By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Tom Brady has done this before. Too many times, in fact, to the point where the individual games are getting more and more difficult to separate from each other as the quarterback navigates his 18th NFL season for the Patriots.
And while the quarterback tends to keep just about everything close to the vest with regard to his emotions, the 40-year-old did appear to be slightly more reflective than usual when standing at the podium after completing the eighth postseason fourth-quarter comeback of his Hall of Fame career.
“You cherish these moments and opportunities, and I know we’ve had quite a few of them, which we’ve been very blessed to do,” Brady said after the Patriots’ 24-20 win over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. “It’s just been an unbelievable run, and I think everyone should be really proud of what we accomplished. This is a different team than last year’s team. It didn’t look good at 2-2 and you just keep showing up to work every day, and we sit in these chairs and Coach Belichick gets up here and he demands a lot out of us and he tries to get the most out of us every day. It’s not always great. Sometimes it’s pretty average and then you’re just trying to get better and better and get to the point where you can make the fourth quarter of a game and try to play well enough to get yourself into the next one.
“So, just proud of our team, proud of what we accomplished. It’s pretty amazing and I’m proud of this team.”
Brady said that on Wednesday afternoon, he wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he’d be able to even suit up for this game. He suffered an injury when handing the ball off during practice on Wednesday — an otherwise mundane play that resulted in his hand getting ripped open. But with some stitches and a wrap on his throwing hand on Sunday, you’d never know that Brady was playing hurt.
“I thought out of all the plays, my season can’t end on a handoff in practice,” Brady said Sunday. “We didn’t come this far to end on a handoff. It’s just one of those things. So I came in the training room and just was looking at my hand and wasn’t quite sure what happened, and everyone did a great job kind of getting me ready and the training staff and the doctors and Alex [Guerrero]. It was a great team effort. Without that, I definitely wouldn’t be playing.”
Facing the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the NFL, Brady completed 26 of his 38 passes for 290 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and he also showed a willingness to stick his nose into some big bodies when he took a quarterback sneak for two yards to pick up a critical first down prior to throwing the game-winning touchdown.
As a result, Brady didn’t really want to admit that the wrap on his right hand affected him.
“I’d rather not wear it,” Brady said of the wrap. “But, I think it sounds kind of arrogant to say, ‘Oh yeah, it bothered me,’ when we had a pretty good game. So, I wouldn’t say that. Doesn’t that sound arrogant if I said that? It’s like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game,’ and he won the tournament.”
The win was spectacular, but Brady certainly didn’t do it alone. Brandin Cooks caught six passes for 100 yards and drew 68 yards in penalties from Jaguars defensive backs. The defense forced four punts and a turnover on downs in the second half. And Danny Amendola did it all, catching two touchdowns, returning a punt 20 yards, and even completing a pass for 20 yards.
While Amendola’s performance was incredible in its own right, he was happy to heap praise upon his quarterback after the win.
“Tommy’s the best. He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met — physically, mentally,” Amendola said. “If there is anything that happens to Tom, I know he can handle it. It was unfortunate to see him get injured mid-week. I know mentally it probably stressed him out a bit and physically I know it’s hard to throw a football with stitches in your thumb. Everybody knows how tough he is. Everybody knows that he’s our leader. It’s a testament to his career, his personality, the man he is. Not only is he the best player in our locker room but he gets everybody else to play well and step their game up and that’s why he’s the best.”
The Jaguars appeared to be in position to win the game, holding a 20-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter. But a young, inexperienced team like the Jaguars can only hang with the Patriots in Foxboro for so long. Even the Jaguars seemed to know that.
“If you give him time he will pick you apart,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “He is the greatest quarterback to ever play this game. You can never have a safe lead with 12 at the helm. We knew we had to keep our foot on the gas. That’s Tom Brady, the greatest to ever lace up the cleats at the quarterback position. He went out there and he played good football. ”
“They just made more plays than us, at the end of the day. That’s all I can really say. They just made more plays,” linebacker Myles Jack said in the losing locker room. “We wanted to win, we were fighting, fighting, fighting. And then New England became New England in that second half.”
Veteran safety Barry Church, who took a 15-yard penalty for a high hit that knocked Rob Gronkowski out of the game before halftime, said that Brady was … Brady.
“They were just able to make plays,” Church said. “He was able to step up, just buy an extra little second of more time, throw a pass just a little different. … He’s the best for a reason, and he proved it today.”
Bill Belichick has seen every single pass Brady has thrown as a professional, and he’s no doubt impressed with the work of his quarterback. Still, Belichick likes to zag when the world expects him to zig, and so he was quick to stop anyone from going too far with their praise of the quarterback playing through an injury on his throwing hand.
“I mean, look, Tom did a great job and he’s a tough guy. We all know that, alright?” Belichick said. “But we’re not talking about open-heart surgery here.”
That may be true, and Belichick’s always eager to prevent anyone’s head from getting too big. But being a student of the game, Belichick knows how rare it is for any quarterback to have this type of run of success in this league.
Brady seemed to bask in it just a little bit extra after the win.
“I’d have thought you were crazy to think that or I was crazy to think that,” Brady said when asked how he’d have reacted in the year 2000 if someone told him he’d have a chance to win three Super Bowls in four years twice in his career. “This has just all been – I guess it’s my life, so I’m living it and it feels very natural and normal just because I wake up every day and I feel very much the same as I did when I walked in here 18 years ago, I really do. It’s a great privilege to play here and it’s a great privilege to play in the NFL, and I try to represent the team well, I try to represent my family, I try to do things the right way and I’m very blessed. I could never imagine getting the kind of team achievements we’ve done and had. I mean, I don’t think anyone can ever take those for granted. These are pretty amazing times for all of us – fans included, players, coaches, everyone. It’s very special.”
Realistically, Brady will have to retire at some point. Whether that’s in the next few years or five years down the line, it’s hard to forecast in a sport as violent as football. But with another hallmark win added to the collection, and with a record eighth Super Bowl start on the horizon, Brady seemed to at least recognize that this run is historic, and it cannot last forever.
He also knows that just making the Super Bowl without winning the game doesn’t mean much to anybody.
“Great leadership and it’s just been a great year,” Brady said. “It’d be really great if we take care of business in a couple weeks. So we’ll see.”