Immediately after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South title and locked themselves into the conference's fourth playoff seed, Tom Brady said he wanted to play in the regular season finale in Atlanta even if it was meaningless to the standings. For Brady, there's no such thing as a game that doesn't count.
"I think anytime you take the field you want to go be the best you can be," he said. "Your team's asking you, when you're out there, to perform at a very high level. So that's what you're trying to do. Every game's important for one reason or another. Spring practice is important, offseason workouts are important. Everything's important. To minimize the importance of a game makes no sense to me. I don't see it that way."
It appears as if Brady will get his wish, as Head Coach Todd Bowles said Brady would start on Sunday in Atlanta. In the same answer, however, Bowles noted that second-year quarterback Kyle Trask could be active for the game and ran down the potential substitution pattern if Brady comes out of the game before it's conclusion. That obviously sets up the possibility that Brady will start his 110th consecutive regular season game but not necessarily finish it.
Brady, who famously has never lost to the Falcons in 11 previous starts against them, is eager to get another victory and wants to be a part of making it happen because he knows it won't be easy.
"I've prepared this week like I prepare every single week," he said. "It's a tough defense. We didn't play great against them last time. They have some good players, really well-coached. They haven't had the type of year they wanted but they'll try to finish strong. I believe that. So that's what we've got to try to do, too."
Since he's gone to the playoffs in virtually every season of his career, Brady has been in this type of situation before and has seen it unfold in a variety of ways. He has seen his team lose a key player to injury in the last week of the regular season but knows that, as he said, "hindsight is 20/20." Nothing has changed his feeling about wanting to be on the field for his team every time he can.
"Football's a contact sport so there are risks every time we take the field," he said. "If you sit out this week and then you go out there [the next week] and the first play of the game you [can] get hurt, too. I don't know – you'd like to limit exposure? Well, as we said it's a contact sport and anything can happen. I think the point [is] that what you're always trying to do is improve as a football team. That should always be the priority. How do you improve and get better? Do you sit? Do you play? What plays do you run? Who plays? Those are all things for people to decide based on…everyone's got different individual situations and team situations and so forth. My view is I'm ready to play. I've never missed a game in my life, and I don't want to miss a game now."
Brady clarified that he has in fact, missed a couple games here and there. He suffered a torn ACL in the 2008 opener that knocked him out for the rest of that season, and he was suspended for the first four games of 2016. But the point is well taken. He essentially never sits out, which is how he's up to 381 career games and 379 starts, playoffs included.
"I think having the consistency to show up every day and be the same person is a great trait," said Brady. "It can't be one way when you lose and another way when you win, one way at the beginning of the season and another way at the end of the season. I think you've got to have a lot of consistency to the process of trying to improve and be the best you can be over the course of a long year."