FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played it cool Wednesday when asked his thoughts on being called an "ass---" by New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. No surprise there.
Brady wasn't going to get into a war of words before Sunday's game because that's simply not his way. He saves it for the field, and that's why Cromartie used the wrong "A" word when it comes to Brady. Assassin, on the football field, is more like it.
This is one of the main things New Englanders have come to learn over the past 10-plus years about Brady, the superstar who seldom offers outsiders even a glimpse into who he is or what makes him tick. So mostly we're left with what we see on the field, and that's an A-plus competitor -- one of the best the NFL has ever seen.
That explains how Brady can be so polished when he's standing in front of his locker answering questions from reporters on Wednesday, talking barely above a whisper, making direct eye contact, and measuring his every word. But by Sunday, make no mistake, he wants to slice out your football heart, and that's why he might be pumping his fist and looking at your bench after ringing up another touchdown (36 and counting this season).
More than anything, it's about the competition with Brady and that's where Cromartie got his vocabulary mixed up a bit with comments to the New York Daily News that can only be described as low class. We might not know much about Brady, but one thing we do know is this: Few things stoke his passions as much as the three hours when he's beating the opposition.
"Tom's an ultimate competitor," said Patriots veteran tight end Alge Crumpler, who in his 10th season has been around the NFL block, catching passes from the likes of Michael Vick and Vince Young. "I'm really amazed at how quickly he can turn the page from one team to the next after we've won a ballgame."
Brady is cold-blooded in that regard. His approach could be best summed up this way: Chalk up another win, enjoy it while it unfolds, and then it's quickly on to the next game.
"Look, we try to win games, you know?" he said Wednesday. "That's why we play -- to win games, more so than anything else."
The approach has rubbed Cromartie the wrong way, specifically with Brady shooting a glare toward the Jets' bench after a touchdown during New England's 45-3 blowout Dec. 6. Cromartie also mentioned how Brady and the Patriots were celebrating on the San Diego Chargers' field after a come-from-behind victory in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2006, Cromartie's rookie season with the Chargers.
The brash Brady usually comes out only in one place, and that's on the field, where his fire burns hottest after a week of intense preparation for the opposition (hard to believe Jets coach Rex Ryan bashed his study habits this week). Patriots teammates generally follow his lead, storing up their anger throughout the week as the opposition sometimes chirps away, then unleashing with fury on Sunday.
It's true that Brady and the Patriots can trash-talk with the best of them. They just do it between the lines, like the time Brady reminded then-Steelers safety Anthony Smith about his "guarantee" of a victory after Brady torched Smith with a long touchdown pass.
"I'm very emotional as I play," Brady explained Wednesday. "It's all in the spirit of the game and the competition."
That's how Jets linebacker Jason Taylor, perhaps the biggest nemesis to Brady over the quarterback's career, sees it as well.
"I respect Brady as a competitor, and as a person No. 1," Taylor said. "I think the things he's done on the field this year have been nothing short of amazing. He's a guy who plays with a lot of passion. As an athlete, you can appreciate it. If he's not on your team, it will obviously tick you off."
And for that, Brady won't be apologizing any time soon, which is why with a little tweaking Cromartie would have nailed it. Brady is no "ass---." He's simply a football assassin.
The bull's-eye is now on Cromartie and the Jets.