Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, who helped the Patriots win 17 division titles over 20 seasons, was respectful when discussing the NFC South, his new division, on Tuesday.
“It’s a good division with very good quarterbacks and offenses,” Brady said on a conference call with local and select national media members. “Very athletic defenses, too.”
The Saints have won the past three NFC South division titles. Until Carolina won three consecutive from 2013-15, the division title was passed around like a hot potato.
The Falcons won the NFC South, which was formed in 2002, in 2004, 2010 and 2016.
“Winning the division is always a hard thing to do,” Brady said. “These teams know each other so well. I didn’t play this division but once every four years.”
Brady is 6-0 all-time against the Falcons, including the 34-28 overtime victory over them in the historic collapse of Super Bowl LI. He’s 4-1 against the Saints and 2-3 against the Panthers.
“I’ve got to learn the players,” Brady said. “I’ve got to learn the schemes. There are a lot things that I’ve got to learn and get up to speed on. That’s where all of my time and energy is going to be focused on.”
Brady also must learn how to deploy his new weapons in Tampa Bay wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate and running back Ronald Jones.
Brady looks forward to establishing a relationship with Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, a former NFL quarterback who played one season (2007) with the Falcons.
“We’ve had a chance to talk a couple of times,” Brady said. “I’ve just enjoyed really getting to know him a little bit.”
Leftwich, who played in the NFL from 2003-12, is considered one of the up-and-coming coordinators in the league.
“Obviously, we are right around the same age,” said Brady, who is set to turn 43 in August. “I’ve watched him play for a long time, competed against him. He’s done an incredible job transitioning into his second career.”
They have hit it off early.
“I think Byron gets along with just about everybody that he comes in contact with,” Brady said. “He’s a very personable and outgoing guy.”
The Bucs were elated to land Brady in free agency with a two-year, $50 million contract.
“Tom is quite simply the greatest quarterback to play the game of football,” Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said. “Anytime that you can add someone of his caliber, you instantly make your organization better.”
Bucs coach Bruce Arians didn’t have any problem with moving on from Jameis Winston, whose career has been plagued by careless throws and a high volume of interceptions, to make room for Brady.
“He makes everybody better that walks into that huddle,” Arians said.
Arians contends that Brady is a fit for the deep-passing attack he prefers.
“He can do everything that we want to do in our offense, but more than that, it was his leadership ability that we need in our locker room to get where we want to go,” Arians said.
Brady said he’ll be more than a game-manager and believes he fits Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” gunslinger mentality. Over his years in New England he was a noted football surgeon, more known for cutting up opposing zone defenses with his accurate passes.
“Football to me is about throwing the ball to the guy who’s open,” Brady said. “If he’s open deep, that’s where you throw it. If it’s short, you throw it there. If he’s open outside, you throw it there. If they are open inside, that’s where you throw it. You get the ball to the guys who can do something with it.”
Brady adroitly dodged a question about getting jersey No. 12 from Godwin.
He also didn’t get into the specifics of his breakup with the Patriots, but he’s ready to go down a path that his former idol took.
Brady grew up in California and followed 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. He would going on to finish his storied career with another team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I was at Joe’s last game at Candlestick Park,” Brady said. “I actually went up there and saw it with my friends. I’ll never forget that. He was an incredible player. He and Steve Young were my quarterback idols growing up.”
Brady contended that his love for football led him to Tampa Bay.
“Just having the opportunity to continue to play football, lead a team, is something that I love doing,” Brady said. “I’ve loved playing the sport since I was a kid. Since I was throwing footballs in the parking lot at Candlestick. I still love doing that today.”
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