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Xs AND O's

Brady remains the best when the pressure is on

January 18, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Winning quarterback play in the playoffs is invaluable, and it can be accomplished in different ways.

Baltimore's Trent Dilfer and Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson, for a couple of instances, led their teams to Super Bowl titles by executing simple plays and avoiding mistakes.

San Francisco's Joe Montana, Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw and Dallas' Roger Staubach, on the other hand, gained legendary status because they made clutch plays for Super Bowl-winning teams. Please put New England's Tom Brady near the top of that second list.

With the Patriots' 24-21 victory over San Diego last week, Brady registered his 24th fourth-quarter comeback victory, further cementing his superstar status. With three Super Bowl rings, Brady has a 12-1 record as a starter in the playoffs, including comeback victories in the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls.

He holds the league record for longest playoff winning streak, a run that ended at 10 last year when the Patriots were defeated by the Denver Broncos, 27-13.

And even in that game, Brady rallied New England from a 10-3 halftime deficit and had the Patriots in position to take the lead when he threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted. Denver's Champ Bailey caught the ball in the end zone and returned it 100 yards to New England's one-yard line, setting up a game-changing touchdown for the Broncos.

It was unusual for Brady to fail to rally his team and even stranger for him to throw a costly interception. But he nearly did it again against the Chargers last week.

With San Diego ahead, 21-13, in the fourth quarter, the Chargers intercepted a Brady pass for the third time in the game. On fourth down, his pass was picked off by safety Marlon McCree, but Brady was given new life when Troy Brown forced McCree to fumble and New England recovered.

Brady then made the most of his reprieve. He led the Patriots to 11 points over the final 3 minutes 26 seconds, engineering a game-winning 72-yard drive, highlighted by a 49-yard pass to Reche Caldwell. It was the sixth time Brady had led New England to a fourth-quarter comeback victory in the playoffs.

Brady would not have been in position for late heroics if not for Coach Bill Belichick's defensive adjustments. Belichick's defense always seems to make sure Brady has the ball with enough time to win.

That was certainly true last week. After Kevin Faulk's two-point conversion run had tied the score at 21-21, the Chargers -- who finished with 352 yards in offense -- had four minutes to score.

But the plays that had worked earlier weren't working late and the Chargers punted after three plays, setting up the Patriots' game-winning drive, which sent them into the AFC championship game against Indianapolis at the RCA Dome on Sunday.

New England's combination of Brady and a defense able to shut down an opponent late in the game makes the Patriots difficult to defeat. The Colts know this well, having been dominated by New England in the playoffs two of the last three years.

Summary: Subtle things -- slight shoulder fakes to keep safeties from jumping corner routes, rhythm play-calling to give the offense a pace during long drives -- make Brady especially effective.

But he is not perfect. He makes mistakes and they will be key for the Colts. They have to be ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities Brady gives them.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Brady postseason primer

A look at Tom Brady's last five playoff games (* Super Bowl):

*--* DATE OPPONENT ATT COM YDS TD INT RTG RESULT Jan. 14, 2007 San Diego 51 27 280 2 3 57.6 Won Jan. 7, 2007 N.Y. Jets 34 22 212 2 0 101.6 Won Jan. 14, 2006 Denver 36 20 341 1 2 74.0 Lost Jan. 7, 2006 Jacksonville 27 15 201 3 0 116.4 Won Feb. 6, 2005 Philadelphia* 33 23 236 2 0 110.2 Won

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Source: NFL.com

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