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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady has been around long enough to understand that nothing is a given in the NFL.
That definitely applies to the playoffs, where Brady and his team find themselves for the fourth consecutive season.
"You certainly never take it for granted," the New England Patriots quarterback said Wednesday of reaching the postseason. "It's hard to get to this point. You've got to work pretty hard. There are a lot of teams that have worked hard, but certain things have to go your way and you have to win a lot of games and put a lot of practice in, a lot of preparation to get to this point."
And perhaps Brady's understanding of both what it has taken for his team to reach this juncture of the season and what it will take to move forward in the playoffs is why he isn't focused on what his team has going in its favor. Rather, his concern is about executing on Sunday when his team hosts the Houston Texans in divisional round play.
The presence of tight end Rob Gronkowski -- who missed the Week 14 matchup due to a broken forearm -- would seem to be an advantage, right?
"Well, I think it's a matter of execution more than anything," Brady said. "Just because he may have the opportunity to be out there on a particular play doesn't matter if we don't execute it well."
But having Gronkowski paired with Aaron Hernandez against a defense that plays an abundance of man coverage and has three inside linebackers on injured reserve must be a good thing, right?
"Like I said, it's all about our execution," Brady said. "It doesn't matter if they're out there together. They were out there a lot together last year and when we executed well, it looked good, and when we didn't, it looked bad. So like I said, whoever's out there, we expect to go out and execute well, and that's what we're hoping we do."
|Tom Brady knows the Patriots' success against the Texans on Dec. 10 won't help them on Sunday.|
The seemingly improving health of his offensive line, that has to be something he's paid attention to, right?
"I haven't paid too much attention to that, to tell you the truth," Brady said. "I've just been trying to focus on Houston and what I need to do to prepare. The guys that have been out there in practice, they're doing what they need to do. Everyone is just trying to get ready and listening to what coach is talking about and telling us what to do, and we're going to go out there and try to do those things well."
But surely wouldn't having a bye week coupled with eight days to prepare for a team they just played last month put the Patriots in a good place to know what's coming this Sunday?
"I don't think any game ever goes as planned," Brady told reporters. "I think there is always a part of seeing how they're playing you, being able to adjust and who can make the adjustments. Who can get those on the field and execute under pressure? That's the team that's going to win."
Brady's words echoed the strong message that has been sent this week from the Patriots: The rematch with the Texans this Sunday is not about what happened at Gillette Stadium in December, when the Patriots drubbed Houston 42-14, seemingly sending the Texans spiraling thereafter.
And it's not about what the matchup looks like on paper: Do Gronkowski and Hernandez look like a nightmare duo for a Texans defense Brady previously carved up for four touchdowns and a nearly perfect QBR (95.4)?
On paper, it would seem so.
But the Patriots aren't interested in being paper champions. They're interested in winning on the field, and Brady knows solving this Houston defense again won't be easy.
"They've got a great front, some very experienced players at linebacker, a very athletic secondary," he said of the Texans. "You saw what they did last week playing at home against Cincinnati there in the first half, [it] was pretty impressive. There are a lot of challenges for us, certainly from my standpoint."
Among the challenges for the Patriots will be to eliminate turnovers while not compromising what they do on offense and pulling back on the reins.
Brady talked Wednesday about how the margin for error narrows in the postseason, but as coach Bill Belichick said, the playoffs are not the time to simply play things safe.
"You don't win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it," Belichick said. "You have to go out there and attack. You have to go out there and make the plays you need to make to win."
"I don't think you can play so conservative that you're not able to go out and make plays. I think part of that is the mental toughness," Brady said, later adding: "You've got to overcome mistakes. If you make them, you've still got to do everything you've got to do to win and give yourself a chance to move on. I think the important part is if you do make a mistake, you've got to hope you don't make another one."
So the mission for Brady and the Patriots is clear: minimize mistakes and execute on offense. That is what it will take to move past Round 2 with the Texans.
"They're a great football team that has played really well all year," Brady said. "We had a chance to play them five weeks ago and we understand the challenge that it takes to beat them and the type of plays we need to make and the type of plays we can't make. The more of those we make -- the good ones -- the better it's going to turn out for us."