At 40, Tom Brady still a menace to NFL defenses

No. 1 -- Tom Brady: The Patriots quarterback set a pair of Super Bowl records while leading his team to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com).
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No. 1 -- Tom Brady: The Patriots quarterback set a pair of Super Bowl records while leading his team to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com).

At age 40, New England quarterback is going after his sixth Super Bowl ring.

Despite moving on in age when his knees should be starting to ache, his powerful passing arm should be getting tired and when a slide should bring on unthinkable pain, he’s still playing at an elite level a little over eight months after he ripped the heart out of the Falcons and earned his fifth Super Bowl ring.

No one in New England seems surprised.

“Tom prepares well,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He works very hard.”

Brady, who’s thrown 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions, has carried the Patriots to a 4-2 record. With him at the controls, they are thriving with NFL’s worst defense (412 yards per, 32nd in the league).

“Offensively, we have a competitive group,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of things that we need to work on and do better. But we’re trying to address those and trying to be consistent week to week.”

But Brady, the perfectionist, isn’t happy as he’s set to face the Falcons (3-2) at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.

“This year, I don’t think we are where we need to be,” Brady said. “Certainly at 4-2, I think there are a lot of things we wish we could have done better. We are still working them through. That’s where we are.”

He led the Patriots’ improbable comeback from a 28-3 deficit – the largest in Super Bowl history -- against the Falcons to a 34-28 victory in overtime in NRG Stadium on Feb. 5.

“We are focused on playing a great team,” Brady said. “There is a lot of respect for this coaching staff, these players, and I know they are going to be at their best on Sunday night.”

The Falcons have replaced five of the 22 players who started in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots have replaced 10 of their 22 starters.

With so many new players, the whole rematch angle doesn’t really work.

“We’re both different teams,” Brady said. “Different teams, different schemes and different challenges. That game was a long time ago.”

With the win over the Falcons, Brady pulled away from Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as quarterbacks with four titles. He currently sits tied with Bart Starr with five NFL titles.

The historic nature of the victory over the Falcons likely will never be forgotten.

“They are all unique,” Brady said. “They all hold a special place in your mind. Every game is different. They are all different situations and scenarios. Obviously, winning the game is an incredible moment in your life. We got to celebrate it.”

Brady has been to seven Super Bowls, with two losses to the New York Giants. He knows what Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is battling through while dealing with the Super Bowl loss and meltdown.

“Those games live with you for the rest of your life,” Brady said. “The wins and the losses. I mean it’s been 18 years for me, and it’s probably been some games in the middle of October that I don’t remember that well, but I would say, the Super Bowl ones, you remember pretty well because there is a lot on the line.

“It’s just the reality of being a player. You hope that you’re in that position and in that game than to not be in that game, win or lose. It’s great to win and it sucks to lose, but that’s playing sports.”

Brady remembers Ryan from his days at Boston College (2003-07) and from the time the Patriots trained with the Falcons at Flowery Branch during the Mike Smith era.

“I have a lot of respect for Matt,” Brady said. “I really like Matt. You know, seeing everything that he’s accomplished is pretty amazing.”

Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel knows what his unit is facing.

“He’s the best to ever play the game,” Manuel said of Brady.

The Falcons found that out that night in Houston.

“He has that never quit in him,” Manuel said. “Regardless of what the circumstance is, regardless of how many times that you hit him, he never quits. You see a guy take a shot at his legs, he stands back there and throws it from right back there in the pocket.”

Manuel admires Brady’s ability to play at a consistently high level and how he’s been able to elevate his team over the years.

“He’s the best to ever do it and do at that high level,” Manuel said. “You go back to when I played, the Corey Dillons, the Kevin Faulks, the Robert Edwards (were his running backs). You can go back, and this guy has done it with his preparation.

“He is a guy that you have to prepare for that has seen everything from the Randy Mosses to the Wes Welkers to the (Kevin) Hogans. It doesn’t matter. He’s going to be (tough) regardless.”

Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett had three sacks of Brady in the Super Bowl loss. If the Falcons had held on, he likely would have been named the game MVP.

“The respect, it’s there,” Jarrett said. “It’s inevitable that it’s there. (To not respect) wouldn’t show him the respect that he deserves (from) winning five championships. That is always going to be there. That is something that he has deserves.

“As far as the respect that we have and the people across the league have for him, it was definitely earned.”

The Falcons expect Brady to be at his best.

“He finds a way to make that offense run,” free safety Ricardo Allen said.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant faced Brady in 2013 when he was a rookie. He missed the Super Bowl matchup because of a torn pectoral muscle.

“He just makes the people around him better, for one,” Trufant said. “He makes all of the right throws and decisions. He doesn’t make that many mistakes.”

The Patriots also defeated the Falcons 30-23 in 2013 at the Georgia Dome.

“I just noticed the accuracy,” Trufant said of his first experience facing Brady. “I was tight on some coverage a couple of times, and he still fit it in there.”

The Falcons know what they are facing.

“When you play the great ones, you understand that you’re going to have to be detailed because you know they are prepared for everything,” Manuel said.

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