FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Matthew Slater was telling a story in the New England Patriots’ locker room earlier this week that summed up how playing with quarterback Tom Brady can be an uplifting experience, especially in pressure situations with the game on the line.
The story was from Sunday night’s 43-40 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Slater was dejected as he made his way to the sideline, his kickoff coverage unit having surrendered a 97-yard return that led to a quick Chiefs touchdown.
The score gave the Chiefs a 33-30 lead midway through the final quarter when Brady came up to Slater, knocked his fist, and said, “We’re good.”
To which Slater initially thought, “We are? It sure doesn’t feel that way.”
As Slater retold the story, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "I guess we were good," he chuckled.
Then he turned a bit more serious, highlighting how Brady’s confidence in the face of adversity galvanized him and others.
“You can look in a man’s eyes and know, in pressure situations, this guy is not going to be able to handle this, he’s not going to be ready. You look into that guy’s eyes and it’s a laser-like focus,” said Slater, a team captain now in his 11th season with the club. “They haven’t always worked out for us, but you see extreme confidence in his eyes, and that’s because he’s prepared, he’s done it, and he believes in the guys around him.”
At 41 years old, Brady remains one of the game’s best closers, something that means a lot to him.
Two weeks ago, when asked during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI if he gets better when there is more pressure (such as the playoffs), Brady said, “I don’t think I get worse.”
His teammates have happily taken notice of that.
“He’s always clutch in big moments,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said.
“There are guys that flinch and there are guys that don’t flinch. He doesn’t flinch,” added Slater. “He’s just focused on the situation and executing every play, as its own play, and not worrying about what happened the last play or what’s going to happen the next play. He has a unique ability to do that.”
At the same time, Brady is often the first to point out that any success he’s had is more of a team accomplishment. That often starts in practice.
“Preparation is a big part of that and Coach [Bill] Belichick goes over those situations ad nauseam,” Slater said. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘Man, we’re going over this again?’ And then it always comes up. It’s like he has a crystal ball.”
Brady has thrived in that ultra-detailed setting, with Sunday night’s victory over the Chiefs a shining example of it. This was highlighted in a video posted on Patriots.com, as an on-field conversation between Brady and Belichick is heard after a 39-yard catch by Gronkowski that set up the game-winning field goal.
In the video, Belichick explains that there are 17 seconds remaining in the game, and he wants Brady to center the ball to make the final 28-yard field goal easier for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. That’s when Brady asks Belichick, “Do you want to call the timeout [after that], or me?”
He’s always thinking. Always locked in.
“He obviously embraces the moment and the opportunity to go out there and attempt to do his job under pressure in those types of situations, which I think is the first thing you have to be able to do if you’re going to go out there and have some success,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, after noting it takes a complete team effort.
“He’s a great leader under pressure like that because he stays calm, he has great poise, he’s very situationally aware. He knows the situation having gone through it a number of times -- understanding the difference between having a minute and 10 seconds and no timeouts versus two minutes and 50 seconds and three timeouts. There’s a huge difference in those types of situations, and I think his experience under pressure in those scenarios, he understands what needs to be done and how long we have to do it.”
Offensive tackle Trent Brown, who is in his first year with the Patriots, said Brady’s presence has stood out to him.
“So even-keeled and cool,” he said.
But there’s plenty of fire with that as well -- especially in crunch time.
“His overall competitive nature and desire to really be on the field in those situations, those are the things you hope for from your group on offense,” McDaniels said. “And he certainly does a great job of that as one of our captains.”