Sure, winning fourth-quarter drives are fun -- with 32 to his credit after the Patriots' 20-16 victory over the Cowboys yesterday, Tom Brady is an expert on the subject.
But the Patriots quarterback says there's an even more enjoyable way to play out the final minutes of a football game.
"Iíd prefer to be up four touchdowns with two minutes left,'' said Brady, who has now won 31 straight regular-season games at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots quarterback. "But that wasnít really the case today. You just keep playing, you keep battling, you keep fighting until the clock says 0:00 at the end and we did that today."
Trailing, 16-13, with 2 minutes and 31 seconds remaining, Brady led the Patriots on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with his 8-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez.
"It was great protection. Great catch by Aaron," said Brady. "A lot of guys made big plays on that drive; we really needed it. We really kind of squandered away some opportunities throughout the game but came up big when we needed it. The defense was really incredible today. Thatís a good offense with a lot of damn good football players. They really buckled down when they needed to and offensively we put together a drive when we needed to."
Brady had high praise for Hernandez, an essential part of the Patriots' passing game in his second season.
"Heís really become a dependable player," Brady said. "[He] runs very good routes. Coach always says ĎA receiver should get open, catch the ball and then do something with it after they catch it.í Aaron has really done all three things. Heís really made a big jump from his first year to his second year and thatís why heís out there at the end of the game."
Statistically, it was a middle-of-the-pack day by Brady's high standards. He was 27 of 41 for 289 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. But he was at his best at the end, with the game on the line and facing a situation where focus and execution can be the difference between winning and losing.
"I think your margin of error is very, very small at that point. You canít not get the ball in the end zone,'' Brady said. "The plays and throws need to more accurate. The routes need to be better. The protection needs to be better and the entire offense [needs to be better]. Itís something we work on quite a bit and we havenít had really a true two-minute situation at the end of the game where we needed a touchdown in a long time. We practice it quite a bit. We prepare hard for that situation every week. When it came up this week, itís good to get the ball in the end zone."
Brady praised the aggressive Cowboys defense, which snapped the Patriots' streak of 13 consecutive regular-season games of 30 or more points.
"What they do is they make you earn every yard,'' he said. "Itís not like there are a bunch of gimme throws out there or gimme routes or gimme calls from the sideline. There are a lot of different things and they have a lot of good players that can execute it. Some good linebackers, a [defensive] line that really rushes no matter how many guys Ė three guys, five guys and some guys even cover. Itís a good defense and they really made us earn it today."
He was asked whether facing a defense like the Cowboys' was mentally exhausting, particularly coming after the always-intense matchup with the Jets.
"Sure, I mean you face different challenges every week and every team has strengths and weaknesses. We knew what they were capable of and Coach warned us all week [that] this is a defense thatís as fast and as physical as we played all year. They do a lot of different things. We prepared hard for that. Our execution wasnít great at times but when we needed it, it was. Everyone is sitting in the locker room at 5-1 going into the bye week feeling pretty good. Obviously there are a lot of things we need to correct but itís much better to be 5-1 than 4-2."