Q: How much of a difference does it make having Rob Gronkowski out there looking like he's completely back?
TB: Yeah, he's a big part of what we do and a big part of our pass game. He's a factor in all those situations that we talk about, whether that's third down, red area, those real critical down and distances. I think he's a major factor. I said after the game, he's got great physical ability, and I think he understands the game so much more now than he has in the past. He's just tough to stop. So if they put extra guys to stop him, then it really gives other guys an opportunity, maybe more opportunity than they would typically get. I think when Gronk does well, it really benefits all the other pass catchers, too. He's just a great player.
Q: Do you ever think about being on the other side, trying to bring him down? Are you happy that you're not on the other side of the field trying to bring Rob Gronkowski down?
TB: You're right, imagine trying to cover that. We did a lot of work in training camp with Darrelle [Revis] covering him, and Gronk was trying to do some rehabilitation and stuff like that. He just gets great body position, and I think that's a big part of it because he's such a big guy, it's hard to go through him. He's 6'7", 260 pounds, so if he can get himself in the right positon and get the defender where he wants him in the right place in the route, the defender can't do anything about it. And I think they know that, too, so then they panic, and then when they panic, it's even more of an advantage to the offense. Sometimes when you get a bigger receiver on the perimeter and a smaller [defensive back] is matched up on him, the mindset of the DB might even change because they think, 'Oh my God, this guy is so much bigger and taller and stronger and what am I going to do?' And then they're already beat sometimes before the ball is snapped. That's a good mindset for an offensive player when he's making those plays and the defenders are now all of a sudden defensive before the ball is even snapped, not only are they at a physical disadvantage, they become at a mental disadvantage in the confidence in their ability to make a play. That plays into it, too. I know that offensively, sometimes you look out at a corner and you don't throw it out there because you're not as confident that you'll [complete the pass]. Maybe there's another place to go. That corner is doing a good job out there. Even though the ball may not go his direction, he's still putting doubt in other people's minds, whether that's the quarterback, [or] I'm sure it's like that at all positions. Even a great pass rusher, you know those tackles, they understand who they're going against and they know that this guy may have a great speed move, a great speed-to-power move. That's how that stuff can really ... why great players like that continue to have such an advantage: because they threaten their opposing matchup really on every play. Even if it doesn't turn out that way and the ball is not thrown in that direction, it still has an impact on them throughout the course of the game.
Q: You said Rob Gronkowski understands the game more. In addition to recognizing the individual matchup, what else shows itself on the field that he has a better understanding of the game today maybe compared to a few years ago?
TB: It's just man awareness, zone awareness. Like I said, it's body positioning. It's timing and the anticipation of the ball. I think when you've spent as much time as we have practicing together and you talk about corrections, adjustments, usually when you correct something, hopefully you don't have to correct it again. I think that's the important part for every player is you just can't keep making the same mistakes over and over again. At some point, you have to move forward and kind of put that one [behind you] and say, 'OK, I learned from that and I'm not going to let that happen again,' and you try to make less and less mistakes. You still make the really good plays, but the best players are the ones who are the most dependable and consistent. I think as you become a veteran player, you need to continue to make the really good plays without making bad plays because everyone is capable of making really good plays in the NFL, everyone is talented enough, but if you don't have that level of consistency or dependability – in football if you go two yards forward, two yards back, two yards [forward], you don't ever end up going anywhere. Ultimately, you've got to do enough good things for a sustained period of time in order to achieve your goal, whether that's a first down, whether that's a great season, whether that's a great career, you've got to keep going forward.
Check out photos from access to players and coaches during the bye week.
Q:** Why have you guys been so successful no matter what the roster turnover is? Is it because, as people say, as long as you and Bill Belichick are here, you'll be great? How do you keep rebuilding?
TB: Well, I think it's the ultimate team sport, and we've got a lot of great teammates over the years, and I think everyone listens to the coaches, listens to the coaching. I think we try to work as hard as we can. There are really no days off. I mean, we're in here working our butts off today to try to get better, and I think that's what you need to do because it's football season, and that's what you do during football season is you try to get better every single day. I think Coach [Bill Belichick] has always tried to bring in guys who football is important to them, and if it's not then you're usually not here very long. We're expected to go out there and win. We're expected to perform at a high level. I think the urgency is there every day, and we hold each other accountable – the players do – because we want to win. Hopefully that leads to winning, which is what we're here for.
Q: Have you ever run all the way from the bench to the back of the end zone for a special teams or defensive touchdown before?
TB: That was the first time. I was kind of winded. That was probably the longest I've ran in a long time. It was a great reason to do it. Jules [Julian Edelman] is just, he's awesome. I love that guy. He's just a special person, player, friend. We've had a lot of time together over the years, so we've got a real special bond.
Q: Are you working on your foot speed now for those runs from the bench to the end zone?
TB: I know, I never have to do that in a game. It's amazing to see those guys run and cut the way they do and their athletic ability. I never had any of that, but I've got a lot of respect for those guys that do. A guy like Jules, who's put in so much work, who's had to fight really for everything he's ever gotten, he's really earned it. And I think to see him out there on the field helping our team win and doing whatever the coaches ask ... He's had however many ever catches last year, and he's back there returning punts for touchdowns in the biggest games of the year. [He had] nine catches last game. That's what it takes. That's why we win: because we have guys like Julian. There's a bunch of guys like that that do whatever they can to help the team whenever their number is called.
Q: How long does it take you to develop that trust with your players, like a catcher with a pitcher in baseball where you know what pitch to throw in the right situation?
TB: I think it all depends. You could spend years and years and years and it never works out. You could spend a very short period of time, which has happened with certain players – it happens very quickly. These are personal relationships, and ultimately what happens on the field, it's all about trust and guys that really work really hard to earn each other's trust. That's why we go through all the meetings and walk-throughs because you try to anticipate things that could happen on the field because you just can't be reactive out there. You have to try to anticipate and be proactive, but if you don't trust the people that you're out there with, then it's hard to ever be proactive and then you become reactive and that's where defenses gain significant advantages on offenses. We're always trying to play offensive football, but you can only do that if you trust all the guys around you. I think that's built up over practice and that's built in the offseason conditioning workouts. It's all about mental toughness. It's about trusting each other to do your job. I think that's a real key, critical component of what our team has always been built on is those type of relationships.
Q: How important is it to remain accessible to all your teammates in showing enthusiasm and intensity to show that you're a part of this? Teammates must look at you differently now that you're older and have three Super Bowls, but you still seem very accessible, like with the end zone celebration with Julian Edelman.
TB: I think for me, I always feel like I'm the same guy. I feel like I'm still the kid from Portola Drive. I know probably from the outside in it's different, but from the inside out, it's the same. A big part of playing this game is the relationships you have with your teammates, and that's ultimately ... Winning is great. Seeing all those guys come back that I played with – Roman Phifer and Tom Ashworth and Willie [McGinest] and Ty [Law] and Richard [Seymour] – all those guys have been such an important part of my life. I think the guys now are an important part of my life because we all make sacrifices for one another. We see each other at our most vulnerable moments. When you lay it on the line like that, you develop a really special bond with those guys. That's nothing that I think about. It's just probably part of who I am, and it's probably why I love the game so much and it's why it's a really natural thing. It's not like I ever have to force those things. Hopefully, I chose the right occupation for that.
Q: But guys must interact with you a little differently now than they did in 2002. They look at you like, 'It's Brady.' Do you have to consciously try to break down those walls, like, 'I'm a teammate here, not a future Hall of Famer'?
TB: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's really important. If you know someone for a month, they don't know who you are, not like a guy who's been with me for five years or 10 years, just because we haven't had as many experiences. That's an important thing. It's easier when you're all the same age because you're all doing the same stuff. My life is a lot different now than when I was 24. Like on a bye week, I couldn't wait to get out of town – where were we going and there are all these things to do. And now I see all my teammates doing the same stuff and I say, 'Go enjoy it because you're going to be married with three kids someday and it's going to be a lot different.' They have those experiences, and I have a different experience, and I don't need to go through what they're going through to feel like them. I think the common thing that we all have in common is playing for this team and trying to do everything we can to help this team win. That's what we're here for. I think all those guys that I play with, hopefully like I said after the game, I just want to earn their trust and respect. That's what I try to do, and I do that through going out there and trying to do it every day and that's what I expect of them, too, and when I don't feel like they're doing it I let them know. That's part of what veteran leadership is, too, is making sure we're all accountable. That's what Willie McGinest did for me when I was young. That's what Rodney [Harrison] did. That's what Tedy Bruschi did – called me aside and say, 'Look, this is what we're looking for,' and I think that's how you can hopefully build and sustain. It's led to a lot of wins.
Q: Speaking to that point, how impressed are you with how far this team has come just this season? It seems like a completely different squad than it was in Week 4.
TB: Yeah, and hopefully we can keep making improvements and we're a lot better five weeks from now, also. We're at a decent place, we really are. We've put ourselves in a good position, but it doesn't mean anything. You've got to go out there and you've got to do it, and we've got to do it at a higher level than what we've done. We've talked about all the things we need to do today to make the improvements, and we'll start working on them today. We'll take this time as an opportunity to really get ahead on Indianapolis because it'll be the biggest game of the year.