JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, the first half of Super Bowl XXXIX roughly mirrored his week leading up to the game.
Weighed down by the death of his grandmother four days earlier, Brady not only dealt with his grief, but he also eventually overcame the Philadelphia defense.
Brady completed 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and only a magnificent performance by teammate Deion Branch kept Brady from winning his third Super Bowl most-valuable-player award.
"It's a relief," Brady said of the 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. "It has been a long year, but everyone is so excited."
After a first half that featured his first touchdown pass, Brady led the Patriots to touchdowns on their first and third possessions of the second half, breaking a tie each time, and then directed them to a field goal on the fourth possession.
The first drive of the second half, especially, made a difference for Brady, who said he felt out of rhythm during the game's first two quarters. Brady completed five of his seven passes, totaling 73 yards, capping the possession with a two-yard scoring pass play to Mike Vrabel.
"He hit some big passes, especially those third downs at the start of the second half," New England Coach Bill Belichick said. "And that was Tom making good decisions and good throws."
Despite losing a fumble deep in Philadelphia territory in the second quarter, Brady looked focused all night, an impressive achievement considering that his 94-year-old grandmother, Margaret Brady, died Wednesday in the San Francisco area after a long illness. She had suffered a stroke recently. Brady was close to his grandmother, growing up in San Mateo, Calif., only a mile or so from her house.
Yet, even in the days immediately preceding the game, Brady kept his mind on football, even if, by his own admission, his "heart" had been "at home."
Charlie Weis, the Patriots' offensive coordinator, recalled that he recently received a late-night phone call from Brady, with the quarterback asking to make tweaks to the Patriots' game plan.
"Can you just shut up and let me get some sleep?" Weis remembered thinking.
That dedication helps explain why Brady sits in rarefied company. Along with Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman, Brady is one of four starting quarterbacks to lead his team to three titles during the Super Bowl era. Bradshaw and Montana already have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Aikman soon will be.
Now, Brady is almost certain to join them.