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Brady perfectly OK in tough situations

FOXBOROUGH -- Many say he is like Montana, but if his career continues along its current path, those who follow will be said to be Bradylike.

One day the phrase ''perfection under pressure" might conjure up an image of the Patriots' No. 12. That is how good Tom Brady has been in the playoffs, which continue for him and the Patriots in a divisional matchup Saturday night at Denver.

Of course, a 10-0 mark in the postseason is perfect enough, but Brady has done it by being nearly perfect on the field. (Though he says he can be better.)

Brady has thrown 331 passes in the playoffs: 205 were caught by teammates, 123 fell harmlessly to the ground, and just three were plucked out of the air by opponents.

The resulting 0.91 interception percentage is the NFL's all-time low.

Green Bay's Bart Starr played the same number of playoff games in his 16-year career as Brady has to this point, and like the Patriots' signal-caller, he threw only three interceptions. But because of the different style of play in Starr's day, he had only 213 pass attempts, for an interception percentage of 1.41.

Midway through the fourth quarter of the 2003 Super Bowl against Carolina, Brady was almost even with Starr -- three interceptions each, 213 passes for Starr and 210 for Brady.

Four-and-a-half games later, Brady has added 121 pass attempts and nine touchdowns to his career statistics, two Super Bowl trophies to the Patriots' trophy case, and a first-round win over Jacksonville to improve on his record postseason unbeaten streak.

And he still has the same number of interceptions as Starr, and the same number of interceptions Montana had in the 1981 game that featured ''The Catch."

That's perfection under pressure.

''He's a poster boy for that," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. ''He's played his best games when the pressure's been on the line. He's played at such a high level consistently in tough games. He's had to play extremely well when the team has been injured. You can't say enough good things about him. How he's played and how he's handled himself."

Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms is third on the NFL playoff interceptions percentage chart. Like Starr and Brady, Simms played in 10 playoff games, but he suffered six interceptions in 279 pass attempts.

Brady says understanding the circumstances and rising to the level of the competition is partly why he feels different the week of a playoff game.

''Especially a week like this where there are four teams that remain in our conference and it's the four best teams," Brady said. ''It's the teams that if you want to beat them, you can't afford many of those mistakes.

''I guess you try to play like that every week, but the margin of error is even slimmer this week because you're playing the best teams. And those errors that you make just get magnified. I think we all know what's required of us. We're trying to go play our best football and after 17 games, hopefully we're at that point.

''There are still improvements that are being made, but a lot of the stuff that we tried earlier in the year that didn't work, we're probably off of that stuff. You're on the stuff that works and you're going to the guys that have been most consistent. In that sense you're kind of down to the nuts and bolts of it."

In other words, things are simplified in the postseason. The Patriots will rely on the plays they feel most comfortable running. That, however, makes Brady's postseason performance even more impressive.

You think opposing teams don't know what's coming? Yet they rarely force him into a game-changing mistake.

''Live to fight another day," Patriots receiver Deion Branch said. ''Tom puts the ball where you can catch it and make plays, and if nobody's open, he'll make sure the defense can't make a play on it. He just does the smart thing."

In the Patriots' current 10-game playoff streak, Brady is 205 of 331 (61.9 percent) for 2,152 yards and 14 touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 58 percent of their throws with 11 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick breaks turnovers down mathematically. ''In terms of turnovers, the fewer the better," he said. ''That's what you strive for."

Brady has the NFL's second-best winning percentage in the regular season, having won 58 of his 78 starts (74.4 percent). Roger Staubach is No. 1 with an 85-29 mark (74.6 percent).

But Brady and the Patriots are 6-11 in games in which he threw more than one interception. They are 41-5 (including the playoffs) in games he did not throw a pick, and Brady has yet to have a multiple interception game in the playoffs.

Raiders safety Johnnie Harris picked him off in the Snow Bowl four years ago, Walt Harris of the Colts turned the trick on him in the 2003 AFC Championship game, and Carolina's Reggie Howard pulled it off in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston. (If you're superstitious, the Broncos have no defensive backs whose last name starts with H.)

They do have one named Champ Bailey, perhaps the top cover cornerback in the league.

''Every time you throw over there you better be careful because he's a ball hawk," Brady said. ''He's great. He's got all the tools: he's quick, he's fast, he's smart, he's tough. He's got great ball skills. Every time you throw the ball he looks like he's a receiver out there. I can't say enough good things about him.

''I've competed against him a bunch of times and he always seems to be that shutdown corner that everyone talks about. That's what he is. And I'll be careful throwing over there this weekend."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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