While Tom Brady wasn't exactly emphasizing his team's need to overcome the heat this Sunday afternoon in its trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins, the Patriots quarterback also wasn't running from New England's struggles over the years down south.
During his Friday afternoon press conference inside the media work room at Gillette Stadium Brady alternated between acknowledging that there must be something to do the conditions in Miami that give the Patriots problems and then emphasizing that the game was about beating the Dolphins not the weather.
Brady was asked about his team's issues over the years in Miami – New England is 1-4 in its last five trips to Hard Rock – in the first question of his weekly presser.
"That's a great way to start," Brady said with a seemingly expectant smile. "I think they play well and we don't. But the reality is that none of that stuff matters. This week it's really this team against that team. We're going to have to play well. They play well at home. They are 5-1. They have a good defense. So we have a big challenge. It should be fun."
Though Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick often try to dismiss the weather factor traveling to Miami in December, New England has prepared for the game different ways over the years. That's included indoor practices with the heat turned up or early trips on Thursday or Friday to practice and acclimate to the Miami heat. This week, though, the Patriots practiced outdoors in the cold and will fly on the traditional day of Saturday leading up to a game that could be played with temperatures in the 80s.
So while Brady wouldn't fixate on the weather as an issue/excuse by any means, he's not unaware of the fact that it plays a role in many NFL games.
"When you look at those stats it is pretty interesting, the way some of those teams form the south come up and play in the north and the north (teams) play in the south," Brady said. "There has to be something to it. But again, it just comes down to playing good football. We've had some great games down there too. Hopefully this is a great game for us but we have to go earn it."
Beyond Brady's thoughts on the weather and struggles in Miami over the years, here are some of the key takeaways from his Friday afternoon pre-Dolphins press conference.
Hat and t-shirt game: New England has the chance to clinch the AFC East title yet again with a win Sunday afternoon in Miami. Tedy Bruschi dubbed such opportunities "hat and t-shirt" games in light of the celebratory swag that's given out if successful.
Brady admitted that having one of the team's first goals of each season within reach is a nice feeling.
"That would be pretty sweet," Brady said. "That's obviously trying to…to win the division is a great step. This would really allow us to do that. They are going to really challenge us. This is going to be a physical game. They have been talking about that. I know we're prepared for just having the right mindset having to go down there and play a real great complementary game. There is no one phase of our team that's going to win it. They have a good offense. They play well defensively down there. We're going to have to do a good job taking care of the ball and see if we can go make a bunch of good plays, string together a bunch of those, and move the ball down the field and score some points."
"We were flipping people off": Maybe the most notable Patriots victory in Miami during the Belichick/Brady era was a 19-13 overtime win in October 2003. The game ended with Brady hitting Troy Brown on an 82-yard touchdown on the first play of the visitor's second possession of the extra period.
Brady has rather interesting memories of the emotional win.
"That was pretty sweet," Brady said. "It was a great game. Great win. Troy was not the intended receiver on the play. It was kind of a toss play and I was supposed to throw it to the backside slant. But I remember the coverage kind of rotated that way. Troy was running a slant on the other side and just kept running. I saw him and just chucked it up there. He caught it and we celebrated. It was just a great celebration. I remember the bus ride leaving was pretty cool. We were flipping people off. It was out of control. We hadn't won there in so long, would have thought we won five Super Bowls in a row. It was pretty fun.
"That was a pretty special day. There was a long history of us playing a lot of bad football games down there. That kind of broke that a little bit, not that it's been stellar. But at least that one got us out of the basement."
Offensive identity: One of the common storylines in the media this time of year surrounds the idea of teams finding their identity. That can be as a team led by its offense or defense. Or, it can be within a given unit in terms of what a team can lean on as a strength on either side of the ball.
Coming off a solid win over the Vikings, Brady was asked about his offense finding its identity down the stretch of the season.
"I think that's always the case," Brady said. "As you go you just learn more about yourself and you really think that you knew everything in August but you really don't. You have to keep working hard through September, October and November to get to this point. I know we've talked about that a lot over the years is just trying to get better as the season goes and establish a little bit more of your identity and the things we're good at, things maybe we're not so good at. Because every year changes and there are different players, different opponents, matchups, just a lot of different things take place over the course of the season. So, it's just good to be at this point with a good opportunity for us. And this is a big game for us. Like I said, because it's going against a division opponent on the road. It's as big as they get."