Quarterback Tom Brady stressed Monday morning that his 9-2 New England Patriots haven't accomplished anything yet, and that next Monday night's showdown against the 9-2 New York Jets that could decide the division is really just a starting point going forward.
"Look, we're 9-2," Brady said during his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "We haven't accomplished anything. I've been a part of a team that won 16 games in the regular season. And I've been to five AFC Championship Games. These games that we're playing, yeah, they're important. But a lot of guys on our team have played in a hell of a lot bigger games than regular-season games. So, to me, what we've accomplished really is nothing to this point. ... I'm trying to express to my teammates -- who maybe it's their first year or second year, they haven't been a part of it -- 'Listen, we haven't done anything. Literally nothing. Zero. Nine wins? Nine wins is nothing.'
"Coach [Bill Belichick] always says -- and I said this last week -- 'Football season starts after Thanksgiving.' It's after Thanksgiving. Now we're going to see what kind of football team we have. We're going to see what other good football teams are, and what it takes to be a good football team.
"It's not easy this time of year. There are a lot of guys banged up. Depth for each team now has really become an issue. Mental toughness has really become an issue. The weather's getting colder. The games are getting bigger. This is really when you find out kind of what the heart of each team is."
As for Monday night's showdown at Gillette Stadium (Dec. 6, on ESPN), Brady said it's "going to be a hell of a test" against "one of the best teams in the league."
Just how big is it? The winner will have a one-game lead in the AFC East and the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The loser is likely looking at a first-round playoff game on the road.
"It's always a big game," Brady said. "A division rival, a division game at home, especially the second time you play them. The playoffs are a long way away, but you can't really expect to win the division if you can't beat a particular team in your division. You can't go 'We're the best team in the division, we're division champs' if you lose to the same team twice. That's pretty telling."
Brady has been at his best over his last three games, with 9 touchdowns, no interceptions and a completion rate of nearly 75 percent. The New England offense has averaged just over 38 points per game over that span.
"Offensively, we're definitely executing better than we have been," Brady said. "That just makes my job easier when everyone's doing their job as well as they're doing it. It discredits what everyone else is doing just talking about the quarterback. The quarterback relies on everyone else, and fortunately for me I play with a great group of guys that work their butt off and really love to get out there and practice and get better ..."
"Whatever coach Belichick asks of us, guys are willing to do. That's really been something that's really been talked about all offseason, all during training camp. I'm really proud to be a part of a team that's really showing up when it matters most."
Despite the recent run of success, Brady knows the offense will have to be hitting on all cylinders against the Jets. The Patriots scored a season-low 14 points against New York in a Week 2 loss.
"A team like the Jets, you don't have a lot of margin for error," Brady said. "You don't have a lot of margin for error on offense, I'll tell you that. If you have an opportunity to complete a third-down pass and you miss it, the next one you may not have an opportunity to complete. You have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them."
Next Monday's game will mark the fourth time Brady has faced the Jets under coach Rex Ryan. Over that span, the Patriots are 1-2 and Brady has 3 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions.
"Playing them for a fourth time [under Ryan], I definitely have a lot more confidence the fourth time playing them than I did the first time playing them," Brady told WEEI. "But at the same time we have to go play well. At the Meadowlands earlier this season, we had a decent first half and then we just came out in the second half as a team and really played poorly. They took advantage, as good teams do."
As for whether playing on the Monday Night Football stage with the entire football world watching would negatively affect the Patriots, Brady did not seem concerned.
"I'm pretty confident everyone's going to be ready this week," Brady said. "We've played some really big night games [at Miami, at Pittsburgh]. I think we've shown we can respond pretty well in big games ... I don't think the event is too big for any of us. I think we're all going to be pretty fired up and ready to go when that game kicks off."