Poise and precision push Patriots QB Brady
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks for a receiver in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, rear, congratulates quarterback Tom Brady on his winning touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct.13, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 30-27. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (85) catches the winning touchdown pass against New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct.13, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 30-27. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The crowd goes wild. Tom Brady stays calm.
Same as always.
“That’s pretty much always been a trademark of Tom,” New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick says.
Long before he became one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, Brady got used to the pressure of playing before more than 100,000 fans in college. Then, in just his third pro start more than a decade ago, he led the first successful fourth-quarter comeback of his pro career.
And last Sunday, cool in the clutch, he got the ball 70 yards from the end zone with no timeouts and 73 seconds left and completed the winning touchdown pass with five ticks left on the clock.
That 30-27 stunner against the New Orleans Saints added another notch to his comeback belt – 26 wins in games the Patriots trailed in the fourth quarter. Patriots fans who stayed after about half left in despair roared as Brady confidently led his team to victory.
But that was nothing like the crowds at Michigan.
“I went to a big school, so there were 110,000 people that came to our games in college,” Brady said. “I learned pretty early. I came here and there are 65,000 people. It’s like, ‘Man, where is it? It’s half the stadium.’ You try to be in those pressurized situations and put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform well.”
For some quarterbacks, the moment might be too much.
For Brady, trailing in the last two minutes is just another chance to make plays.
“I’ve been around for a little bit, so I’ve been in these situations. Good execution usually solves a lot of the issues,” he said. “You’re just trying to focus, really, on what the situation is, not what has happened over the course of the game. You get in a situation where you need a touchdown at the end, that’s the situation you’re in.”
On his first play after New Orleans went ahead 27-23, Brady threw an interception with 2:16 left. Then the Saints went three-and-out.
Brady got the ball back and this time he delivered with the winning 17-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins.
“We all look to number 12 (Brady) in certain situations like that. We look to Tom and he’s not shaken,” said Austin Collie, who had his first two receptions as a Patriot on that drive. “It kind of rubs off on us.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was worried as he watched.
“While I had the utmost confidence in our defense,” he said, “I know the player. I know the mindset.”
The Patriots (5-1) practice those situations – no timeouts, two minutes left, hurrying to the line of scrimmage. When it happens for real, they’re ready.
Next up on Sunday: the New York Jets (3-3), the team Brady beat in overtime last year after trailing, 26-23, with 1:37 left in regulation.
Perhaps, Jets Coach Rex Ryan was asked, Brady is like a vampire whose game-winning drives only can be stopped with a stake to the heart.
“I thought about doing all that stuff,” he said, smiling. “But I think the league would fine me.”
Brady began pulling the Patriots out of holes three games after an injury to Drew Bledsoe in 2001 made him the starter. In that game, they trailed San Diego, 26-19, but had the ball back one play before the two-minute warning.
Here’s how Brady started the drive: two completions for 15 yards. Here’s how he ended it: two completions for 29 yards and a touchdown with 36 seconds left in regulation. And here’s what Belichick said after the 29-26 overtime win: “Tom played with a lot of poise.”
Same as always, even if he doesn’t always win.
In the 2012 Super Bowl, the New York Giants went ahead, 21-17, with 57 seconds remaining. Brady then completed two of seven passes with a sack before time expired.
“When he first took over for Drew and started to become a regular player, we were in a lot of tight games,” Belichick said. “Some we won, some we lost, but I never felt that there was a sense of panic or discomfort or anything with Tom.
“That’s something that really was one of Tom’s greatest strengths, is his ability to see the field, remain calm, remain poised even though the stadium may be going crazy.”
In 2002, Brady got his first of three Super Bowl wins, 20-17, after the St. Louis Rams tied it with 1:30 left. A 6-yard completion to Jermaine Wiggins set up Adam Vinatieri’s final-play, 48-yard field goal.
“He basically said in the huddle, ‘Wiggy, no matter what, I’m coming to you on this so get open,’ ” Wiggins recalled. “He wasn’t fired up. It was more of a discussion. I just said, ‘you throw it, I’ll catch it.’ ”
Now he’s throwing to Collie, who played with the Indianapolis Colts with another quarterback with a history of late comebacks, Peyton Manning.
Was he as cool in the clutch as Brady?
“Tom’s like that,” Collie said, “and, right now, that’s all that matters.”