ATLANTA — There is a chance, or a very strong possibility, Tom Brady has heard what was said about him by a nondescript cornerback named Nickell Robey-Coleman and, come Sunday, will try to knock the brashness out of him by throwing at him, early and often, in Super Bowl LIII.
That means No. 23 for the Rams could have a target on his back the size of all New England.
“Maybe,’’ Robey-Coleman said during Monday night’s Super Bowl Opening Night festivities at State Farm Arena. “Maybe so. I assume he will.’’
How does that make him feel?
“Let’s do it,’’ Robey-Coleman said. “It’s a competitive sport. I’m ready.’’
Ready or not, here comes Brady, who has a long and successful track record of turning jabs directed at him by mouthy defensive backs into receptions, yards and touchdowns for Patriots receivers.
Incredibly, the one player involved in this game you figured would want to lay low and blend into the background is the one who basically picked up a megaphone and shouted at the top of his lungs. Robey-Coleman, the formerly under-the-radar player who committed the infamous Penalty That Was Not Called in the NFC Championship game, took a match and set ablaze the opening day of Super Bowl hype with some wildly critical comments aimed at none other than Mr. Tom Brady.
Talk about tempting fate.
Robey-Coleman, in an interview with Bleacher Report, ripped the “arrogance’’ of legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick and saved his best salvos for Brady. A virtual unknown before his takedown of Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis in the closing minutes of regulation in New Orleans, Robey-Coleman claimed the Rams defense can get to Brady “all over the place,’’ and said, “We have to stay connected. And he will slowly start to reveal himself.’’
Not surprisingly, Brady didn’t take the bait when he was asked about the remarks from the brash defensive back.
“I don’t have much to add,” he said.
Robey-Coleman mentioned Brady’s “movement, speed, velocity, arm strength’’ and then called the 41-year old quarterback, a five-time Super Bowl winner, old.
“He still can sling it, but he’s not slinging it as much,’’ Robey-Coleman said. “Whatever he was doing — because of his age and all that — he’s not doing as much of that anymore. He’s still doing the same things; he’s just not doing as much of it. And sometimes, it’s not the sharpest. But it still gets done.
“Age has definitely taken a toll. For him to still be doing it, that’s a great compliment for him. But I think that he’s definitely not the same quarterback he was.’’
Not surprisingly, Robey-Coleman, amid the hubbub and noise of the first player availability of the week, said what he was quoted as saying is not what he meant.
“The story was twisted in a way that I didn’t actually say those words,’’ said Robey-Coleman, surrounded as if he were a star player and not a 5-foot-8 slot corner who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Bills. “I think everybody just made a big deal out of the situation. Tom Brady’s a great quarterback. I wasn’t trying to say nothing bad about him. I respect him as the GOAT. He is the legend. My words got misconstrued and it got taken out of context.
“He asked a question as what’s the difference when I played him in Buffalo and when I played him here and I just said ‘His age.’ His skills haven’t changed and his lack of talent, arm strength, nothing’s changed.’’
Even if he did not open his mouth, Robey-Coleman was going to be in demand this week in the aftermath of his blatant pass interference — and helmet-to-helmet hit — on Lewis with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter in New Orleans. It was a clear-cut penalty and Robey-Coleman admitted he was beaten and purposely fouled Lewis to save a touchdown. If the obvious call was made, the Saints would have been able to run the clock down to about 20 seconds and then send kicker Greg Zuerlein out for a chip-shot, game-winning field goal.
Instead, the Rams won 26-23 in overtime. The NFL told Saints coach Sean Payton it was a blown non-call and later fined Robey-Coleman $26,739 for targeting.
“I never anticipated what happened in New Orleans,’’ Robey-Coleman said. “I’m handling it well. I’m going to the Super Bowl, I’m enjoying this experience with my teammates, I’m having fun. There ain’t nothing I’d take back. There ain’t nothing I regret from being in this spot right here. I’m with the people I want to be with, I’m with the organization I want to be with and I’m happy.’’
Happy, and also, suddenly, well-known — certainly to Tom Brady.
“There ain’t no backing down from anything,’’ Robey-Coleman said. “Nothing like that. It’s a respect game. I’m the slot guy and I’m gonna bring my best game. Ain’t no backing down, it ain’t nothing. We’re gonna see on Sunday. He’s gonna throw ’em and I’m gonna try and deflect ’em. That’s the name of the game.’’
— Additional reporting by Brian Costello