- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Tom Brady walks silently to the chair at his locker. He talks quietly with Deion Branch in the adjacent stall. Later, he puts on his jacket and heads for the exit.

No hearty backslaps or loud jokes with teammates. Nothing to call attention to himself.

Just another routine practice day in the life of one of the most accomplished figures in sports.

Tom thinks he’s one of the boys,” Branch said. “He can’t be one of the boys. This guy’s the face of the NFL.”

Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, could be the face of the championship game again if his New England Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday for the AFC title. He returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session to rest his non-throwing, left shoulder.

But he kept working.

“You don’t lounge around or take a nap” while skipping practice, Brady said with a chuckle.

Fans see his effort on the field. Teammates see it all week in meeting rooms and film sessions.

“I have great appreciation for any professionals who take their jobs seriously. This is what we do for a living,” right guard Brian Waters said. “Any time you see a guy as great as he is, with all the physical talents and mental preparation that has to go into it, and how he prepares, I am proud to play with him and it drives you that you don’t want to disappoint him.”

And if a player does disappoint Brady, he’s not shy about telling him.

He did it to rookie Tiquan Underwood after an interception in the Patriots 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins _ until offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien stepped in and yelled at Brady. And he’s done it to Branch when he thought the 10-year veteran didn’t run a route precisely enough.

But that’s what leaders do.

Branch played with Brady from 2002-05 and was traded to Seattle the day after the 2006 opener. He was reacquired after the Patriots fourth game in 2010, rejoining a quarterback who still seemed familiar.

“He’s still the same guy, the same leader,” Branch said, “still pushing guys in the meeting rooms, pushing us on the football field, a great competitor. This guy’s a perfectionist who always tries to be the best and that’s why he’s at the top of the league.”

Brady’s had confidence even if NFL teams doubted his prospects coming out of college. Five rounds went by and he still was available in the 2000 draft.

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