|Brady's MVP legacy? Pats 20, Rams 17
By Len Pasquarelli
NEW ORLEANS -- It is notable that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady
was selected as the most valuable player in Super Bowl XXXVI despite
garnering less than half the votes.
Notable because 11 of the 19 ballots on which he wasn't named featured
Patriots cornerbacks Ty Law and Otis Smith, who spent the evening playing
the role of hairshirts on St. Louis wideouts, and kicker Adam Vinatieri, who
drilled a game-winning field goal as time expired. Notable, too, because
Brady could have set back Super Bowl quarterbacking by 25 years with a
performance that might kindly be described as mundane until the final two
minutes of the game.
Today, folks, Tom Brady. In next year's Super Bowl, someone brings back the
single wing, the flying wedge, or the full-house backfield. Yeah, trust me,
it was that de-evolutionary.
But in completing five of eight passes in the game's climactic drive,
bouncing back from a Rams touchdown that knotted the score at 17-17 with
just 90 seconds remaining, Brady did what he has done all
Which is to say, he won.
"We've got a whole team of underdogs," said Brady, who took a two-hour nap
in the locker room before the game, barely awoke for warm-ups, and seemed to
sleep-walk through the majority of the evening. "Now we're the top dogs."
Actually the Patriots are more dogged than dogs. And Brady, the second-year
veteran who had just three attempts in his rookie season and limited playing
time before replacing the injured Drew Bledsoe in the third
game of the season, exemplifies their gritty nature. He does not accomplish
things in a manner that would suggest NFL Films will do a highlight reel to
market to fledgling quarterbacks anytime soon. Pretty, he isn't, nor
What he is, though, is 14-3 as a starter. Not too shabby by any man's standards. And his play on Sunday night further hastened the eventual exit
of Bledsoe, who will not accommodate the club by so readily accepting a
backup fate for 2002.
Not surprisingly, since they earned the right to revel in the moment,
neither Brady nor coach Bill Belichick were about to draw thunderstorms on
the picturesque parade in which the Pats exited the Superdome late
Sunday night. The red, white and blue confetti still littering the field was
all the mess the New England brain trust needed to wade through on its way
to a postgame party. The resolution of the quarterback controversy will come
That Brady, a sixth-round draft choice from Michigan and a onetime backup to
Brian Griese, had resolved Super Bowl XXXVI without having it go into
overtime was the subject that everyone felt more inclined to discuss. One
team source told ESPN.com that the Patriots will try again soon to get
Brady's autograph on a contract extension -- the Pro Bowl quarterback earned
a minimum base salary of just $298,000 this season while Bledsoe banked about
$12 million -- but that will have to wait for a while as well.
"When I replaced Drew, I was just hoping to get us some wins, and to be a
better player at the end of the year than at the beginning," Brady said.
"Certainly I'm better, and this is just the icing on what's become a pretty
good cake. You dream about this kind of stuff, every player does, but it
usually doesn't become reality. This is just amazing, but that's what this
team is all about, and I'm just a little piece of the puzzle."
To his credit, Brady did not turn the ball over, and in that department was
superior to celebrated counterpart Kurt Warner of the Rams. And to the
credit of the New England coaching staff, the offensive strategists once
again kept Brady on a short leash, so much so that he had attempted just 19
passes until the final drive.
His inventory of memorable throws is essentially a short check-list, but
there are two that merit review because of their timing and the excellence
of the touch Brady demonstrated on each.
The first was an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver David Patten in
the second quarter, a well-executed play that boosted the Patriots into a
14-3 lead just before halftime. After studying the tendencies of St. Louis corners, Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis
during the week changed the route from an "out" in the red zone to an "out-and-up." Brady
made a nice pump to freeze Dexter McCleon and that allowed Patten just
enough separation. Brady lobbed the ball to the back of the end zone, where
only Patten could get to it.
"A huge throw, because we didn't want to settle for a field goal there, and
because it shook them up being behind by that much at halftime," Patten
said. "He put the ball right where it had to be."
The second pass was a 23-yarder to Troy Brown that served as the key play in
the winning drive. Brown did most of the heavy lifting in the play, beating
a jam at the line and maneuvering past the "bracket" coverage of a St. Louis
secondary that guessed correctly he was the go-to guy for Brady on the
play. But the young quarterback got the ball to Brown precisely as he broke
out of his cut and the receiver made one solid move and then fought to get
out of bounds.
In all, Brady completed five of eight passes for 53 yards on the drive. It
might not be recalled in ensuing years as a masterful sequence, but two of
Brady's three misfires were spikes to stop the clock, and for a second-year
passer to perform under the intense glare of a Super Bowl spotlight
certainly enhances the moment.
"No one can take this away from us, or from me, and that's all that
matters," Brady said. "What's important is to play your best football when
the game is on the line. We did that against Oakland (in the divisional
playoff round), we did it at Pittsburgh (in the AFC championship game) and
we did it again tonight. Call it a fluke, whatever you want, but the scores
are there for eternity now."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
|Tom Brady delivered when it mattered, and his 14-3 record this year is reason to smile.|