FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady head-butted teammates before his first Super Bowl.
Twelve years and four more NFL championship games later, the quarterback hasn’t lost his fire.
He still shows it before games and after big plays by banging helmets with other New England Patriots.
“I’m pretty emotional,” Brady said Tuesday.
That should be obvious when the Patriots come back from a first-round bye to face the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday night. Especially if he has plenty of scoring plays to celebrate.
His mood would be quite different if NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis keeps getting close enough to tackle him or hurry his passes.
“He’s a great player and been a great player for a long time,” Brady said. “He’s having one of the best years of his career.”
So what can Brady do if he sees the 11-year veteran bearing down on him?
Step up in the pocket? Throw quickly? Duck?
“I can’t really run away from him,” Brady said with his usual jab at his lack of speed, “so that option’s out the door.”
There’s no doubt he’ll have his eyes trained on the linebacker who lines up in different places on different plays.
“You have to understand where he’s at. He really has a sense of urgency,” Brady said.
And a knack for stripping the ball while sacking the quarterback.
“That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league, because he makes those types of plays happen,” Brady said. “He makes them on a regular basis. It’s not a fluke when he does it.”
Mathis led the NFL with 19 1-2 sacks and forced eight fumbles. His strip-sack of Kansas City’s Alex Smith led to a Colts touchdown in their 45-44 wild-card win over the Chiefs last Saturday.
The Colts overcame a 28-point, third-quarter deficit to win that. The Patriots overcame a 24-point halftime deficit against the Denver Broncos for a 34-31 regular-season overtime win.
“It was a great game, a great team win,” Brady said of Indianapolis’ victory. “Once you get some momentum going on your side, it’s pretty remarkable to be able to do that.”
Another big lead Saturday night likely won’t be safe until the very late stages, not with Brady and Andrew Luck leading their offenses.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games, they’ve been in a lot of close games,” Brady said. “They find a way to win them. That’s how they got to this point.”
The Colts are 6-1, including the playoffs, in games decided by six points or fewer. The Patriots are 8-4 in games decided by seven or fewer.
Brady downplays the meeting with Luck, who has a chance to match Brady’s accomplishment of winning a Super Bowl in his second season.
The chance to keep the youngster from upstaging the all-time great doesn’t provide extra motivation.
“My motivation is pretty simple,” Brady said. “I just try to win. That’s what I try to do and try to be part of the reason why we’re successful.”
For Luck, Brady can serve as an example.
“He has definitely set the standard for success at the quarterback position,” Luck said, “the way he handles himself, watching from afar, the competitive nature and basically all the right things he does. Yeah, I guess he is a barometer and he is the standard.”
The Patriots practiced indoors Tuesday with the outside temperature in the low teens. Brady said he had a cold.
“A little bit, but I’ll live,” he said. “Hopefully not on the injury report. I’ll try to talk my way out of that one.
Brady wants to be around for it all — the practices, the games, the celebrations. So he’s treating this week with his usual intensity.
“I think he’s just trying to relay that to everyone else,” Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “You do your work now. You put in the time now. You study the tape and you practice hard now, so when the games come you’ve already done it three times in the week. So you go out there and just play and have fun.”
In his 14th NFL season, the enthusiasm of the MVP of the 2002 Super Bowl persists.
“It’s incredible to play in this,” he said. “These are the moments you dream about, to be in the NFL playoffs and you have a chance with eight other teams to be the last team standing.
“It’s why we work hard. It’s why every guy puts a lot out there. You sacrifice a lot of things. A lot of people would die to be in our positions. I don’t think you take those things for granted.”