One of the last times that Roquan Smith, the football fan, watched quarterback Tom Brady play was in college at Georgia.
Among friends, Smith watched the Patriots win yet another title with a 34-28 overtime victory against his home-state Falcons in Super Bowl LI that featured a miraculous comeback from a 28-3 deficit.
“[The atmosphere] was definitely pretty insane,” Smith said. “[The loss] definitely hurt the city of Atlanta, and Athens, being right there, [has] a lot of Falcons fans.”
But watching Brady win his fifth Super Bowl in dramatic fashion won’t change how Smith, the Bears’ rookie inside linebacker, approaches facing the icon for the first time. It’s another game during another week in a long season — or so he and other young defensive players have said this week.
“That’s how I’m going about my preparation,” Smith said. “It’s just the next game on the schedule, but I know he’s a great quarterback, and he’s done a lot of great things.”
It’s a quandary, for sure. The Bears want to maintain a business-as-usual approach this week but still acknowledge that there’s nothing usual about how the Patriots and Brady go about their business.
“Like I said before here, every week is a measuring stick; it really is,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “And obviously we didn’t measure up very well this past Sunday [against the Dolphins].
“Now we’ve got a great opportunity to go out there against one of the top offenses in the league [and] one of the top quarterbacks that’s ever played the game. But, yeah, we’ve got 16 of those.”
But it’s not every week that you return to Soldier Field to face “one of the top quarterbacks that’s ever played the game” after getting embarrassed on the road by Dolphins backup quarterback Brock Osweiler and wide receiver Albert Wilson.
“Everyone knows that performance that we had isn’t the type of football we’re used to playing,” safety Eddie Jackson said.
In other words, consider the matchup against the Patriots a shot at redemption and validation. It’s a big week, and it feels like it at Halas Hall. There’s an undercurrent of anger.
“Ultimately as players, you always have great respect for great teams,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Not that you don’t respect [all the] opponents you’re playing, but this team here, they’re proven, and they’ve done it consistently for a long time with a lot of great coaches, a lot of great players.
“So when you know you have that opportunity to go against that, [and] you know you’re playing the best, you get to see where you’re at. And for us coming off a tough loss, as we grow this thing together, we get to evaluate who we are and how we respond to adversity.”
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan has plenty of experience against Brady to draw on. With Trevathan, the Broncos went 3-4 against the Patriots, but two of their victories came in AFC Championship Games in 2014 and 2016.
“[Brady’s] one of the greats,” Trevathan said. “[Our young players have] been seeing him play for a while. You’ve just got to be on your P’s and Q’s. You can’t give him little things. And you have to lock into your man, lock him down, and you can’t let him get the advantage and go out and just throw the ball around. You’ve got to make him uncomfortable and make the plays when they come.”
It’s what he remembers the Broncos doing in their victories against Brady.
“I remember just getting after him and just being on our P’s and Q’s and executing our plays to the best of our ability,” Trevathan said. “Everybody was just homing in and buying in to every play.”
It just might be the challenge the Bears’ defense needs after its problems against Miami.
“It’s a great opponent,” Trevathan said. “It’s an opportunity to showcase that we can be an elite [team] out here.”