Quarterback Tom Brady has been anything but Tom Terrific in his last 11 playoff… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)
Reporting from Indianapolis -- The doors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will swing wide open for Tom Brady.
The New England Patriots quarterback has three Super Bowl rings and Sunday has a chance for a fourth, which would tie him for the most with his boyhood idol, San Francisco's Joe Montana, and Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw.
Brady and Bill Belichick have made it to their record fifth Super Bowl, the most of any quarterback-coach combination. What's more, Brady is Tom Terrific, as much the face of the NFL as any player.
If the Patriots lose to the New York Giants on Sunday, however, New England will have gone seven years without a Super Bowl victory. With Brady at the helm, they were 9-0 in the postseason in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons when they won three Super Bowls. The Patriots also won their first playoff game the following season.
Since that incredible run, they are 6-5 in the playoffs with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions by Brady — and that includes his six-touchdown game against Denver last month.
No one denies that Brady is an elite quarterback, but his performances have been far more human than the hype that typically surrounds him would suggest.
The New York Giants have a healthy respect for Brady, of course, but they also know he's a different quarterback when they can put some heat on him.
"If you look at Week 9, when we played them, it's like he felt us," said Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, referring to a 24-20 victory over New England in which Brady was sacked twice and had two interceptions to go with his two touchdowns. "When we looked back on the film, we watched the film, and we didn't really rush like we can rush as a defense. He was throwing balls on the ground and stuff."
Even though the Patriots handed Baltimore a 23-20 defeat in the AFC championship game, Brady was disappointed in his performance, which included two interceptions and no touchdown passes.
"I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," he said after that narrow victory.
On Thursday, the New York Post published a private email that Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen, sent to family and friends. In it, the supermodel asked her loved ones to pray for the Patriots, leaving some outsiders to view that as a sign Brady's confidence is wavering.
"This sunday will be a really important day in my husband's life," Bundchen wrote, according to the Post. "He and his team worked so hard to get to this point and now they need us more than ever to send them positive energy so they can fulfill their dream of winning this super bowl ...
"So I kindly ask all of you to join me on this positive chain and pray for him, so he can feel confident, healthy and strong. Envision him happy and fulfilled experiencing with his team a victory this sunday."
On its cover Thursday, the Post ran a picture of the couple with the headline, "Not a Prayer!"
But others in New York — namely the Giants — are not so quick to dismiss Brady, nor do they believe he lacks confidence in what he can do on the football field, regardless of his not winning a Super Bowl ring since early 2005.
"Every time you play against Tom, you have to go to the drawing board because he is definitely going to look at what we had success against him with the first time and come out with something to beat that," defensive end Justin Tuck said.
"You have to do something different. He is that type of quarterback that by the second quarter, he probably has a sense of what a team wants to do to him and his offense. We are going to have to have a few game plans in and it is going to be a chess match.
"I think every quarter we will have to throw something at him that he hasn't seen or hope that he hasn't seen from us."
That's no simple task.
"The man behind them, their head coach, he's just a mastermind," Giants safety Deon Grant said. "With Tom Brady running that show, that speaks for itself."