FOXBORO -- Tom Brady was asked Wednesday about Rob Gronkowski, specifically, if the tough, rangy tight end gives the offense some edginess. Brady confirmed the idea but he didn't stop there. The question sparked something in the Patriots quarterback.
He almost became defensive.
"Football's all about playing physical. It's a physical sport, and if you're a finesse team you don't usually last very long. And that's what we're trying to be; we're trying to be a physical team that's tough."
Ah. The dreaded "f" word.
"Whether you're on the line of scrimmage and they're pressing you that you get off the line of scrimmage; whether you're running the ball, or whether you're running the ball out at the end of the game; when you're in a third-and-1 situation or a goal line situation. All of those things really relate to the toughness of the offense. And that's stuff we're trying to build on."
He didn't say the Patriots are battling a stigma but the notion is safely assumed. New England is not a ground-and-pound offense. Days before the teams faced off in Oakland, Raiders linebacker Rolando McLain tagged his opponent as "just a finesse team." For what the word is worth in the NFL, he might as well have insulted Belichick's mother. It means the offense is pretty with no power.
Finesse not force. One or the other.
Brady says he knows what makes a team tough. And he thinks his guys have what it takes to cultivate that identity.
"I think it comes down to those situation plays that I talked about. Like, third-and-1, you're not throwing it. First-and-goal on the one, you're not throwing it. Four minutes left in the game and you've got a lead, you're not throwing it . . . Like we did against the Jets, where we ran it 9-of-11, or 10-of-11, times right at the end of the game to end it. That's what it means to be tough and physical."
While the point is well taken, there's evidence to the contrary. Last week in Pittsburgh the Patriots got the ball back with 6:03 left on the clock, down 23-14. Brady ended up with a third-and-1 on the Steelers' 1-yard line toward the end of the drive. He threw the ball. Fourth-and-1, he threw the ball. Ryan Mundy intercepted the pass to Rob Gronkowski but the pick was nullified by a penalty. First-and-1 on the Steelers' 1. Brady threw the ball.
The Patriots got the touchdown. But one yard short and you get three plays on three throws? What does that say about the rush?
"Finesse in football? Yes, it's a dirty word," Brady said. "This isn't a finesse sport, so, you won't go very far as a team."
How far will the Patriots go? Forget time; only toughness will tell.