FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Nothing personal, Cro.
It's just that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been called worse.
Speaking on a Wednesday afternoon conference call with the New York media for the first time since being called an "ass----" by New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Brady reacted just as he had in the morning when asked about the derogatory remark.
"Just like I told [ESPNBoston.com] earlier, I think I've been called worse," Brady said. "In fact, Bill Belichick's called me that. My offensive coordinator has called me that. And I know they like me, so maybe [Cromartie] really likes me. Because people have called me that a few times."
Joking aside, Brady has been in this situation before -- bulletin-board material included. In 2007, before the Patriots faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in a crucial regular-season matchup, second-year safety Anthony Smith guaranteed victory.
Bad idea, as Smith eventually ate his words.
He was picked on early and often -- biting on a play-action pass that resulted in a 63-yard touchdown by Randy Moss -- as New England went on to roll past Pittsburgh 34-13 to improve to 13-0.
"I don't think it has much impact on the game," Brady said. "I know the way it turned out when we played Pittsburgh that year. I don't think they were plays on the call sheet to go after particular players, but he happened to be there in those situations.
"None of it really means anything. What's most important to us is how we're practicing and how prepared we are for the game. What's going to determine who wins this game is the preparation we put in and, ultimately, how we go out and execute under pressure on Sunday."
On Wednesday afternoon, Cromartie followed up expressing his hatred toward Brady by challenging the likely NFL MVP award winner to throw his way. Of course, that didn't work out too well the last time the two teams met. Cromartie was burned twice by Brady in the Patriots' 45-3 rout of the Jets on Dec. 6. First, Deion Branch got Cromartie for a 25-yard TD strike. Then, Brandon Tate beat him for a 4-yard TD hookup.
And it would only make sense that Brady would throw in Cromartie's direction in this week's divisional playoff game -- especially considering Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, "the best player in the NFL," according to Jets coach Rex Ryan, is lined up opposite Cromartie.
"I try to just throw to guys that are open," Brady said. "I don't think I pick out players. I look at the matchups that we have and the routes that we have versus the defense that's called. Then I determine where I'm gonna throw it based on the reads. Moreso than anything that's my job as the quarterback is to find the most-open guy. I don't think it's, 'Man I'm not gonna throw at this guy, I'm not gonna throw at this guy.' I've never played that way."
All week long, Jets players -- most notably defensive end Shaun Ellis in comments he made to the New York Post -- have been accusing Brady for pointing his finger at their sideline and taunting them after he completed a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez that put the Patriots up 38-3 with 14:57 left in the fourth quarter.
"I don't remember that," Brady said. "I'm very emotional as I play. I don't think I've ever pointed at anybody. That's really not my style.
"I think there's definitely an emotional aspect to the game, sure. I'm excited. Certainly when we score touchdowns. They're a very good defense, and I'm excited when we can score against a very good defense. One of the top defenses in the league and has certainly given us some problems since Rex has been there. And Rex gave us problems when he was at Baltimore. It's a great scheme with some great players.
"I do get excited when we score. It's tough to score against that team, so that gets me more excited than anything."
If his actions were perceived as disrespectful, Brady said, he didn't mean for them to come off that way.
"That's not my intent," Brady said. "I don't remember pointing. I'm sure there's 50,000 cameras on the game. If I was doing that, they would show that. But I have a lot of respect for those players. And for their scheme and coaches and preparation. Maybe that's a source of motivation for them, but I don't feel that way. There's enough for me to worry about. The skill of the players and coaches, that's where my energy is being spent this week."
Nevertheless, Brady expects to see a different Jets team this time around, with both team's seasons hanging in the balance. Granted, the Jets won't be the only team making adjustments. Despite beating Gang Green by 42 points in their last meeting, the Patriots are fine-tuning their game plan as well.
"I'm sure they look at the game and think these are things we need to do better," Brady said. "And we look at that game and see things we can do better as well. So we're gonna make our adjustments from the last game just like they are. We're putting together a plan that takes advantage of some things we can exploit, and they're doing the same. It's gonna be a very different game in many respects. Certainly the stakes are much higher than last time. And how well we're able to play under pressure and execute at a very high level. That's why there's going to be millions of people tuning into the game on Sunday."
Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion, set the NFL record for passing touchdowns in a season (50) in 2007. But he may have topped that stellar campaign in 2010. The 33-year-old, who amassed 36 touchdowns to just four interceptions in the regular season while tossing for 3,900 yards, has thrown 355 consecutive passes without a pick. And what makes that even more remarkable is the fact that Moss was traded at midseason.
Still, Brady downplayed the way the offense has evolved with the implementation of more two-tight end packages and the emergence of Branch after he was reacquired from the Seattle Seahawks to replace Moss.
"I don't think it's changed a whole lot," Brady said. "I think we've just executed a bit better. We try to run it, we try to throw it, we try to put in play action, we try to throw it quick, we try to throw it deep. We screen people, we draw people, we trap people. We do pretty much everything. We always have. I think we're just executing better. The line's blocking great. They've [been] tremendous all season. And that's where it starts with us: up front. They've been a very consistent group and we rely on them so much to put us in the right direction."
While the Jets were playing the Colts in their wild-card matchup, Brady elected to see "Lombardi" on Broadway in New York City. No surprise, that prompted criticism from Ryan, who said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning would've stayed home to watch and study.
"Maybe he's right," Brady said. "Maybe I should've been watching. Maybe."