FOXBORO, Mass. — With three newly relevant contenders — including a perennial doormat — reaching the NFL’s final four this season, the vast majority of players who will take the field this weekend will be doing so for the first time in a conference championship game.
The 53 players on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ active roster, for example, have combined to play in just seven conference title games. The same goes for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC, with only seven of their players previously appearing in the final game before the Super Bowl.
The Philadephia Eagles, an annual performer on this stage during the Andy Reid era in the early 2000s, are only slightly more experienced. Their players have appeared in 12 conference title games.
On those teams, only two players have played in more than two such games: Vikings cornerback Tramaine Brock (three NFC title games with the San Francisco 49ers) and Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount (three AFC title games with the New England Patriots).
Tom Brady will play in his 12th this Sunday when the Patriots host the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium with a trip to Super Bowl LII on the line.
Of all the various NFL records the 40-year-old quarterback owns, this is among his most impressive. He’s one of just three players in league history to appear in double-digit conference title games (Gene Upshaw and George Blanda both played in 10).
“That?s a remarkable statistic for anybody,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. “Obviously, it?s a testament to Tom and what he?s been able to do over the course of his long career and all the things that he has done, all the work he?s put in to be able to be a part of so many good teams that have accomplished something and had an opportunity to play in this game.
Experience, at this point, it doesn?t mean as much as playing well, I know that. But for somebody to have played in this game that many times, certainly that?s a remarkable achievement.”
If you exclude his rookie season, which basically was a redshirt year, and the 2008 campaign he missed nearly all of with a torn ACL, Brady has failed to reach the AFC Championship Game just four times in 16 seasons. That’s insane.
Almost as insane as the fact New England is making its seventh consecutive appearance in the game, meaning even a player like veteran offensive tackle Nate Solder, who joined the team in 2011, never has experienced an early playoff exit.
“What a unique scenario to be a part of,” Solder said. “I’m just so thankful to be a part of this.”
Success certainly isn’t guaranteed for Brady and the Patriots once they reach this point, however. They’re just 3-3 in the last six AFC title games and haven’t reached the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons — a feat they’re going for this year — since 2003 and 2004.