New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told a national television audience that he "sucked" in his team's AFC Championship Game victory over the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday.
Privately, in the locker room after the game, he told owner Robert Kraft something else: "I promise you I'm going to play a lot better in two weeks."
That promise was revisited Thursday, shortly after the Patriots took the practice field for the first time since advancing to Super Bowl XLVI.
Much like the New York Giants' pass rush, it sounded like something Brady preferred to avoid.
"I'm always trying to play better. Every player on this team is trying to play better every week," he said. "I'm glad we won that game, glad we're sitting in this position now. I think a lot of guys played really well and that's what it is going to take again this week. I always have private conversations with Mr. Kraft, but they're supposed to be private. I guess they're not."
Brady wasn't all that bad in the AFC Championship, although the performance (22 of 36 for 239 yards, 2 INTs, 1 rushing touchdown) wasn't up to his usual high standard. He said a fourth-quarter interception, on a long bomb to reserve receiver Matthew Slater in the end zone, kept him from sleeping well the night after the game.
"He's still pretty good in my book. I'll take him over any quarterback," Kraft told reporters Sunday after relaying what Brady told him. "I've been watching the NFL for a long time and there's no quarterback I'd rather have.
"He might say he sucked, but we won the game."
Now comes a test against a Giants defense that played him especially tough in a Nov. 6 game the host Patriots lost 24-20. Brady was intercepted twice that day, and it could have been more as the Giants had success dictating play with their powerful, surging defensive line. He was also sacked and fumbled on a third-quarter play deep in his own territory that the Giants quickly turned into a touchdown on their next offensive play.
"They can rush the passer, there's no doubt about that," Brady said of a unit that held him scoreless in the first half and to a season-low passer rating (75.4) on a day he finished 28 of 49 for 342 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"They get a lot of turnovers and put a lot of pressure on you with their front four," he continued. "They have a big, physical group that plays really well together. Every time we play them, you talk about their defense, their pass rush."
Brady knows it well, because it was that same type of pass rush that sparked the Giants to the stunning Super Bowl XLII upset following the 2007 season. Yes, some of the players are different this time around, but the ferocious style looks familiar to him.
So, too, does the play of quarterback Eli Manning.
"He does everything you're looking for as a quarterback. I've seen it firsthand what he can do in the fourth quarter of these games," Brady said, referencing both Super Bowl XLII and this season's Nov. 6 game, in which Manning led the Giants' final 80-yard touchdown drive with 1:36 remaining on the game clock.
"He's done an outstanding job brining his team back. He's a great leader. You always hear that coming out of New England, the guys really have a lot of respect for him and so do I."
Brady's respect for Manning grew larger after watching him in the NFC Championship Game.
"You watch the San Francisco game and he was getting drilled and just stood in there and kept making the throws, trusting his protection and came through when they needed him," he said. "He's a great competitor, a great quarterback for that team."
As for his message to his teammates this week, as the Super Bowl hype has already begun, Brady said it's a simple one.
"It's a football game for us. It might be the Super Bowl for everybody else, but for us, we're going there to try to win a football game, so put all the distractions aside and don't let anything get in the way of our preparation," he said. "That's ultimately what's most important. This game, everyone will remember for the rest of their life. Hopefully it's a good memory."
Brady has been on both sides of the Super Bowl ledger, winning in 2001, 2003 and 2004, before the painful loss to the Giants that ended the Patriots' quest for an undefeated 2007 season. So he's a veteran to the pressure of the moment.
"There's certainly a finality to this game that you're putting absolutely everything you can into it preparation-wise," he said. "You're expected to go out there and play at your very best. There's no reason why we shouldn't because we've had (106) practices, this is our 23rd game of the year.
"It's pretty incredible when you think of a real long football season. We have experience. We've seen a lot. Everybody should be excited and ready to go out there and play our best game."