Patriots' Brady keeps winning games, praise

39-12 record, accuracy, ability in clutch draw elite QB comparisons

Super Bowl - Panthers / Patriots

January 31, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - Asked about the popular comparison with Joe Montana, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shrugged it off as smoothly as he does big-game jitters.

"That's something that's crazy," Brady said. "I mean, [Joe Montana] was the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. It's flattering, but at the same time, I think it's pretty unrealistic, too.

"Everybody wants to make comparisons. But I think he is a very different player. I would love to have some of the traits that he possessed. But for the most part, there is a long way to go."

Still, it's only one more step for Brady to move into elite company. If he records another fearless and flawless Super Bowl effort tomorrow against the Carolina Panthers, he will become the eighth starting quarterback with multiple rings, joining Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Jim Plunkett and Bart Starr.

The knock on Brady is that his talent fails to measure up with that group. He doesn't have Bradshaw's arm. He's doesn't have the athleticism of Staubach or Elway. He doesn't take over a game like Montana.

What he does have is the ability to optimize his talent as well as the pedestrian talent around him. He does it calmly and cunningly, dissecting schemes as quickly as coach Bill Belichick.

The Patriots probably rely on their quarterback more than any other NFL team.

The Patriots' 3.4-yard rushing average was third worst in the league. Deion Branch, the Patriots' leading receiver, was 32nd in the league with 803 yards. Their offensive line has seen three starters go down with season-ending injuries.

The offense works because of how Brady executes the short passing game. Taking three-step drops, he makes succinct decisions and accurate passes.

"He had that special moxie that it takes to be a winning quarterback," offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "We talk about the word `it.' He has it. I can't define the word `it,' but certain quarterbacks have it and certain quarterbacks don't. Tom Brady is the epitome of having that special `it.' "

It is becoming more difficult to dismiss him merely as a capable quarterback riding the coattails of a dominating defense.

He is 39-12 as a starter for a .765 winning percentage (which includes playoffs), tops among active NFL quarterbacks.

More importantly, he plays best when it counts the most.

He is 5-0 in the postseason and 7-0 in overtime games. He completed 28 of 32 passes for 341 yards in those seven overtime periods and hasn't thrown an interception.

During the Patriots' current 14-game winning streak, he has led six drives in the fourth quarter or overtime to either break a tie or come from behind

So while NFL co-Most Valuable Players Peyton Manning and Steve McNair may be headed for the Pro Bowl, Brady is playing in the Super Bowl.

"Tom Brady is the greatest winner in football right now," Patriots cornerback Ty Law said. "What do stats mean when you're sitting at home? I want to go out there with Tom Brady. With all due respect to Steve and Peyton, winning is the card that trumps everything."

Despite Brady winning at the University of Michigan - he was 20-5 as a starter there - the lack of prototypical talent for a quarterback dropped him to the sixth round of the 2000 draft.

He was the 199th player selected overall and seventh quarterback taken, as Chad Pennington (Jets), Giovanni Carmazzi (49ers), Chris Redman (Ravens), Tee Martin (Steelers), Marc Bulger (Saints) and Spergon Wynn (Browns) were drafted before him.

In his second season, Brady took over as the starter in Week 3 after franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured, then led the Patriots to an upset of the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.

This time, his confidence has grown along with the respect from his teammates.

"I'm more comfortable in a leadership role," Brady said. "Because of that, my personality comes out a bit more. If I want to say something, I say it."

Brady will even speak his mind to Belichick about the play calling during games.

This ability to break down defenses separates himself from most quarterbacks his age. At 26, he is poised to surpass Troy Aikman (27) as the youngest two-time champion.

"You go into a game with Tom saying, `OK, here is how they play cover-eight [defensive scheme] and this is how they play cover-two,' " Belichick said. "He comes off after that first series and if we have had a couple of plays that give that coverage a chance to play against our patterns, we can talk about it on the spot. ...

"He picks things up right away. It doesn't take him until halftime or having to see the coverage eight times. ... He sees the field extremely well and when he tells you he sees something, that's the way it is."

Brady tries not to think about his star status.

Last week, he was invited to sit with first lady Laura Bush at the president's State of the Union address. This week, he's the face of the Super Bowl, the definition of the All-American quarterback: handsome, wholesome and a winner.

He has made People magazine's list of the "50 Most Beautiful People." Donald Trump got onto the field to meet him before the AFC title game and said he wants to fix him up with his daughter. Women around Boston are wearing shirts that say "Mrs. Brady," showing the affection for the city's most eligible bachelor.

But like in most intances, Brady has kept his cool along with his humor.

When it was brought to his attention that Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme admired him for how he keeps winning, Brady smiled and said, "Why would he want to be a guy that is slow and has an average arm? I would want to be Michael Vick. That is an aspiration."

A winning hand

The Patriots' Tom Brady is the NFL's winningest active quarterback. A look at the best regular-season records of quarterbacks with at least 25 starts:

Player, Team W-L Pct.

Tom Brady, NE 34-12 .739

Kurt Warner, StL 35-15 .700

Jay Fiedler, Jax/Mia 36-17 .679

Donovan McNabb, Phi 43-21 .672

Brett Favre, GB 125-64 .661

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