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Brady not used to coming up empty

DENVER -- Numbers are deceiving. The look on Tom Brady's face wasn't.

Though he had statistics that would normally indicate a victory -- 20 of 36 for 341 yards and 1 touchdown -- the Patriots quarterback tasted playoff defeat last night for the first time in his NFL career. He didn't like it.

''It will be a long flight home, a long offseason," said Brady, whose numbers proved to be superficial, unlike the pain in his voice, which told the real story of the 27-13 AFC divisional round loss to the Denver Broncos. ''It's very disappointing. The coaches are disappointed. I'm disappointed. Mr. [Robert] Kraft is disappointed."

Prior to last night, Brady had been at the controls of 10 playoff games and all 10 had gone the way of the Patriots, mostly because the team played mistake-free football. That formula disintegrated in the Rocky Mountain atmosphere -- and in a most shocking way that made it all the more painful for the heralded Brady.

''When you lose, you want to go down fighting and playing your best," he said. ''We didn't do that. We made it easy for them and in pro football you can't do that."

Yes, Brady was making reference to the team's five turnovers, but he stood tall and faced the music because the worst of all was, as the kids like to say, ''my bad."

And, oh, how bad it was.

Asked to relive the turning point of the game, his interception late in the third quarter, Brady winced. But he did not duck and run, calling it ''a 10-point swing." It was that and more.

The Patriots were trailing, 10-6, when Brady completed four of five passes to march the club from its 22 to the Denver 5, where it faced third and goal. Patriots fans, no doubt, were preparing for something they've seen so many times before -- a tidy and timely touchdown pass.

Wrong.

Instead, Brady floated one toward Troy Brown in the right side of the end zone, then got slammed to the turf.

''They were blitzing and I rolled right," said Brady. ''I thought I had Troy in the corner. I got hit and, when I was on the ground, I heard the crowd reaction and I looked up and said, 'Oh, no.' "

Oh, no, indeed, for Denver's Champ Bailey had stepped in front of Brown, stolen the pass, and taken off down the left sideline for a 100-yard interception return. He was finally pushed out of bounds at the 1 by Ben Watson, a nice play that only delayed the inevitable as Mike Anderson scored one play later. Instead of being up, 13-10, the Patriots trailed, 17-6.

''Poor execution, bad throw," said Brady. ''I've got to throw that ball away and we settle for the field goal."

More questions about the throw came his way, and Brady fielded them cleanly. He said the Patriots gave the Broncos ''points on a silver platter," that it was the team's ''best players" who made the mistakes that cost them dearly, and that he did catch a glimpse of Bailey and wishes he could have the play back. ''You've got to be careful when you throw his way."

Yes, it was the play that hurt the most, but others gnawed at Brady. When it was 17-6, the Patriots had it third and 4 at the Denver 25, and Brown got free behind the Denver secondary. Brady overthrew him and on the following play, the reliable Adam Vinatieri missed a 43-yard field goal try.

After Denver took over and was forced to punt, Brown muffed a fair catch, and after the Broncos recovered at the Patriots' 15, they needed just three plays to score a touchdown and make it 24-6.

Bad plays by players who've been so great. That's what hurt, said Brady.

''We were moving the ball [New England had 420 yards, Denver 286]. It's not like we weren't making plays out there," said Brady. ''But turnovers nullify everything. If you take away two or three plays, it's a different game, but you can't take away those two or three plays."

Brady was asked if Denver had what it takes to win two more games, next week's AFC Championship, then a potential Super Bowl. Brady wore a look of exasperation, perhaps equal to what he had had on his face when Bailey stole that pass.

''I don't know," he said. ''The better team will win."

It was as if he had just realized that for the first time in three seasons, he won't be part of the AFC Championship or the Super Bowl. He didn't like that, either, and he said he wasn't sure if he'd even watch. ''It will be hard," he said. ''I don't know, can both teams lose in the AFC Championship? That's what I'm rooting for."

He smiled a smile that has been front and center three of the last four NFL seasons, a coverboy smile that has afforded him wide-spread fame and admiration.

But now, Brady was on the other end, a playoff loser for the first time in his six NFL seasons. He said he deserved much of the blame, but insisted that the team would show its great character.

''You hate to end the season this way," he said. ''The last few weeks I've been on vapors. I'm worn out, but it would have been worth it had we gotten to the Super Bowl.

''It's so depressing and it makes you appreciate what we've accomplished.

''It's been a great run."

Then he paused, smiled again, and offered a reminder to his NFL competition.

''It's been a great run and I think we'll be back firing next year," he said. ''I'm really proud of where we're at."

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