The Patriots have done it again. Another fourth-quarter comeback is in the books, as New England knocked off the Jacksonville Jaguars to earn their eighth Super Bowl appearance under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
While some might wonder if the team’s unparalleled levels of success ever gets old, cornerback Malcolm Butler told reporters after the game, “No, we love it.”
Here’s what Butler, Belichick, Brady, and other players had to say after their thrilling 24-20 comeback at Gillette Stadium:
On how he manages the emotional roller coaster of a close game: “Yeah, look, it’s the AFC Championship. You’ve got two good teams. That’s about what you expect it to be, to come down to the last possession, come down to the final play — play or two — whatever it is. It’s what we saw last week in a lot of playoff games. We’ve been in plenty of those before.”
On how he utilizes the Patriots’ trick plays: “We run the plays when we feel like it’s the right play to call at the right time. That’s what play calling is.”
On Brandin Cooks’s performance: “Brandin’s been good for us all year — a really good football player, good route runner, tough, good hands, smart guy, does a lot of different things. We put him in a lot of different positions and he’s able to execute a lot of different things. Yeah, he had some big plays for us today. No question.”
Hand injury or not, Tom Brady hits Brandin Cooks for 31 yards on his second completion of the game perfectly. pic.twitter.com/SxlQreqesQ
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 21, 2018
On the emotions of this past week: “Yeah, never had anything like it. Well, I’ve had a couple crazy injuries, but this was pretty crazy. They come up and you just deal with them. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do on Wednesday, Wednesday night, and then Thursday, wasn’t sure.
“And then Friday, gained a little confidence, and then Saturday, was trying to figure out what we could do, and Sunday, try to come out here and make it happen. You know, we all put a lot out there. I mean, this was a little injury at the end of the day. It’s certainly a big part of what a quarterback does. I mean, I’ve had a lot worse injuries than this, but if this was on my left hand, I could not care less, but just based on where it was, we had to deal with it.”
On whether this next Super Bowl is different because of his age: “You cherish these moments and opportunities, and I know we’ve had quite a few of them, which we’ve been very blessed to do. It’s just been an unbelievable run, and I think everyone should be really proud of what we accomplished.
“This is a different team than last year’s team. It didn’t look good at 2-2 and you just keep showing up to work every day, and we sit in these chairs and Coach Belichick gets up here and he demands a lot out of us. He tries to get the most out of us every day. It’s not always great. Sometimes it’s pretty average and then you’re just trying to get better and better and get to the point where you can make the fourth quarter of a game and try to play well enough to get yourself into the next one.
“Just proud of our team, proud of what we accomplished. It’s pretty amazing and proud of this team, great leadership, and it’s just been a great year. It’d be really great if we take care of business in a couple weeks, so we’ll see.”
On if he would believe someone who mapped out the trajectory of his postseason career: “I’d have thought you were crazy to think that or I was crazy to think that. This has just all been — I guess it’s my life, so I’m living it and it feels very natural and normal just because I wake up every day and I feel very much the same as I did when I walked in here 18 years ago, I really do.
“It’s a great privilege to play here and it’s a great privilege to play in the NFL, and I try to represent the team well, I try to represent my family, I try to do things the right way and I’m very blessed. I could never imagine getting the kind of team achievements we’ve done and had. I mean, I don’t think anyone can ever take those for granted. These are pretty amazing times for all of us – fans included, players, coaches, everyone. It’s very special.”
On Tom Brady’s performance given the week he’s had: “Tommy’s the best. He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met physically, mentally. If there is anything that happens to Tom, I know he can handle it. It was unfortunate to see him get injured mid-week. I know mentally it probably stressed him out a bit and physically I know it’s hard to throw a football with stitches in your thumb. Everybody knows how tough he is. Everybody knows that he’s our leader. It’s a testament to his career, his personality, the man he is. Not only is he the best player in our locker room but he gets everybody else to play well and step their game up and that’s why he’s the best.”
On whether there’s added pressure after Rob Gronkowski is ruled out for the game: “I don’t feel any added pressure, no. Every play I’m competing my tail off to try to win the route, win the block or whatever my job is on that play. Whoever is in the game, whoever is beside me, I have a lot of trust and faith in them whether it’s Gronk or Cookie or Hoagie. Whoever it is, I know we have a lot of trust in this room.”
On the Patriots’ consistency during fourth quarters: “We love to come out, and we practice starting fast and getting points early in games. That’s always our goal. For whatever reason, if it’s a detail here or a detail there, it doesn’t work sometimes.
“To answer that question, a big reason why this team wins a lot in the fourth quarter is because of the preparation all year and the mentality that our head coach brings to our team in team meeting and in practice. It’s going to be a 60-minute fight and we know we’re going to have a chance at the end of the game no matter how far we are down or whatever the circumstance is. It starts form the top and it’s an attitude that we like to bring — to play 60 minutes, the whole game.”
On how the Patriots continue to mount impressive comeback wins: “It starts off with not playing the way we want to play early and getting down. I told a bunch of you earlier in the week, we talk about playing from ahead all game, and we played from behind all game. I remember early in the season talking to Bill, we just have to understand when the game plan is to play from ahead and we get behind, that doesn’t mean the game is over. We just have to keep playing.
“To me, we kind of learned that throughout the season. No matter what we talked about, whether it was we have to play great on third down and we don’t do well on third down, then we have to play great in the red area. We have to understand the game flows, and if we don’t do something well that we talked about all week, then it happens and whatever. Move on, finish the game and just keep playing.
“This team is battle tested. You go through ups and downs. You go through adversity. Slate said it after the game, when you have a foundation that you lean on, you cannot panic, not worry, understand and believe in each other and to me, we just keep giving ourselves a chance to win, and the hard work pays off when the opportunity comes to grab it and take the lead.”
On how difficult it was to continually answer questions about Tom Brady’s hand: “I think I did an awesome job, actually.”
— Liam Martin (@LiamWBZ) January 18, 2018
On whether he thinks about past comebacks when the team is down: “Not individual games, but you play in games and Bill said it during the week, it is all about one play at a time — whether it is good or bad. Today we had a lot of bad. It was just moving on to the next play.
“I think each side of the ball takes the field the same. Let’s get a drive, let’s get a stop. To me, when you do that, you start to feel the game flip a little bit. You start to feel you get towards the end of these games and pressure is off. To me, like I said earlier, when you go through all that hard work, it prepares you for these moments and that type of pressure. You have to lean on that. You have to know that you are prepared and ready to go.
“We talked a lot on the sidelines to just cut it loose. We were a little too tentative early and we just cut it loose and we got some big plays out of people across the board and we need them tonight.”
On advancing to the Super Bowl: “It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing.”
On Tom Brady targeting him so frequently: “We work for this. We grind. We practice and try to earn his trust, so it’s great to be able to be in that position.”
On Brady’s performance: “It’s unbelievable what he does. The injuries he fights through and playing football at 40 years old is unreal. For him to do that and to go out there and continue to make plays is unbelievable, and it’s why he’s the greatest.”
On advancing to the Super Bowl: “To get to be playing… I love to play football, obviously. Just to be in this situation early in my career, I’ve never been in the playoffs before I got here, so I cherish every moment here. Because you don’t play in these games often and a lot of teams are home watching right now. So, you just have to embrace it and bring your best every day.”
On whether he was ever in doubt that Tom Brady wouldn’t play: “No, it was the AFC Championship. What do you think, someone is just going to not play? If you can walk, you are going to be out there. I promise, everybody feels that way.”
On Tom Brady’s performance: “He is a beast. He works hard, he is a competitor, he is our leader. You know, he showed it today. You know, he never gets down. He knows how to get us ready at the right time. He knows how to get in our face or relax and tell everybody to calm down. I can’t say enough good things about that guy.”
On whether things ever get old: “No, not really. No, we love it.”
On whether he ever had any doubts: “I did, but I didn’t. You know, because we’ve been in this situation before and it turned out this way. So, we’ve just got to stay focused and keep believing.”
On the team knowing how to come back in the fourth quarter: “We go over the situations each and every day, you know at the end of a practice situation, down by two, down by one, two minute. It all comes back from practice and then transfers to the game day. So, just glad to get the W.”
On his game-saving tipped pass: “It wasn’t the biggest plays I’ve made, but it was definitely one of the most important. I go out there and try to make plays for my teammates. I have great teammates and my coaches put me in a position to go out there and make plays.”