Brady admitted on the congratulatory podium after New England's victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship that he "sucked" and later promised Kraft he would "play a lot better in two weeks." Brady immediately shifted credit to his team's defense in a 23-20 win that sent the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl appearance since the turn of the century, as he barely did his part with 239 yards passing and a pair of interceptions and no touchdown throws.
"I'm always trying to play better. Every player on this team is trying to play better every week," Brady said. "I'm glad we won that game, glad we're sitting in this position now. I think a lot of guys played really well and that's what it is going to take again this week. I always have private conversations with Mr. Kraft, but they're supposed to be private. I guess they're not."
It's not a surprise Brady would critique his own play so harshly, but in reality he didn't play all that poorly. He may have missed a few open targets, but one of the two picks he threw came on an acrobatic tip drill by two Baltimore defensive backs.
It's easy how quickly some, including Brady, can forget how well he played in against Denver one week earlier in the Divisional Round. The future Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champion carved up the Broncos to the tune of 363 yards while tying an NFL single-game playoff record with six touchdown passes.
A standard of excellence throughout his career, Brady then gathered his 16th all-time postseason win versus the Ravens and is now 16-5 overall in the tournament. His .762 winning percentage is the best in the postseason by a starting quarterback (minimum of 15 starts), slightly ahead of Terry Bradshaw (14-5, .737), and Brady's 16 playoff victories match Joe Montana for the most by a starting quarterback. Only Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44) have more postseason touchdown passes than Brady's 36.
Patriots receiver Deion Branch, the MVP of New England's Super Bowl XXXIX win against Philadelphia, has played with Brady for many years, and it's nothing new for him to hear his teammate firmly self-analyze his own performance.
"Tom's an up-front guy, straight-forward," said Branch. "Trust me, everyone made a lot of mistakes on the field [in the game] except for our defense. Defense and special teams did a great job. As far as offense, we didn't put our best outing on the football field [in the game], and I promise you the next time we step on the field it won't be the same thing. I promise you that."
That promise by Branch, and Brady's own pact with Kraft, can only come to fruition if the entire offense is on the same page for the Patriots' Super Bowl XLVI matchup with the New York Giants. And that starts with the quarterback.
The Patriots know they'll have their hands full on both sides of the ball against the G-men, and that Brady is getting no younger under center as well. Is the window of opportunity closing for the poster boy of the NFL? Not quite yet, but the chances of the Patriots churning out success are becoming limited by the years. Brady, who ended a three-game losing streak in the playoffs by beating Denver, was outplayed by Giants quarterback Eli Manning four years ago for the ultimate prize, the sterling silver trophy created by Tiffany & Co weighing in at seven pounds.
Brady and the Patriots will be out for a measure of revenge against the Giants, the franchise that ruined their quest for a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII and kept the three-time champion quarterback from becoming just the third signal-caller (along with Bradshaw and Montana) to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy four times in a career.
With a chance to rectify his only loss in a Super Bowl and further cement his legacy in the NFL, Brady will face a New York defensive line raging with talent in defensive ends Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora in Indianapolis. He passed for 266 yards and one touchdown, but was sacked five times (twice by Tuck) in the Pats' 17-14 loss to New York in the teams' first Super Bowl meeting.
But guess what, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez weren't even on the Patriots back then, and the pair has since become two of the most dynamic tight ends in the game today. Gronkowski hopes to play despite an ankle injury he sustained in the AFC Championship, and teaming up with Hernandez can only make it difficult for the Giants.
"We'll see how it goes with Rob and some of the other players that are getting treatment," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll just see how that is when we get back out on the field. We have a lot of tough players on our team. I think that everybody is going to do all they can to be ready physically and mentally -- but especially physically -- to try to compete in the game. We'll just see where all that takes us."
New York also defeated the Patriots, 24-20, in a Week 9 matchup during this regular season, with Brady finishing 28-of-49 for 342 yards with two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions. He also lost a fumble and was sacked twice. Gronkowski was around for that defeat and did his best, gaining 101 yards and a score on eight receptions. Wes Welker, perhaps Brady's favorite target, ran all over the field for 136 yards on nine catches that day.
Belichick knows Brady, who can claim his own wing in the Hall of Fame with another Super Bowl triumph, has the ability to take the Pats back to the top with an effort slightly better than his last, but is also aware that his quarterback can't do it alone even though Brady may beg to differ.
When all said and done, and the confetti is streaming from the rafters after the final whistle, Brady and the Patriots could be making some room on the shelf with the only other four-time Super Bowl champions: Pittsburgh (six titles), San Francisco (six), Dallas (five) and Green Bay (four). If promises go awry, however, the Giants will be the ones to join that list.