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Tom Brady: Time is coming for Patriots to get some separation from rest of field

10.30.13 at 4:31 pm ET
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Tom Brady has a 4-2 record in the regular season against the Steelers. (AP)

Tom Brady has a 4-2 record in the regular season against the Steelers. (AP)

FOXBORO — Tom Brady knows that the game changes this time of the season.

When teams hit the midway point, that’s when you start to see some separation — late October is usually when the good teams start to pull away and the subpar teams start to slide to the back of the pack. The quarterback knows that if the Patriots want to be more of the former than the latter, they need to start stringing together consistent performances, and another step in that process comes Sunday against the Steelers.

“We’ve been at it for awhile – 12 weeks – and this is when the teams start to separate themselves,” he said Wednesday. “You have mental toughness, discipline, doing the right thing, making right decisions — that’s when this becomes part of football season.

“I think that’s been a good strength of ours over the years — getting better and improving as the season’s gone along. Making sure you get your rest, you get the right treatments, you understand what it takes during November and December to win. Here’s where teams, you go one direction or the other. The good ones have something to show for it in January and the bad ones are watching in January. We have to, at this point, we’ll see what we’ve got. The weather is turning, the game changes a little bit. We have to be able to adjust and play the style that we need to to win.”

The Patriots will get that opportunity against a familiar foe in the Steelers. Brady is 4-2 against Pittsburgh during the regular season, and 2-0 against the Steelers in the postseason. He’s always done well against them in the past — in those eight games, he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16-3. But it’s never come easy against Pittsburgh, and the quarterback said Wednesday he has an immense amount of respect for the Steelers, as well as head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

“The scheme has been so good for so many years. The players have been really good,” Brady said of the Steelers, who have a 2-5 mark coming into Sunday’s game. “It’s a very veteran defense too, so solid coaching, a solid scheme, solid players. Troy [Polamalu] is still one of the best players in the league and Ryan Clark is a phenomenal safety. Ike Taylor is a great corner; Lawrence Timmons is a great player. They have really veteran guys in the front.

“They have a good defense and the way we’ve been playing offensively, we can’t be up and down like we’ve been. We have to be more consistent. Hopefully this is our best week to be able to do that. We got off to a good start in practice so we’ll see how it goes.”

One of the points of emphasis for Brady and the Patriots’ offense this week is their work on third down. New England has converted just 32.2 percent of its third down chances this season, 29th in the league. The Patriots were 1-for-12 on third down two weeks ago against the Jets, and 2-for-10 last week against the Dolphins.

“I wish it was just pointing to one thing and saying, ‘This is the problem.’ But it’s been spread throughout every position and bad throws and bad reads and just missed assignments in genera,” he said. “There are plays there to be made. We go out there, we practiced third down today, we made a lot of great plays, it’s just, look, we have to make it happen on Sunday. It’s not one thing, it’s a combination of things.

“I think we have to, to be a good offense you have to be on the field and we’re losing time of possession which exposes your defense, it limits your ability to run the ball on offense because you feel like, ‘Oh, we have to throw it because we’re not going to get it on third down so if it’s second-and-long you have to throw it so you can get it on second down.’ It’s almost like we’re a good Canadian football team.

“But at the NFL, we’re just not doing anything on third down to stay on the field. That has to be something that over the next eight games, we have to do a lot better job of. We’re working at it, I’ll say that. It’s definitely a point of emphasis.”

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