Tom Brady will seek his 31st playoff victory in his 42nd playoff game on Saturday night at Washington, and for a guy who presumably has seen it all, there is always something new.
“Today for example, it was 60-plus degrees at practice for a playoff game,” Brady said. “Haven’t had many of those, even in 20 years.”
Brady is 43 years old and in his 21st season in the NFL. This week he had to try to defuse a potential rivalry with 21-year-old defensive lineman Chase Young, who said, “I want Tom.” This was, in part, because Brady is too smart to egg on a guy who goes 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds and, in part, because things like that are wasted energy that won’t help on the scoreboard.
“He is obviously a great young player and we have our hands full with that [defensive] line,” Brady said. “I think that Ohio State-Michigan thing wears off on him a little bit.”
See, leave it to the old guy to date himself, like that Michigan-Ohio State is still a “thing.”
It was when Brady was in Ann Arbor (1995-1999) — Tom went 1-1 as a starter in the big game. Since then the Buckeyes have gone 17-3 against the Wolverines, including 3-0 during Young’s time in Columbus when the Michigan game was basically something to get hyped up about en route to more significant games.
No, Chase Young wants Tom Brady because playing a legend will fire anyone up. Young has spent his life watching Brady dominate the NFL, especially the playoffs.
“Tom Brady?” Young said. “You think I won’t be excited to play against the G.O.A.T? You tripping? I’m not going to apologize for saying, ‘I want Tom.’ ”
Brady could be on a beach or in a broadcast booth right now, but the challenge of pushing forward has proven impossible for him to resist. He enters this postseason with a new team in Tampa Bay trying to win a new conference in the NFC.
Other than the weather, not much different though. The playoffs always fit his personality, competitiveness and skills best. One and done, all or nothing, bring on the pressure. He's relentless in his focus and January is what it all builds toward.
He’s still playing for one reason, win the Super Bowl, in this case his seventh. Anything less will not be enough, and while such standards are inherently unfair, for Tom, it has been that way for a long time.
“Nothing is given,” Brady said. “You have to earn everything. You get to this point in the year you have to earn it. To win this game you have to earn it.”
If he can do it here in 2021, the legacy grows. He just completed a regular season with 40 touchdown passes and improved numbers in completion percentage, yards per attempt, quarterback rating and so on. He’s surrounded by talent, even with Mike Evans potentially out with injury.
In trying this in Tampa he’s both following the lead of perhaps his greatest rival, Peyton Manning, while trying to separate his legend from his greatest ally, Bill Belichick.
Manning played 13 seasons in Indianapolis, winning one Super Bowl, before a neck injury sidelined him for a year. At age 36, he returned with a second act in Denver. He reached two Super Bowls, winning one in his final game at age 39.
It was a rare second act that worked. Manning wasn’t quite the quarterback he’d been, especially in that final season, but his supporting class didn’t need him to be. He was good enough, giving him a late career rewrite.
Brady was far more accomplished in New England, winning six Super Bowls. And he’s far older now. The stakes are the same though, a guy who still thinks he can win it finding a place in need of his leadership as well as his talent.
“The regular season is what it is,” Brady said of the Buccaneers 11-5 wild-card year. “ … but we are here to win playoff games. … There are six teams that won’t be practicing on Monday and there will be six [playing this weekend] that will be. If you don’t play well, chances are you’ll be watching next weekend.”
That’s the urgency, because while even Chase Young should realize that playoff opportunities can be fleeting, it really kicks in at Brady’s age.
A Super Bowl would also give Brady a leg-up in what is, for the most part, a ridiculous, if enduring, debate — was New England’s success more Brady or Belichick? It was both, of course. This is football. No one does it alone.
Yet after the Patriots sunk to 7-9 without Tom, the deeper the run here, the more the balance tips a little bit for those who care. Whether there is motivation there for Brady, only Brady likely knows.
Right now, he’s not focused on history or eager rookies or much of anything other than winning. This week is only about beating Washington, not winning a Super Bowl.
“In order to advance you have to play good football,” Brady said. “You can only play one game a week and you’re not promised anything.”
That’s what got him here. No time to change.
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