Tom Brady isn’t fazed by being a home underdog in the NFL playoffs for the first time in his career.
After all, no one has enjoyed more postseason success than the seven-time Super Bowl champion, who begins his quest for a record eighth ring when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) host the Dallas Cowboys (12-5) in a NFC wild-card matchup Monday night.
Brady owns a slew of playoff records, including most games played (47), wins (35), passing yards (13,049), touchdown passes (86) and Super Bowl appearances (10).
The 45-year-old quarterback, who’s in the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season, has one more thing going for him:
The Cowboys – 2 1/2-point favourites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook – have never beaten the five-time Super Bowl MVP.
Not that Brady believes career accomplishments or being 7-0 against America’s Team, including a 19-3 season-opening win at Dallas four months ago, will have any bearing on the latest matchup at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs also beat the Cowboys and Dak Prescott 31-29 in Tampa to open the 2021 season.
“For me, it’s just a blessing to have those types of memories and experiences. I’ve been very blessed to be a part of great teams that got to this point and then had a lot of big wins,” said Brady, who joined the Bucs in 2020 after a historic two-decade run that saw him win six NFL titles with the New England Patriots.
“They’ve got a great team,” Brady said of facing the Cowboys, who’ve rebounded from not only dropping the season opener to Tampa Bay but also losing Prescott for five weeks with a fractured right thumb suffered in that game, to earn the top wild-card spot in the NFC.
“I’ve played them quite a bit over the years and I have a lot of respect for the organization, their history, a lot of great players. But all of it’s about three hours on Monday night,” he added.
“Everything’s going to come down to what we do those three hours. Nothing in the past, nothing about the colour jerseys we’re wearing. It’s who’s playing, what we’re doing, how we’re executing, how we’re executing under pressure. That’s what it’s going to come down to.”
The Bucs ended a 13-year hiatus from the playoffs and became the first team to win a Super Bowl played in its home stadium in their first season with Brady. They lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Rams in the NFC divisional round at home a year ago.
Still, Tampa Bay’s 5-1 record over the past two postseasons is the best in the league. Despite winning four fewer games than Dallas and finishing the regular season with a losing record, the Bucs are hosting Monday night’s game because they repeated as NFC South champs.
“You have to embrace these opportunities, said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, whose team is the No. 5 seed in the NFC.
“But at the end of the day … clearly, what we’ll pay the most attention to is we have had the opportunity to compete twice [in two seasons] against Tom Brady and Tampa. That’s really as far as it goes with us. That’s all we can focus on,” McCarthy added.
“We have zero responsibility or even time that will be wasted on what happened prior to those two games. None of that responsibility falls to us.”
Dallas has not won a postseason game on the road in 30 years, a stretch covering eight games. The most recent victory was 30-20 at San Francisco in the NFC championship game during the 1992 season.
The Cowboys went on to win three of the next four Super Bowls. They haven’t reached an NFC championship game since the last of those titles.
Prescott, who finished the regular season on a career-worst seven-game interception streak, is making his fifth career playoff start. He understands the significance of facing a team led by Brady, who last winter announced his retirement only to change his mind and return for a 23rd season.
“Obviously, you give the guy respect. I mean he’s won as much as anybody has in this league. So, you’ve got to give him the respect there, but understanding that this is a team game and obviously knowing how good and talented our defence is, trusting those guys that they’re going to go out there and do their job and handle that side of the ball,” Prescott said.
“So for us, it’s about taking advantage of opportunities. And as we said … if we get up, not giving them a chance,” the Dallas quarterback added. “And if it’s a close game, understanding that, yeah, they’ve got a quarterback and what they’re capable of doing, the way they’ve won a lot of their games throughout this season in the last couple of minutes. Just knowing that we’ve got to take care of our business and can’t leave it in his hands.”
Brady has averaged 277.9 yards a game passing and thrown for 15 touchdowns versus five interceptions in seven career games against the Cowboys.
He shrugged off a question about whether being a home underdog provides extra motivation, saying he’s never really paid attention to “those things.”
“It’s not the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays the best [that] wins. I was part of a team that won every game until the Super Bowl and we didn’t play the best that day and we lost, and you don’t end up reaching your goal,” Brady said.
“I’ve been on the other end of it where I was a big underdog, my first year starting against the Rams, and we played better than they did that day. But that’s all that matters,” Brady added.
“That’s what single elimination is all about. You’ve got to be at your best in that moment.”