THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Forgetting last week a good Brady decision

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / December 27, 2004

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Yup, he thinks what we all think. "I know I made a stupid play," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "Everyone knows I made a stupid play."

But there's nothing he can do about it now. The foolish pass that led to that shocking defeat in Miami last Monday night is in the books. It will be available for some easy yuks at any future Tom Brady Roast. It's a permanent part of the Brady dossier.

A few other things are permanent parts of the Brady dossier. It's all those good decisions, all those excellent throws, and all those superb games, such as the one he played yesterday as the Patriots guaranteed a first-round bye in the playoffs with a stress-free 23-7 dispatch of the New York Jets, who once again were revealed to be pretenders as opposed to contenders.

This one meant a lot to the cover boy quarterback, who had managed to avoid seeing himself throw that mindless pass in Miami until yesterday afternoon. "The first time I saw it was when I turned on HBO," he said. "I was flipping through the channels, and I saw the play before it. I knew what was coming next. I said, `Oh, man, I have to see this three hours before the game?' "

Brady had avoided seeing That Horrible Pass because he practically sequestered himself during the week. "I swear, I didn't turn on the TV, I didn't turn on the computer, and I didn't look at a newspaper all week," Brady said. "I tried to take myself out of it, and just focus on what I had to do this week."

A week after throwing four interceptions (one of them being That Horrible Pass), he submitted a performance a bit more in keeping with his stature in the game, throwing for 264 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Beyond that, there was nothing that even had the faint odor of an interception. He missed some guys, sure, and he definitely would like to have an overthrow of a touchdown-bound Deion Branch in the third quarter, but there wasn't one throw that had anyone thinking how lucky he was someone didn't pick that one off.

"He was on target today," said center Dan Koppen. "All we had to do was give him some time and let him throw the ball."

It has become an article of faith in Foxborough that Brady will not have two bad games in succession. The same can be said of the team, which blew a chance to have a potential AFC Championship Game in Foxborough by gift-wrapping that game for the Dolphins last Monday, and which entered Giants Stadium three hours before this game not even certain of a bye during the wild-card weekend of Jan. 8-9. But shortly after kickoff the Colts completed their comeback victory over the Chargers, a result that put the bye business back in the Patriots' control. With a win, they would be getting that precious weekend off.

The players knew the stakes, even if the coach wouldn't admit it. Bill Belichick verbally stiff-armed a bye-related media query, claiming it had nothing to do with anything because his only concern was summoning the requisite effort needed to subdue the Jets. "Whatever happens, happens," he dead-panned. "We'll play whenever they tell us to play."

That was his story, and he was sticking to it. The actual truth, of course, was something else entirely. "We knew, all right," said Brady. "At the very first meeting this week, Coach Belichick said, `We win, we get a bye.' That kept the heat on us all week. We knew what we were playing for."

It took Brady & Co. a little while to get going. OK, it took them a good long while, given that the Patriots had possession for fewer than four minutes during a scoreless first quarter. The offense squandered a good scoring opportunity after a Tedy Bruschi interception and artful runback had squelched a Jets drive and gave Brady a first down at the New York 38. But the second quarter belonged to the Patriots, who launched scoring drives that culminated in Adam Vinatieri field goals of 28 and 29 yards, as well as a 16-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham.

"We were really not on the field much in the first period," said Brady. "By our own doing."

The Jets applied great pressure on Brady at the start. "They brought blitzes we hadn't seen," he said. "They were trying everything." The Patriots' response included some cleverly set up screen passes, as Brady expanded his receiving targets to include the likes of Patrick Pass. As always, Brady spread the ball around, completing passes to Christian Fauria, Branch, David Givens, Graham, and, finally, Graham on the impressive 86-yard drive that made it 10-0 with 1:50 left in the half. After a strong defensive stand, Troy Brown returned a punt 23 yards to trigger a patented end-of-the-half drive that culminated in Vinatieri's 29-yarder with seven seconds remaining.

It was over at 13-0, more over at 16-0, and completely over at 23-0 when Brady hit Branch on a 6-yard TD aerial that took proper advantage of a Eugene Wilson interception that had given his team the ball at the Jets' 15.

Brady was properly proud of what he and his mates had done. This was being hyped as the biggest game of the season for the Jets, who could find themselves out of the playoffs if they lose to the Rams next week in conjunction with a Bills conquest of the Steelers (don't laugh). This was not quite so big for the Patriots, but it was important enough, given the nature of the Miami loss, the short week, and the bye thing. Wasn't every Patriots fan curious to see how his or her team would respond to that awful night in Miami?

"This was a great opportunity for us to come back," Brady said. "At 12 o'clock, when we had a meeting, everyone said that by 7 o'clock we would know what this team was all about. Everyone's feeling pretty good right now."

No one was feeling better than Brady, the man who had thrown That Horrible Pass last Monday night. "This was the high point of the season," he said. "We came in here and played well against an excellent football team."

Tom Brady is the ultimate "We" guy, so someone has to say it for him: the team needed him to be the real Tom Brady if it was going to win this game. He was.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist.

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