FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One would think, with this being the final weekend of the NFL season, that the New England Patriots wouldn’t be concerned about how they’re playing entering the playoffs.
This is, after all, a team that clinched a playoff berth and AFC East division title on Dec. 2, and had a high-octane offense that was gassing opponents.
But after the last two weeks, the Patriots’ poster boy knows things have to get better — and soon.
Quarterback Tom Brady spent much of his press conference Wednesday at Gillette Stadium reiterating the need for the Patriots to become more consistent.
Except for that exhilarating 28-point, 11:06-stretch against San Francisco on Dec. 16, when the Patriots wiped out a 31-3 deficit in a blink, this team has struggled.
The Patriots ended up losing at home to the 49ers 41-34, then were pushed around at Jacksonville by the two-win Jaguars last week, escaping with a 23-16 win.
After that game Brady was quick in his assessment: “We played pretty terrible out there.”
On Wednesday, he said there is only one thing that matters as the Patriots prepare to play the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale at Gillette at 4:25 p.m.
“I think it’s about playing consistent football and I think we’ve got to do a better job of that,” he said. “It hasn’t been as consistent as we would have liked, but we’ve still got a chance to improve it. And really, if we’re consistent this week, which I hope we are, that’s ultimately what’s going to help us win this game, not really what happened in the previous month or two months.
“Our goals are ahead of us and that’s where we’re looking and that’s the direction we’re heading in.”
Being consistent is not easy, but it is, said Coach Bill Belichick, the difference between winning and losing in the NFL.
“We try to do that every week,” he said. “It’s always about consistency. You can look at every team in the league and find good plays and players (who) do things really well. They’re professional football players. They’re very talented. They do a lot of things.
“Good teams, good players, they do them more consistently. It’s not so much about talent but (playing) consistent football.”
And that’s something Brady wants in larger amounts. While he’s been the unquestioned star of this franchise since replacing Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady has taken on a much larger, more vocal, role as a leader in recent years.
Not just content to have Belichick and the other coaches motivate the players, Brady has, this season, been one to stoke some flames under his teammates. He has never singled anyone out, but has simply stressed that everyone on the team — including the coaches — needs to work harder to become better.
“I think we kind of take the lead from our head coach, who always talks about us getting better and making improvements, and certainly not focusing on the things that we’re doing well but the things more that we need to improve,” said Brady. “As a veteran, you kind of take the lead from him. We all have our own feelings about how things are and we express those in different ways. It’s all in hopes of winning games and to be at our best when we need it the most.”
Brady said every player on the team should have the same goal.
“Every team is different and every player is different and the motivations are different for different players, but ultimately we’re all here to win and that’s what our ultimate motivation is as a team,” he said. “Part of being part of a team is being selfless and giving up whatever individual goals you may have for the benefit of the team. It’s all about teamwork and what we can build together and I’m only as good as the guys around me; they’re only as good as I am.
“I think part of that is motivating each other so that we can all be on the same page and we can all be at our best.”
And the Patriots need to be at their best right now. Brady said the Patriots are certainly aware of the stakes for Sunday’s games.
If either Houston (at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.) or Denver (home to Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.) lose, the Patriots can clinch a first-round bye with a win over Miami. If both Houston and Denver lose, the Patriots can earn home field throughout the playoffs with a win over Miami.
If both Houston and Denver win, the Patriots will have a first-round game at Gillette, then hit the road for the next round.
Regardless, Brady said, there’s really only one goal for this team this week:
“We’re trying to build some confidence this week in what we’re doing, go out and have good practices, and go out and see if we can execute better than we have been.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: