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Associated Press
New England’s Tom Brady still gets excited for the playoffs after 14 years and five Super Bowl appearances.

Playoffs still fire up Brady

Excitement remains after 5 Super Bowls

– Tom Brady head-butted teammates before his first Super Bowl.

Twelve years and four more NFL championship games later, the quarterback hasn’t lost his fire.

He still shows it before games and after big plays by banging helmets with other New England Patriots.

“I’m pretty emotional,” Brady said Tuesday.

That should be obvious when the Patriots come back from a first-round bye to face the Colts in an AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday night. Especially if he has plenty of scoring plays to celebrate.

His mood would be quite different if NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis keeps getting close enough to tackle him or hurry his passes.

“He’s a great player and been a great player for a long time,” Brady said. “He’s having one of the best years of his career.”

So what can Brady do if he sees the 11-year veteran bearing down on him?

Step up in the pocket? Throw quickly? Duck?

“I can’t really run away from him,” Brady said with his usual jab at his lack of speed, “so that option’s out the door.”

There’s no doubt he’ll have his eyes trained on the linebacker who lines up in different places on different plays.

“You have to understand where he’s at. He really has a sense of urgency,” Brady said.

And a knack for stripping the ball while sacking the quarterback.

“That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league, because he makes those types of plays happen,” Brady said. “He makes them on a regular basis. It’s not a fluke when he does it.”

Mathis led the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks and forced eight fumbles. His strip-sack of Kansas City’s Alex Smith led to a Colts touchdown in their 45-44 wild-card win over the Chiefs last Saturday.

The Colts overcame a 28-point, third-quarter deficit to win that.

“It was a great game, a great team win,” Brady said of Indianapolis’ victory. “Once you get some momentum going on your side, it’s pretty remarkable to be able to do that.”

The Patriots practiced indoors Tuesday with the outside temperature in the low teens. Brady said he had a cold.

“A little bit, but I’ll live,” he said. “Hopefully not on the injury report. I’ll try to talk my way out of that one.”

Brady wants to be around for it all, so he’s treating this week with his usual intensity.

“I think he’s just trying to relay that to everyone else,” Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “You do your work now. You put in the time now. You study the tape and you practice hard now, so when the games come you’ve already done it three times in the week. So you go out there and just play and have fun.”

In his 14th NFL season, the enthusiasm of the MVP of the 2002 Super Bowl persists.

“It’s incredible to play in this,” he said.

Note: A person familiar with Rob Gronkowski’s knee injury said the Patriots tight end will have surgery Thursday. Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season after offseason operations on his back and left forearm. In his seventh game back, he tore the ACL and MCL on his right knee on Dec. 8 in a 27-26 win over Cleveland.

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