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Brady can't shoulder load

LANDOVER, Md. -- Physically, there aren't many things you would say Tom Brady does better than the other 31 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Many of them have stronger arms. Some are more accurate passers. All but a few are more nimble. And there may be a couple -- Brett Favre and Steve McNair come to mind -- who are as effective a leader.

But none is a more intense competitor. In fact, there may not be a player at any position who takes losing harder than the Patriots' young QB (though if he isn't careful, he'll grow old sooner than he'd like).

That's why Brady needed a few extra moments to collect himself before leaving his locker for the interview room, where he would attempt to explain his throwing three interceptions and, for the first time in memory, failing to deliver in the clutch, leaving New England on the losing end of a 20-17 game against the Washington Redskins. Know this much: Those folding chairs in the visiting locker room at FedEx Field are pretty sturdy; they must be to have supported Brady plus the weight of the world he seemed to be carrying on his slender shoulders long enough for him to memorize the inside of his temporary quarters.

For two weeks we've seen Brady shrug off persistent pain in his throwing elbow, but, judging by the look on his face and the way his voice quivered, it took every ounce of his pride to keep from shedding tears following a narrow defeat in which the Patriots faced fourth and 3 from Washington's 38 with 43 seconds to go.

"Everyone's real disappointed," Brady said. "More disappointment than we've had in a while because this is a game we really feel we should have won."

The Patriots trailed, 20-3, when Brady directed a 68-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Larry Centers, pulling the Patriots to within 20-17 with 2 minutes 10 seconds left. The Redskins imploded (three false starts) on their next possession, and New England got the ball back at Washington's 45 with 1:39 to go, needing only a first down to get into field-goal range.

Brady threw long and incomplete to Deion Branch on first down, to Centers for 5 yards on second down, and, following Centers's 2-yard run, behind Daniel Graham deep down the middle.

Centers implied after the game that he was open near the first-down marker on New England's final play. "If you complete it, no foul, I'm not disappointed," Center said. "Sometimes you gotta know when to take that shot. I think Tom did a pretty good job for us, we just had some unfortunate things that didn't work out for us."

Brady's judgment has been his hallmark since taking over as the starter two years ago tomorrow, but on an afternoon when he tossed up an ill-advised jump ball to Branch in the end zone -- "That was probably the one that [ticked] me off the most," Brady said. "I don't even know if I reached the end zone" -- that Ifeanyi Ohalete intercepted, and later tried to squeeze a deep ball to David Givens past Champ Bailey (interception No. 2), one can't help but wonder whether Brady's final decision was an uncharacteristically poor one, as well.

"We had a couple of short receivers," coach Bill Belichick said. "It was tight there. Quarterback probably thought he couldn't get it in. I wouldn't second-guess that one. Troy Brown was short for first-down yardage, but I don't know if it was open."

Graham was for a moment, but the pass appeared behind him, and Ohalete broke it up. "The safety made a good play," Graham said.

Brady made quite a few nice ones himself in the second half, completing 17 of 23 passes for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a pretty 29-yard TD in the third quarter that made it a game again (20-10). But he's known for making them when his team needs them most, and he didn't yesterday.

"A lot of times it comes down to execution," said Brady, dismissing his elbow trouble as a reason for his miscues. "What more can you ask for than what we had? . . . You get the ball with a minute 40 on the 45 and you can't get a first down. That's a pretty bad feeling.

"I'm a better player than that. I don't expect to make plays like that."

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