New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is many things. A four-time Super Bowl champion. A three-time Super Bowl MVP. A two-time NFL MVP.
He also can be one ornery teammate.
“I would say I’m not the easiest guy to play with,” Brady said with a chuckle. “There’s a lot of high expectations. I try to put a lot of pressure on everybody to get the best out of us.”
No quarterback has been better than Brady during the past 15 seasons — if ever in NFL history.
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When the Patriots open defense of their 2014 Super Bowl championship starting with Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game against the Chiefs, Brady will begin his quest to join Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley as the only players in history with five Super Bowl rings.
Much of Brady’s drive to succeed can be traced to a pair of circumstances at the beginning and at the peak of his career.
Brady has never forgotten how insulted he was to be a sixth-round pick and 199th player taken in the 2000 NFL draft. It motivated him as he led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in his first four seasons as New England’s starter.
And Brady has never forgiven the NFL for its unsuccessful attempt (so far) to suspend him for whatever role he may have played in the Deflategate scandal in last year’s AFC Championship Game.
Brady, 38, played like a man possessed as the Patriots raced to a 10-0 start this season, reminiscent of 2007 when New England went 16-0 in regular season.
Even as injuries struck the team, Brady kept raising his game.
New England, 12-4, has started two different players at right guard, left guard and at center. They’ve started three right tackles and four at the all-important left tackle. Brady has been without his favorite wide receiver, Julian Edelman, for the past seven games; and the Patriots have started five different running backs.
And yet … Brady completed a franchise-record 402 passes for 4,770 yards — the fourth-most of his career. He led the NFL with 36 touchdowns to 10 different players and threw just seven interceptions.
“This may be his best season ever,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, who will broadcast Saturday’s game for CBS, “because he never knew from week to week who his offensive line was going to be, where they were going to be playing, who he was going to be throwing the ball to, who he was going to be handing the ball to.”
Brady, selected to his 11th Pro Bowl this year, acknowledged the degree of difficulty in performing at an elite level when the offensive personnel is in a state of flux.
“You have depth at certain positions, like at the tackle spots for us, and then that goes away real quickly once you have major injuries like we had,” Brady said. “It’s been obviously a challenge week to week trying to figure out how we’re going to move the ball down the field and score points, especially when you play good defenses.
“Playing against these guys this week, I’m going to have to watch a lot of film, a lot of film. There is a lot to cover. There is a lot they do schematically, and then for us it’s just how we’re going to be able to execute at a higher level than we’ve executed the last couple months. There is no magic ingredient. You’ve just got to figure out how to score some points.”
Brady has won more postseason games than any quarterback in history. He is 21-8 overall, 14-3 at home. Interestingly, he is 3-6 against Eli and Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco but 18-2 against everyone else. Those two losses were to the Jets’ Mark Sanchez in 2010 and Denver’s Jake Plummer in 2005.
Brady is 4-2 lifetime against the Chiefs but has never faced Kansas City in the playoffs. Two of the most painful moments of his career (other than two Super Bowl losses to the Giants) involved the Chiefs.
Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury when hit low by safety Bernard Pollard in the 2008 season opener in New England; and he was pulled from the game in the fourth quarter of a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs in September 2014 at Arrowhead Stadium. Brady’s other loss to the Chiefs was a 26-16 defeat in 2005 at Arrowhead.
“Well, they’ve had a lot of tough, hard-nosed players,” said Brady, whose 88.2 career passer rating against the Chiefs is his fifth-worst among opponents. “They play in a great environment for football when we’ve played there. I think those players are all mentally tough and they’re very well-coached and they’ve got a lot of top players, so I’ve got a lot of respect for them as a team, as an organization. Every time we play them it’s a battle. I’ve had some pretty tough losses against them over the course of my career.”
The Chiefs have seen some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks during the past two seasons, including Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson. Despite their success against Brady last year, they leave little doubt about who’s the best.
“Sports arguments are sports arguments,” said Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Brady last season. “But he’s definitely in the conversation. He’s at the lead of that conversation.
“What can’t he do? He’s super accurate, he gets the ball out of his hands fast. We’re all fans of the game of football, and seeing him back there throwing the ball, and winning in big games, winning in clutch moments, in Super Bowls, he’s definitely one of the best.”
Brady’s accuracy jumped out on the game film Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson watched this week.
“I don’t know who they were playing, but one of the running backs was running a wheel route and there was perfect coverage by the linebacker, who had inside leverage, pushing him to the sideline,” Johnson said, “and he just threw a perfect ball. Great coverage but even greater throw.
“That’s what we’re going to have to deal with on Saturday, but if you want to do anything great, you have to beat one of the great ones. He ranks at the top for sure.”
“Comparing him to other great quarterbacks,” said Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith, “he hasn’t had an all-star supporting cast, but he’s found a way to make guys look better than what they really are.”
One element, Smith said, separates Brady from all the rest.
“Rings,” Smith said admiringly. “Championships.”