The Herald Bulletin

January 7, 2014

Eye on the Opponent: Brady continues to beat back Father Time

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — It likely comes as no surprise a young quarterback of Andrew Luck's caliber would take an interest in Tom Brady's Hall of Fame-bound career.

But it's a little more unexpected to learn the reverse is also true.

The three-time Super Bowl champion and California native began following Luck's career at Stanford and has continued to keep track of him in Indianapolis.

"So I've always been a fan of his," Brady said Tuesday during a media conference call at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "He's really come into the NFL and done everything you could ask for out of a young quarterback."

The mutual admiration society will hold just its second meeting on the football field Saturday when Brady's New England Patriots (12-4) host the Colts (12-5) in an AFC divisional playoff game.

It'll be the fourth postseason meeting overall between the franchises, with Brady and the Patriots posting a 2-1 record in the previous three. Of course, each of those contests came with Peyton Manning under center for Indianapolis.

Brady and Manning etched their rivalry into the fabric of league history, and the New England star said he was fortunate to take part in it. But it's clear he also harbors a healthy respect for Manning's replacement.

"(Luck's) obviously off to a great start in his career," Brady said. "His team really thrives on his leadership. He's a great player and a great young quarterback. He obviously has all the ability. Our defense has got to be up for the challenge. There's no lead that's too safe against the Colts, as was evidenced last week against K.C."

Luck's star has been soaring in the wake of a 28-point comeback in the second half to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game last weekend. The precocious quarterback overcame three interceptions and threw for 443 yards — the second-highest playoff total in franchise history and fifth-highest postseason total overall — and four touchdowns to help record what has become a signature victory.

But the challenge could be even greater Saturday night.

Indianapolis never has won a playoff game in Foxborough, Mass., falling in the AFC Championship Game following the 2003 regular season and losing in the divisional round a year later.

Several pieces of New England's mystique have been chipped away since the team's most recent Super Bowl victory nine years ago. Brady won the first 10 playoff games of his career but is 7-7 since. And the Patriots are just 3-3 in their last six postseason home games, including a 28-13 loss against the Baltimore Ravens in last year's AFC title tilt.

But the franchise and its celebrity quarterback remain among the most dangerous opponents in the game.

"They're just great at executing everything, regardless of what they're doing," Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. "They line up in a lot of different formations, but they run the same type of plays, and they're extremely efficient at it. Their execution is at a pretty all-time high."

So is their versatility.

The Patriots scored 75 combined points in their final two regular season games with Brady failing to throw for 200 yards in either contest and tossing just two touchdown passes. The defense scored twice off turnovers in a 41-7 rout of the Ravens, and running back LeGarrette Blount ran for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 34-20 decision against the Buffalo Bills.

That's not at all to suggest Brady has somehow lost his touch.

Despite working with young and inexperienced targets for much of the season, the veteran has managed to complete 60.5 percent of his passes for 4,343 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He's even been mentioned as a fringe candidate for the league's MVP award.

None of which should come as a surprise to Colts fans.

Brady has been a thorn in the side of the franchise since his first career start — a 44-13 victory in Foxborough on Sept. 30, 2001.

"We got the best of them that day," he recalled while looking forward to the next chapter of the rivalry on Saturday night. "... We've had a great history with that team, and it's been fun to be a part of. Hopefully, this is an exciting game for everybody to watch."