Tom Brady has been down this road to the Super Bowl before.
Actually, he's been down the road to the Super Bowl six times before, including a prior trip to Houston for the biggest game in all of sports.
So there is little that is likely to shock the 39-year-old New England passer or alter his laser-like focus on the task at hand.
During his Friday afternoon press conference in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium Brady was asked seven questions regarding the early buildup to the big game. Not surprisingly he handled each with the veteran poise that might be expected.
That was even the case when a local TV reporter asked a long-winded, convoluted query wondering how Brady could not be extra motivated for Super Bowl LI given the way his season started with the four-game Deflategate suspension and all that went into that two-year-long scandal.
"I mean I'm motivated for my teammates. I said that after the game," Brady calmly explained to the seemingly spotlight-seeking reporter. "I think they're all the motivation that I need. It takes a lot of work to get to this point and nothing that has happened in the past is going to help us win this game. What's going to help us win this game is going through that process that we talked about and being ready to go. That's enough motivation for me."
Beyond that strange question – an uncomfortable moment for many throughout the room – Brady was asked to compare this experience to past Super Bowl trips, about celebrating the anniversary of Bill Belichick's hiring in New England and for his early thoughts on the Falcons young, speedy defense.
1. "Very grateful for the opportunity": It would sound cliché to say that going to the Super Bowl never gets old. But, for driven, motivated future Hall of Famers like Brady and Belichick, that's certainly the reality. Brady was asked to compare the Patriots current spot in Super Bowl LI with his previous six trips to the big game.
"I haven't thought much about that, you know," Brady said. "I think [I'm] just very grateful for the opportunity. It's a pretty cool thing for our team to be able to accomplish this. A lot of work goes into it. There are a lot of people that support us – our families, our friends, old coaches, old teammates – that'll all be excited a week from Sunday, so I want to go out there and represent everybody really well."
2. Belichick hiring "was the best thing for this franchise": Seventeen years ago today, Patriots owner Robert Kraft made what, at the time, was a somewhat controversial hiring by bringing Belichick to New England. A few months later the coach and his personnel department took a flier on a late-round quarterback out of Michigan. Since then, the duo has formed maybe the greatest winning partnership that any NFL dynasty has ever seen.
"We came in at the same time. It was our first year together," Brady responded when asked where the team would be without the hiring of Belichick on Jan. 27, 2000. "I wasn't drafted at the time obviously of that announcement but when they picked me I had to look on a map to see where the New England Patriots played because I had never been this far east. But it was a magical day in my life and I know for Patriot fans having Coach Belichick come to this team was the best thing for this franchise. He has been a great coach, a great leader for our team along with Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Jonathan [Kraft]. It always starts at the top. We've had a good run. We've got to keep it going. This is an important week for us. It's a lot of practice the next couple days and then obviously with the start of Super Bowl week there's a lot of hoopla that goes into that. This is the biggest game of the year and it's our opportunity to be at our best and not let anything get in the way of what our goal is, because I've been a part of a few of these that we've lost and it has been pretty crappy to think about those memories, so hopefully we can make it a great outcome."
3. Falcons defense "a lot of youth, a lot of speed":Earlier this week Belichick said the first thing that stands out about the Atlanta roster is the team's speed. Friday, Brady was asked a similar question about the defense he's going to face a week from Sunday at NRG Stadium. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn has built the unit and its schemes in the mold of the defenses he oversaw as the coordinator in Seattle, including in Super Bowl XLIX against New England.
Brady said that getting a feel for the Falcons defense is part of the preparation process he's going through at this point.
"Well that has been the biggest thing – understanding how they play their scheme and then the strengths of their guys," Brady said of a unit littered with rookies and second-year players. "They've got a lot of good players, a lot of youth, a lot of speed. [They're] very well-coached, very disciplined. I mean they're ahead by 20 points in so many of these games it's tough to really see 'got to have it-type defenses' but they play with enthusiasm, they play aggressive, [they're a] very tough, hard-nosed team. We're going to need to play really well in all phases of the game. You don't get to this point and [be] able to go out there and play an average game and expect to win. So it'll be great to be at our best."
In a follow-up question about the Falcons speed, Brady focused on the importance of turnovers to the final game of the year. New England tied the Falcons with the fewest giveaways (11) during the regular season. The Atlanta defense that ranks so lowly in so many categories had 22 takeaways during the regular season, one fewer than the Patriots. And when Matt Ryan gets extra chances, the MVP favorite usually takes advantage of them.
"They create a lot of turnovers and when you give this offense the ball more times than they're supposed to get it they put touchdowns on the board," Brady emphasized. "They've been getting them all year. It's going to be important – ball security is always important for our team. We talk about it every week. It's our No. 1 goal. I think their No. 1 goal is getting the ball off the opposing offense. So it's going to be a battle of who can possess it."