- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

PITTSBURGH — Late Sunday night, after Tom Brady dazzled in yet another postseason game, New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson let out a sigh in the Heinz Field locker room and reflected on what he has witnessed over the past few years.

“He’s fun to watch, isn’t he?” Johnson said of the player bidding to become the best playoff quarterback of all time. “He’s a playmaker. It’s just like he expects it. There’s not a cockiness. There’s a calmness and a poise. Any situation you’re in, he gets you out. For his age, it’s just uncanny.”

Never in NFL history has a passer opened his career with more consecutive postseason wins (eight), and only the Green Bay Packers’ Bart Starr ever won more in a row (nine) than the Patriots’ 27-year-old star.

As New England shoots for dynasty status in the form of a third Super Bowl championship in four years, made possible by Sunday’s 41-27 AFC Championship game win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brady is continuing to defy expectations — not to mention the law of averages — by maintaining his amazing postseason run.

“Tom is one of those guys who has ice water going through his veins at all times,” wide receiver David Givens said. “He knows how to perform under pressure. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Brady’s record in big games is at the crux of New England (16-2) being favored by a touchdown over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. While the Eagles will spend the next two weeks trying to make sense of the hype after finally advancing past the NFC Championship game, Brady knows he can handle this stage.

What doubt could be left after Sunday’s huge performance? Brady hit wide receiver Deion Branch for 60- and 45-yard gains in the first half, helping the Patriots effectively bury the top-seeded Steelers before halftime. Brady finished with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.5 rating.

But don’t ask the former sixth-round pick to break down his success. Several times Sunday night Brady was asked about his postseason acumen, and repeatedly he deflected attention back to teammates.

“I think a lot of it is, it’s not about me and what I’m accomplishing,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of guys who have a hand in this. I have been a part of teams that had some great defenses. We have a bunch of guys who play really well in pressurized situations, a lot of clutch players. … I don’t think we ever let down our guard.”

The natural, and increasingly justified, comparison to Brady is that of Joe Montana, who led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1980s (his final title came on Jan.28, 1990). Known as “Joe Cool” for his performance in big games and fourth-quarter comebacks, Montana won three Super Bowl MVPs.

Six months shy of his 28th birthday, Brady already has a pair of those trophies. And given that Montana was 28 when he won his second MVP and 33 for his third, Brady has a fighting chance on Feb.6 to extend his lead on Montana’s pace.

But it isn’t big-game performance per se that seems to impress Patriots coach Bill Belichick so much. Instead, it’s the fact Brady is no different when the turf is frozen solid and the snow is swirling in January than he is for a midseason tussle with the Bills.

“Tom, to me, is kind of the same guy every day and every game,” Belichick said. “Not every play is perfect, but most of them are pretty good, and he’s very well prepared. … I don’t think the magnitude of the game or the crowd noise or the situation bothers him. He’s able to focus on what he has to do and usually does a pretty good job on it.”

Summed up Belichick: “There’s no quarterback I would rather have.”

Brady’s track record bears out that compliment. Already he has led 16 game-winning drives to break a tie or overcome a deficit in the fourth quarter or overtime, including in both Super Bowls. And he owns — by a long shot — the best career record of any quarterback with 40 or more starts in the Super Bowl era (since 1966), his .766 clip well ahead of No.2 Roger Staubach’s .746.

Somehow, though, each regular season Brady gets overshadowed. His numbers, while solid (ratings of between 85.7 and 92.6 in four seasons as a starter), simply don’t captivate the way Peyton Manning’s or Daunte Culpepper’s do.

Instead, all Brady does is go out when it’s 11 degrees, as it was Sunday night, when the pressure’s highest, as it was Sunday night, and win. And as the days before Super Bowl XXXIX tick away, that’s enough.

“I don’t know what else the guy has to do to get respect,” fullback Patrick Pass said. “He should maybe buy a team somewhere down the line. He’s a great quarterback. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world.”

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