By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — In recent weeks, Tom Brady’s taken on a new slogan, a mantra of sorts, that speaks to both his prolonged excellence and his current state. It’s a simple phrase, but it says a lot.
And after Sunday’s 41-28 thumping of the 12-4 Los Angeles Chargers, there is no mistake. Tom Brady and the Patriots are very much still here.
Despite the win, though, the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer was not entirely ecstatic as he walked off the field.
Speaking to CBS’ Tracy Wolfson, Brady made an unprompted reference to those who have doubted him and the Patriots all year long.
“I know, you know, everyone thinks we suck, and you know, we can’t win any games,” Brady said when previewing the AFC title game in Kansas City. “So, we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”
It was, at the very least, a rare moment of brutal honesty from a team and a player who live by a code of ignoring the noise. Clearly, some of that noise crept its way into the walls of Gillette Stadium over the past week — and over the past 17 weeks — to the point where Brady seemed to take some of it personally.
Later, when at the postgame podium, Brady was asked if winning is any sweeter when so many people are calling for his falling off a cliff and for the end of the Patriots dynasty. Brady didn’t take the bait this time.
“I just like winning,” he said. “Just like winning.”
With that response, Brady may have been underplaying things a bit.
Sunday’s victory — which, despite the final score, came in blowout fashion against a Chargers team that many believed to be the best in the AFC — was Brady’s 28th career win in the playoffs. Next weekend, he’ll be playing in his 13th career AFC Championship Game — a feat that can only be accomplished by winning.
He owns just about every postseason record there is, but that’s never been enough for Brady. Ever since that 2001 season, his focus has never been on the past; it’s always been on “the next one.”
And as the Patriots find themselves as one of the four remaining teams still alive in this 2018 NFL season, for proper perspective about just how long Brady has been at the top of his profession, look no further than Sunday’s leading receiver. Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards against the Chargers. In doing so, he moved into the second spot all time in playoff receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver of all time.
Edelman’s been playing — and excelling — long enough at the NFL level to find himself in that spot. And yet, Edelman said he grew up idolizing the man who currently throws him passes.
“I mean it’s unbelievable. Honestly, it’s a dream,” Edelman said. “I grew up in the same area as him, and I remember being at school in eighth grade, literally chanting out, ‘I’m Brady!’ on the asphalt. And then you get to go out, and you play a bunch of games with him, and it’s been very awesome, and it’s been a blessing. It’s been cool.”
It hasn’t just been fun, though. It’s been productive. And Edelman shared how a player with the force of Brady can make those around him better.
“Playing with a guy like him that’s so competitive, that’s always trying to fine-tune everything. I mean, this guy has quarterback coaches out regularly, just to try to work his mechanics after practice. It rubs off,” Edelman said. “It’s been a contagious relationship, being around the best quarterback of all time, the best competitor of all time. And he just continually shows it.”
The perfect picture of Brady’s competitive spirit came in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, which was for all intents and purposes over before halftime. The Patriots scored on their first four drives, and then after their fifth when the Chargers muffed a punt and New England recovered, to open up a 35-7 lead. On a frigid Foxboro day, the fat lady didn’t have to wait long to warm up her vocal chords.
Yet, even in the fourth quarter, when his team led by 27 points, and with just 12 minutes remaining in the game, there was Brady, forcing Brian Hoyer into a game of catch near the sideline, before the starting QB trotted to midfield to join the huddle. Several minutes later, with less than eight minutes left in the game, he was there again, meticulously firing passes into the chest of Hoyer, always working, always ready to do whatever may be asked of him.
Some may wonder why the starting quarterback even remained in the game at all, considering the lead was so robust, and considering another must-win game — this time on the road — awaits next weekend.
But those images — the simple scene of Brady forcing Hoyer to play catch on this miserably cold day — state as loud as possible that there is simply no way anyone on this earth is able to take the football out of Tom Brady’s hands. Especially when the stakes are so high.
And with another excellent postseason performance (34-for-44, 343 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) to add to the resume, Brady did what he set out to do. He bought himself another week of life in this 2018 football season. Next week, it’ll be the Chiefs who will be looking to take the football away from him. They may succeed, or they may not. Nobody can ever quite know how these playoff games will go.
But there should be no doubt about this: Tom Brady will not give up that football easily. As much as he’s ever been, the quarterback is Still Here.