Brady: Patriots earned AFC title in Miami

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Brady: Patriots earned AFC title in Miami

Once again, the Patriots offense had a chance to put away a game in the fourth quarter. And as has been the case lately, they succeeded. A 16-play, 77-yard drive ate up over seven minutes on the clock and Stephen Gostkowski's field goal essentially put the game out of reach with just over one minute remaining.

Tom Brady joined WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show to discuss his team's 23-16 win over the Dolphins, which clinched the AFC East title.

Asked how his team was able to run the ball to prolong their game-sealing drive, Brady answered: execution.

"It usually comes down to execution, just executing a little bit better," he said. "I think the good part was to do that down in Miami in the warm weather, where we really haven't played in the warm weather in a long time. I thought that was really a great effort by our guys, in a situation where you've already played 52 minutes and you're able to play your best football when you need it the most and when you're the most tired. That's what it's got to be when you're playing for a division title. They're not going to be easy, you've got to go out and earn them. And I thought we did a good job of that yesterday."

To that point, the Patriots offense had trouble getting started. They put together a season-low 321 yards of total offense. Brady was 24-for-40 for 238 yards a touchdown and an interception, just his fourth pick of the year.

"I don't think it was our best day of production on offense," Brady said. "I thought Miami's defense played really well. But our defense got us the ball in some short fields, played great in some really tough situations for them: coming off a turnover, we got backed up on our own goal line and had to punt it out, didn't give up much. Our defense really saved the day. And obviously what our backs have been able to do not only yesterday but all season has been a huge reason why we've been on a six-game winning streak."

The win gave Brady his tenth division title of his career, breaking the record set by one of his childhood idols Joe Montana. Though it wasn't pretty, he'll take it.

"They gave us everything we could handle yesterday," Brady said. "I have a lot of respect for the Dolphins, they have some very good players on their team. I thought we did a good job there down at the end closing it out when we needed to. That was most important. That's why it was satisfying. Certainly not an ugly win. I don't buy that one bit. I thought that was a great win for our team."

Here are some other highlights from Brady's interview:

On the health of his offensive line:
"It's not like we're the healthiest team in the league right now," Brady said. "There's a lot of teams dealing with injuries. Your depth is really tested, your mental toughness is tested. I think we have the best coaches in the league. They get us prepared better than any other team in the league. All those little things become big things at the end of the day.

On his own health after being sacked four times by the Dolphins:
"I actually feel pretty good today," Brady said. "I think over the course of the season your body gets calloused a little bit to those plays and those sacks. But I feel pretty good today. Cameron Wake got a good hit, there's no question. I'm glad I came out of it OK."

On breaking Montana's record for division titles:
"I didn't know that. It means I'm playing with a great group of guys, I'll tell you that, with a great group of coaches, and everyone that's really committed themselves to winning and doing what's in the best interests of the team. I think that's been the mark of what our team's been all about since the day I got here. Patriot football is being selfless and committing yourself to winning, even when it doesn't mean the ball is always going in your direction or the blitzes aren't always called for you or you're not always the focal point of the play. It's a lot of guys who make an effort every week to go out and play their best.
"That was pretty cool yesterday to win in a place where we've lost the last three times in December. That was what it took and that's what we accomplished."

On receiver Brandon Lloyd's lack of production (one catch, one target vs. Dolphins):
"That's what I've got to do a better job of. You can't come out of the game targeting him one time. That's on myself. I've got to do a better job distributing the ball to him. It's not that he's not open. Because believe me, he's open. Every time I watch the film I look after the game and go, 'God, I should have thrown to Brandon on that play.' He's a very integral part of what we do. He's worked really hard over the course of the season. I've got to a better job of getting him the ball. I don't think there's any question about that."

On Wes Welker's performance (12 catches, 103 yards vs. the Dolphins):
"I said after the game the kind of respect I have for him. Nobody works harder than Wes. He's a great competitor. What he does in practice every day and his ability to -- for a guy who's whatever, 185 pounds, to play every single play and take hits over the middle from those guys that are twice as big as him, get up, come back to the huddle, look me in the eye, be ready for the next play, to be in that type of condition, his mental and physical toughness is unlike anything you've ever seen. He's what our team's all about. He's the mark of a Patriot football player. So, no, I never take him for granted. Every day, I'm lucky to have a guy like that on my team and as a teammate."

On why the Patriots have been so successful in the second half of regular seasons:
"I'm sure it's a bunch of factors, but I think it's the same thing: there's a lot of depth on our team. A lot of guys fill-in when guys get injured. It's not like we're the healthiest team in the league right now. There's a lot of teams dealing with injuries, but your depth is really tested, your mental toughness is really tested. I think we have the best coaches in the league, they get us prepared better than any other team in the league. All those little things become big things at the end of the day."

On playing on Monday Night Football vs. the Texans in Week 14:
"I look forward to it. I think it's great. It's a big part of the reason why the NFL has been successful in that primetime spot. There's one game on, and we're going to be the team that's on against Houston and it should be a great game. Houston's got a great team, they've been playing well over the course of 12 games with one loss. It should be a fun night."

On the tragedy in Kansas City, where Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and them himself:
"That was I'm sure shocking for everybody. It was shocking to our own locker room. We're very close to that organization, with a lot of our friends there. It's just very tragic. It's pretty remarkable for them to come out and win yesterday. That says a lot about the character of that team."

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.