I didn’t get that perspective early, winning three out of the first four years I played.
“What I like about this franchise is we’ve got a shot every year. I love the fact we were in the AFC title game last year, the Super Bowl the year before that and 14-2 the year before that. Can we win this year? It’ll be determined by our level of commitment, the mental toughness.”
Now here he is, about to embark on the journey one more time. Twelve other teams in the conference are already out of the mix and four will become just two by the time Sunday night arrives. By then we’ll find out if New England will be one of the teams left standing or if they’ll instead be, like the fans who root for them, watching the remaining games on television.
With Saturday inching ever closer, Brady admitted on Tuesday that this is what they’ve worked all season for, and they only have one shot to get it right.
“It’s incredible to play in this,” said Brady on Tuesday during his press conference. “These are the moments you dream about – to be in the NFL playoffs and you have a chance with eight other teams to be the last team standing. It’s why we work hard. It’s why every guy puts a lot out there.
“You sacrifice a lot of things. A lot of people would die to be in our positions. I don’t think you take those things for granted. I think you cherish those and understand the opportunity that’s ahead. It’s different than a normal week. There’s no, ‘Hey, we’ll get them tomorrow. We’ll talk about the corrections on Monday.’ You have one opportunity to get it right and that’s all you can ask for as an athlete and the great part is that once that ball is kicked off, none of that other crap matters. It’s just the players that are ultimately going to go out there and decide who wins the game by how we play. ”
It’s been another long road to get to this point, but his team heads into Saturday night’s showdown against the Colts with a shot to win one game and get themselves that much closer to where they want to be. Indianapolis is coming off of a big win over Kansas City after rallying from being down 38-10, and will likely give the Patriots all they can handle in this match-up. Brady admitted that it’s a three round fight, and he knows it will take their best football this weekend if they hope to get a shot to play another.
“The other teams have earned the chance to get this spot; we earned a bye to advance to this part in the playoffs,” said Brady. “Now we have to go out there and try to advance to the third round but you have to play really well.”
“We put a lot of time and energy into our preparation – all the games, all the practices and it comes down to one game.”
One more game, and one more chance to potentially give himself the opportunity to experience that feeling one more time.