Tom Brady has had very little experience playing in the wild card round. In his previous 16 playoff appearances, Brady has played in just three wild card games: New England's win over Jacksonville in 2005, its win over the Jets in 2006 and its loss to Baltimore in the 2009 playoffs. But after Sunday's upset loss to Miami, Brady and his teammates will try to become the fourth team this decade to win the Super Bowl after playing in the wild card round.
While each of the last six Super Bowl champions started their run with a playoff bye, Brady, during his weekly interview on WEEI, said that he doesn't have to look too far to find examples of teams that won the championship as a lower seed.
"There's a lot of examples of that," said Brady, whose Patriots will host the sixth-seeded Titans in the first round on Saturday night. "The Giants in 2011, against us. The Giants in 2007, against us. So we don't have to look too far to realize that it's about one game to move on. It's a tournament, single elimination … some teams get a bye, some teams get home field, but everyone's got a chance to go out and compete until we lose. For us, we're not looking at games beyond this one. This is about one week, and we gotta pour everything we've got into it and try to go out there and play our best game."
Brady admitted that he had trouble sleeping Sunday night following his team's loss to the five-win Dolphins that cost the Patriots their tenth consecutive playoff bye. Brady was especially hard on himself after he went just 16 of 29 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
"Yesterday, we had plays, I certainly did, that I should make, and I didn't make them, and that's why you lose games," said Brady, whose 60.8% completion percentage this season was his lowest since 2013. "This week, it's gotta be more concentration, focus, determination, attitude, everything has to be at it's top, top, top this week. We just gotta get to a great place where we're confident and trusting and going out there and executing at our highest level.
"We can certainly execute a lot better than we did yesterday," Brady continued. "We had too many unforced errors, things that Miami didn't even have to do to stop us, and I think that's when you know that you're disappointed with the way you played when it's self-inflicted errors. I give them all the credit for winning, but there's things that we did that we didn't do, and we gotta tighten those things up."
When it comes to facing his former teammate, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, Brady said that it's more about how he and his teammates execute than it is about the familiarity that comes when facing former teammates and coaches.
"If you look at Buffalo, their offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) used to be with us," Brady said. "You look at Miami, their offensive coordinator/defensive coordinator/head coach. If you look at the Jets for example, Adam Gase coached with Josh McDaniels, so we know him. Vrabel in Tennessee and Billy O'Brien in Houston. Being in the league, there's a lot of guys that have coached with the Patriots that are now in different places. Good football is good football, and that's keeping the fundamentals, throwing the ball accurately, making plays in the passing game, executing the running game, that's what football comes down to. You can draw up a lot of plays, but ultimately it comes down to us getting the job done on the field, and that's what we're going to have to do this week."
While the Patriots won just half of their final eight regular-season games, the Titans won seven of their last ten regular-season games behind NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry, former backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a defense that is 12th in the league in fewest yards allowed and eighth in third-down rushing efficiency. The Titans' defense does have their weaknesses, however, as they are 24th in passing yards allowed and 31st in third-down passing efficiency.
"They're playing well," Brady said of the Titans while adding that he will watch tape of last year's 34-10 loss to Tennessee in preparation for Saturday's game. "They've got a great rushing attack. They've got a lot of playmakers on offense. Ryan Tannehill has done a great job for them at quarterback. On defense, they mix it up a lot, good cover guys, good blitzing scheme. They rush the quarterback well. It's gonna be a tough game. We're gonna have to bring it, and that's what our goal's got to be."
Where there weren't many positives to take from Sunday's loss, Brady did speak highly of linebacker turned fullback Elandon Roberts, who caught a 38-yard touchdown pass against the Dolphins. Roberts also provided a key block on Sony Michel's second-quarter touchdown run.
Just a linebacker turned fullback catching passes, breaking tackles and scoring touchdowns. @Roberts_52 | #GoPats pic.twitter.com/zVlXaLTsOb— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 29, 2019
"We ran that play earlier in the game and he was open," Brady said of his touchdown pass to Roberts. "They kinda pressured us and not expecting us to throw the ball. The second time, we got him; he made a great catch and made a great run. That guy does everything the team asks him to do. A great teammate, captain, contributor. Just really, really proud of him and his effort and we're gonna all need to have our best game this week."
While playing on wild card weekend is a relatively foreign concept in New England, Brady said it won't be much of an adjustment for him and his teammates. They know what the ultimate goal is, but to get there, Brady said that it's imperative for himself and his teammates to stay focused on the present while focusing entirely on Saturday night's game.
"Fortunately, our season's still going," Brady said. "Even though we lost yesterday, we still have a chance next week, and that's better than a lot of teams. We're not gonna take it for granted that if we win this week, our season keeps going, and that's a good place to be."