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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady sucked.
No, we're not editorializing (though few would argue the notion). It was the first thing the New England Patriots quarterback said after Sunday's 23-20 triumph over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.
|Tom Brady didn't think much of his performance, but he was pleased after scoring the go-ahead touchdown.|
Invited to the on-field podium to receive the Lamar Hunt trophy with owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and his teammates, Brady was told he had just tied boyhood idol Joe Montana with 16 career postseason wins and will soon join John Elway as the only quarterbacks to start five Super Bowls.
Asked how he got it done Sunday, Brady announced on national television "Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us. And I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple weeks."
Brady shouldn't be so hard on himself. The AFC Championship Game has long been his statistical bugaboo, but the Patriots are still 5-1 in them over the past 11 years, so clearly he's doing something right.
Brady completed 22 of 36 passes for 239 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was rather handily outplayed by Baltimore counterpart Joe Flacco, who also completed 22 of 36 passes, but for 306 yards with two touchdowns and just one interception.
But as Brady's teammates would attest in support of their signal-caller, style points are overrated. The only thing that matters is the win, especially at this point of the season.
Brady did leap into the highlight reel with his hurdling-the-center, 1-yard touchdown plunge on fourth down with 11:29 to play -- the only score in the fourth quarter (thanks in part to the late-game shanking by Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff). Brady nearly sneaked his way into the end zone two plays earlier, but that play was overturned on video review. Facing fourth-and-goal at the 1, the Patriots kept their offense on the field and Brady hurdled in for the 23-20 lead that punched his team's ticket to Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI.
A half-hour after his postgame remarks on live television, Brady had slipped into a sharp brown-on-brown ensemble with matching pocket square before stepping to the interview podium, where he was asked if he still agreed with his knee-jerk assessment.
"As a quarterback, you never want to turn the ball over," said Brady, still seething from the two interceptions. Both picks were on the Ravens' side of the field, one being a potential home run ball to Matthew Slater midway through the fourth quarter that would have sealed the win. Instead, it gave Baltimore a chance to win the game.
Brady was intercepted two other times -- including once by old friend Bernard Pollard, the guy who tore Brady's ACL during the 2008 season opener at Gillette Stadium -- but both were erased by penalties.
"You want to hit the open guys. You want to capitalize when you have open receivers," Brady said. "I wish I had done a better job of that today. In some ways, you always beat yourself up. I've been doing this for quite a while. I'm glad we won, I'm glad we're moving on. Hopefully, I can go out there and do better in a few weeks. I think, offensively, we can do better and that's what it's going to take."
|Brady (22-of-36, 239 yards, 2 INTs) promised owner Robert Kraft he'd do better in two weeks.|
Asked after the game if he agreed with Brady's assessment of his performance, Belichick didn't exactly rush to disagree.
"I think there were a lot of things in the game that could have been better. That's obvious," Belichick said.
But informed later that he and Brady were the first QB-coach combo in league history to go to five Super Bowls together, Belichick softened a bit.
"Anything that's associated with winning, I'm proud of," he said. "I mean, I'm proud -- there's no quarterback I'd rather have than Tom Brady. He's the best. He does so much for us in so many ways on so many different levels. I'm really fortunate that he's our quarterback and for what he's able to do for this team. It's good to win with him and all the rest of our players."
Brady, who grew up rooting for Montana and the 49ers during their run of Super Bowl success, admitted he still marvels at getting back to the big game.
"It's incredible," he said. "You watch this game I was a 49ers fan [growing up], so I got to watch a lot of Super Bowls. You pinch yourself to get this opportunity. I'm privileged to be part of an incredible organization [and] to play with a great group of teammates. It's really a privilege to play quarterback on this team."
Brady might have told the world he sucked, but he had a special message for owner Robert Kraft as the two chatted on the field after Sunday's win.
"He said to me, 'I promise you, I'm going to play a lot better in two weeks,'" Kraft relayed. "He's still pretty good in my book. I'll take him over any quarterback. I've been watching the NFL for a long time and there's no quarterback I'd rather have.
"He might say he sucked, but we won the game."
And, truth be told, if he sucks again on Feb. 5, the Patriots will be just fine with that if they win that game, too.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.