GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers to get to the Super Bowl, Mike Pettine’s defense must slay the mighty Tom Brady.
Pettine hasn’t had much luck against Brady. Whether it’s as defensive coordinator of the Packers, Buffalo Bills or New York Jets, Brady has won eight consecutive individual matchups.
Then again, nobody’s had much luck against Brady. There’s a reason, after all, he’s won an unprecedented six Super Bowls and thrown more touchdown passes than anyone in NFL history. This will be Brady’s 14th conference championship game. He’s 9-4 in those games.
In the words of DJ Khaled, all he does is win, no matter what.
“Having gone against him so many times—being in Baltimore (and) playing him a bunch, and then New York twice a year, even three times the one year; and then Buffalo twice – it’s as big a challenge as you’ll face as a coordinator, as a defensive staff. Because he doesn’t miss anything. And that’s the thing.
“If you have an area of weakness, whether it was in New England or now at Tampa Bay, they will exploit it and continue to exploit it until you make a correction and force them out of it. So, it’s a huge challenge. It’s pretty clear and obvious he’s going to go down as one of the best of all time. For me, I just love it because it’s a great challenge for our guys. That, ‘Hey, to go to the Super Bowl, we have to beat Tom Brady.’ I think our guys are excited for the challenge, but we’re made sure we’ve stressed it all week, knowing what they’re in for.”
Here’s Pettine’s history, including Brady going 17-of-27 for 166 yards and two touchdowns with a 104.9 passer rating in Week 6.
2009-2012: New York Jets defensive coordinator
Brady: 6-3 (won last four). 18 TDs, 5 INTs, 98.8 rating. 9 TDs, 1 INT during winning streak.
2013: Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator
Brady: 2-0. 56.6 percent, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 73.9 rating.
2014-2015: Cleveland Browns head coach
Brady: No games.
2018-2020: Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator
Brady: 2-0. 62.9 percent, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 101.5 rating.
Total: 10-3 with 24 TDs, 7 INTs. 8-game winning streak: 15 TDs, 3 INTs.
For Sunday’s game, the challenge is two-pronged.
One, with 342 career starts, there is no secret defense that Pettine can unveil that is going to leave Brady dumbfounded. It’s the same advantage the Packers’ offense has enjoyed with Aaron Rodgers. As Brady said during a pregame package before last week’s game against New Orleans’ Drew Brees, it’s like showing up to class with all the answers to the test.
“You have to understand who you’re going up against and just how detailed he is in his preparation and how far back he goes into things that he watches and he studies,” Pettine said. “Our guys, they’ve just got to be as on point as they’ve ever been on point. You know, we talk about how we’re going to disguise something but they need to know that he is soaking in all that information.
Two, it’s the outrageous number of weapons at his disposal. Towering receiver Mike Evans is in his seventh season and has topped 1,000 yards each time. Chris Godwin has 25 touchdowns the past three seasons. Antonio Brown is a four-time All-Pro who’s either led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards or receiving touchdowns four times. Rob Gronkowski might be the best tight end in NFL history, and Cameron Brate is a proven backup. Running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette are dual-threat backs.
“You at least have to plant some seed of doubt, and then you hope that if he’s going to figure it out, let him at least lock it in post-snap instead of beforehand,” Pettine said. “We understand at some point during the play he’s going to know what you’re in. At some point, hey, the disguise is important, but then it comes down to 1-on-1 matchups, and I think that’s something we’ve emphasized all week.”
Pettine’s last win over Brady came in the 2010 playoffs while with the Jets. Of note, considering the Bucs’ 38-10 victory in Week 6, Brady ripped the Jets 45-3 in Week 13 but Pettine was able to turn the tables with a shocking 28-21 victory in the divisional round over MVP Brady and the 14-2 Patriots.
That, of course, is ancient history. Pettine’s crew has allowed less than 20 points in four consecutive games and five of the last six. Can a bend-but-don’t-break unit withstand the pressure brought by the league’s ultimate winner?
“You don’t let it consume you,” Pettine said of Brady’s experience. “The scheme is important, but the National Football League is still a players’ league, and that’s why just the emphasis on putting our guys in the best position to succeed, the best position to take away what they do, and go out and execute. We’ve played some good defense this year, and that’s gotten us here, and there’s no sense straying away from that. We’re re going to be who we are. We’re going to throw our fastball. But our guys understand that we’re not going to fool him, but we can out-execute him.”