FOXBOROUGH - In what is now 16 playoff victories for their starting quarterback, the Patriots have won a good number of them because of Tom Brady. If you’re to believe No. 12, his team captured yesterday’s AFC Championship in spite of him.
Befuddled again by the pesky Ravens in a win-or-go-home game, Brady couldn’t get much going with his arm, at least not for his team. But a little improvisation - and his nimble leaping ability - helped the Patriots book their fifth trip to the Super Bowl in Brady’s career.
Held without a passing touchdown for the first time in his past 19 playoff games, Brady scored the game-winner on a gutsy 1-yard quarterback sneak with 11:29 left to play, sending the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI with a 23-20 win over the Ravens at Gillette Stadium.
He admonished himself with a derogatory word in a televised interview after the game, and was just as hard on himself 30 minutes later when he met other members of the media. But football’s a team game, and despite visible disappointment in his personal effort, enough was done by Brady and his mates to forget, at least for one night, about everything else. They’ve got one more game to play, the biggest.
“I wish I had done a better job. In some ways, you always beat yourself up,’’ Brady said. “I’ve been doing this for quite a while. I’m glad we won, I’m glad we’re moving on. Hopefully I can go out there and do better in a few weeks.’’
Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 239 yards and was intercepted twice, with no touchdowns. He was held to the second-lowest quarterback rating in his 21 playoff games. Yesterday’s 57.5 is eclipsed only by the 49.1 from a playoff loss two seasons ago - also to the Ravens.
But when it was time to make a play, Brady didn’t hesitate. After a video review reversed an apparent rushing touchdown by Brady two plays earlier, he came to the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter, the Patriots trailing, 20-16, the ball at the Ravens’ 1-yard line. Fourth down.
Brady took the snap and jumped over center Dan Connelly, extending both hands that were clutching the football over the goal line. No review needed this time, just a few seconds to unstack the pile, with Brady near the bottom.
“We keep telling him to stop doing that, but he doesn’t listen to us very well,’’ left tackle Matt Light said. “Look, he sees something like that, he just goes for it, and it was a heck of a play. We’d been stuffed two times in a row, obviously we needed to have that one come through.’’
Said Brady of the sneak decision: “I thought it looked soft in there so I tried to take advantage of us getting an easy touchdown. I don’t do that very often. I’m glad we had a chance to score there on fourth down. That was important.’’
Brady and the offense got the ball back three times after his touchdown run. The first, after an interception by linebacker Brandon Spikes, was wasted in one play after Brady threw a deep pass into the end zone that was deflected by old nemesis Bernard Pollard and picked off by Jimmy Smith. The second ended in a punt just inside the two-minute warning. The third, after Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff hooked a game-tying field goal, required just one play: Brady taking the snap, taking a knee, and running out the clock. His 16th playoff win was finally secured, tying him with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana.
“He’s the best. He does so much for us in so many ways on so many different levels,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, who is now historically tied to Brady; no coach-quarterback tandem had ever reached five Super Bowls. “I’m really fortunate that he’s our quarterback and for what he’s able to do for this team. It’s good to win with him.’’
Now it’s on to the Super Bowl, yet again. Brady joins John Elway as the only starting quarterbacks to lead their teams to five, and comes in a season that has been guided by emotion, ever since team owner Robert Kraft’s wife, Myra, died last July.
Kraft had a long embrace with Brady on the field following the victory, meaningful words exchanged amid confetti and loud celebratory music.
What were Brady’s?
“He said to me, ‘I promise you I’m going to play a lot better in two weeks,’ ’’ Kraft said in the winning team’s locker room. “He’s still pretty good in my book. I’ve been watching the NFL for a long time and there’s no quarterback I’d rather have.’’
Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com.