Now a 13-year veteran, the New England Patriots star needs just one more victory to break a tie with Joe Montana for most in the postseason as a starting quarterback.
He’d love to get his 17th on Sunday against the Houston Texans, not to reach the milestone but to advance to the AFC championship game.
So when he was asked on Wednesday if he was aware of the historic significance, he answered: “With that question, I guess I’m aware of it.”
Football, Brady said, “is a team game. I’ve been fortunate to play here and have the opportunity. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
He was there for the famous “Tuck Rule” game, a snowy 16-13 overtime win over the Oakland Raiders in his playoff debut in 2002 when a ruling that he had lost a fumble was changed, upon replay, to an incomplete pass. The Patriots went on to kick the tying and winning field goals.
He was there for his third postseason win — and first Super Bowl title — two weeks later. Minutes after that 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams, he flashed a broad smile while standing with both hands on top of the cap he wore with the bill facing backwards.
“That was some kid back then,” Brady said. “You really don’t quite understand what has happened or what has been accomplished until you try so many times and you don’t get to accomplish those things. It’s very hard to win that final game of the year. We’ve had a chance and lost a few.”
Both were to the New York Giants — 17-14 in the 2007 season and 21-17 last season.
Brady had been a postseason sensation, winning his first 10 games and three Super Bowls in his first five seasons. Since then, he’s 6-6 with no championships.
Still, Brady remains the consistent key to a team that earned its third straight playoff bye this season, its 10th in a row with at least 10 wins.
“He’s won a lot of regular-season games, won a lot of playoff games,” coach Bill Belichick said. “What he does on a day-to-day basis, how he performs on the practice field, how he performs in games — whether they’re preseason, regular season, postseason, whatever it is — he’s pretty consistent. I think you see that during the week, so it shows up on Sunday.”
It was painfully obvious to the Texans (13-4) on Dec. 10 when they came to Gillette Stadium with the NFL’s best record. They left with a 42-14 pounding in which Brady had four touchdown passes six minutes into the third quarter.
“I know the score looked like it was a certain way, but there were certain plays that we could have done a better job on,” he said. “Hopefully, we can do a better job of (that) this week.”
The Patriots (12-4) have been reminded of that rout constantly this week. And they’ve constantly downplayed its relevance for Sunday’s divisional playoff game.
“Giving us an opportunity to have this game at home, I think that’s the important thing about last game,” Brady said. “Other than that, this is going to be a whole different game full of our own execution, our ability to try to beat a very good football team that’s played well all year.”
The game against the Patriots began a slide of three losses in four games. The last, to the Indianapolis Colts, dropped the Texans from the first to the third spot in the AFC, costing them a first-round bye.
They won their wild-card game, edging the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 last Saturday. But they are still playing below the level they established in winning 11 of their first 12.
Still, Brady talked of the Texans as if they were dominating opponents.
“There’s a lot to be concerned about,” he said. “They’ve got a great front, some very experienced players at linebacker, a very athletic secondary. You saw what they did last week — playing at home against Cincinnati there in the first half — was pretty impressive.”
He expects the Texans to make some defensive changes from the previous meeting. But 6-foot-5 J.J. Watt and his ability to jump and knock down passes will still be at defensive end.
So Belichick brought out the racquets again that linemen hold up in practice for him to throw over, Brady said.
“It gets frustrating at times, but I think it’s a very good thing that coach does,” he said. “It just subliminally gets it in my head of (Watt’s) ability and their ability to defend passes at the line of scrimmage, which I’m sure teams try to do every week.
“But they get them every week.”
Watt didn’t bat down any the last time he faced Brady.
“So,” Watt said, “I need to do more.”
He and his teammates must do a lot more than they did in the last meeting to deny Brady his 17th postseason win. And Brady expects just that.
“The Texans are going to have a few different things, we’re going to have a few different things,” he said. “It’s just going to be a totally different game.”
NOTES: Belichick said the Patriots won’t play conservatively even though one mistake can lose the game and end the season. “You don’t win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it,” he said. “You have to go out there and attack.” ... LB Jerod Mayo isn’t letting the romp over Houston breed overconfidence. “We know the last game could’ve been a lot closer than what it was. There were plays in the game that just kind of bounced our way,” he said. ... The Texans are 2-1 all-time in the postseason.