FOXBORO -Tom Brady won every single one of his first 10 playoffs starts. That's an NFL record for quarterbacks. Since his first loss at Denver in the Divisional Round after the 2006 season, he's gone 4-5.
In his first playoff run with John Fox' Carolina Panthers, Jake Delhomme played brilliantly and engaged in an epic shootout with Brady before succumbing. In his last playoff start for Fox in Carolina, Delhomme threw five interceptions and fumbled the ball away once.
Experience? It's nice. Execution, though? It wins out every time.
"You can only say one thing about experience," Patriots left tackle Matt Light said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. "It either served you well or it meant nothing. We hope that for the guys that have been there and done that, that the experience that we have will actually propel us into the next game and do something for us rather than talk about, Hey, we have a lot of guys with experience but we couldnt go out there and show any of it on the field. Thats a long way of saying that I dont think the experience means a whole lot unless you do something positive with it."
The Patriots are in a position Saturday night to change their recent playoff experience - one-and-dones in 2009 and 2010. Yet they go against a Broncos teamwhose most recent playoff experience was a victory less than a week ago in a game that few gave them a chance to win.
A handful of Patriots know what it's like to finish the postseason with a win and see the confetti cannonsunload on their sweaty heads. But those same players also know the razor-thin line betweenthat feeling and the one that comes when all the experience doesn't matter and somebody makes a crazy play (David Tyree) or asimply play goes horribly wrong (the fake punt gone bad against the Jets last January).
And those recent experiences are still fresh, despite the public insistence this week by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady that they arenot on their radars.
"Imean, obviously, we havent done well enough," Light said when asked about the playoff losses in 2009 and 2010. "It sits in all of our minds for the guys that have been here and been a part of that. You work that much, you put that much time into a season, you have success to a degree during the regular season and then you go out and you cant get it done in the postseason; thats a difficult thing to swallow.
"I think thats why guys . . . put a little bit more time in, you put a little more effort into it and hopefully get a better outcome," Light continued. "Were working hard toward that. Weve had a heck of run through the regular season. Weve had a lot of guys step up and make a lot of plays to put us in this position. Now we have to do something with it."
The losses don't fade. Brady said during the preseason that the loss to the Jets last year was something he'd never get over. And Belichick went into a months-long funk after the loss last year.
Asked about the loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl he experienced as head coach with the Panthers, Fox said on Tuesday, "Oh Lord, I will never forget it. I dont think that I dwell on it, but you know its the only one that Ive been in as a head coach and you know those things are no fun losing."
There is an urgency around the Patriots that borders on desperation sometimes. A tightness. Single-minded focus is a good thing. But mania may not be. And, if you'll allow me to play armchair psychologist, it could be something the Patriots are suffering from. Something they may be able to exorcise during these playoffs.
Having been to the summit, both Belichick and Brady know what it feels like. Each man is blessed football-wise with the presence of the other. They are the winningest head coach-quarterback combo in NFL history and both will go directly to the Hall of Fame on their first ballots. But winning a fourth Super Bowl together has become their white whale.
Consider how close they came with an undermanned team in 2006 - a 21-3 lead in the second quarter over the Colts in the AFC Championship with a mediocre Bears team awaiting them. An 18-0 season in 2007 and then a flat Super Bowl performance. The best record in football and a No. 1 seed in 2010 and then a crushing, mistake-marred loss to their most hated rival.
Their recent experiences, coupled with their early ones give them a unique dynamic. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh weren't at the top for 11 seasons together. Nor were Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll. Nor Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson, nor Starr and Lombardi. This has been sustained superiority for Brady and Belichick and it wouldn't be a surprise if they both lamented privately that they should have five championships by now.
Fox talked a little more about the experience factor, saying, "Most people describe it as a three-level intensity season. Theres preseason, theres regular season, and theres playoff season. You know I think it reams it up a notch you know because if you lose, you go home. So, I think the idea that the same leadership in any big game is critical whether its playoffs or a division race or what you have through the regular season."
Experience is nice. Execution is better. And how a team lets its experience color or impact its execution is most important of all.