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Dynamic duo sets the pace

Cool, calm, collected Brady got the job done

PITTSBURGH -- His coach would have been proud. In the aftermath of last night's 41-27 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field that had the Patriots packing for yet another Super Bowl appearance, Tom Brady didn't talk about his two touchdown passes, his 14 completions, or his interception-free game.

No, sir. He talked openly of a "stupid read" he made on a third-down play and of some bad passes he made, even to the point where he singled out a pass that went out of bounds when it should have been completed.

If Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the ultimate keep-it-close-to-the-vest guy, it's no wonder he puts his faith in a quarterback who does likewise.

How nonchalant is Brady about his amazing run of success, a stretch that has seen him quarterback the Patriots to three AFC Championships in four years? Consider how he handled a question about running his playoff record to 8-0. Brady -- bearded and freshly showered, his hair wet and ruffled as he looked very much like a guy who could keep company with Brad Pitt any time, anywhere -- merely shrugged.

"There are a bunch of guys in this locker room who are 8-0," said Brady. "I'm included, and quite proud of the fact that we're going back to the Super Bowl for a second year in a row."

And for a third time in four years, he could have added, but does it matter? To Brady, it seemingly doesn't, because one by one the questions focused on a historical reference line that is quite remarkable, yet hardly of interest to a man taken with the 199th pick in the draft.

Brady's winning streak in these playoff games is better than a trio of fairly impressive names -- John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Joe Montana, all of whom won seven straight. Only a guy named Bart Starr can boast a better streak and Brady could match that in two weeks if the Patriots beat Philadelphia.

Starr, Elway, Aikman, and Montana are all Hall of Famers, either in residence or waiting, so Brady is surely being mentioned in illustrious company these days. It's just that he doesn't seem to care.

"Tom, to me, is the same guy every day, every play," said Belichick, asked to explain just what it is about No. 12 that defies logic. "There's no quarterback I'd rather have."

Brady once again showed why his coach has such great faith in him, providing a near-flawless effort. "I just don't think the magnitude of the crowd bothers him," said Belichick.

Consider his second pass of the game, a 60-yard strike to Deion Branch that could not have been any more perfect. The longest scoring play against the Steelers this year, it was also New England's longest scoring play of the season and Brady smiled that coverboy smile when asked about the play that made it 10-0.

"It was huge," he said. "The game couldn't have started any better. It was a complete 180-degree turnaround from two months ago, the Halloween game [when Pittsburgh beat the Patriots, 34-20]."

In that game, Brady was intercepted twice, sacked four times, fumbled once, and had a rating of 72.9. As much as he's deflected so much credit since he arrived on the scene, Brady accepted much of the blame that day and he knew he had to have a game far different this time around at Heinz Field.

"If we get out and play our game, our style [we're fine]," said Brady. "We don't need people to tell us that."

Brady did what he needed to do -- he didn't turn the ball over, didn't force the ball into double- and triple-coverage, didn't ever hit the panic button. Not even when the Patriots, in possession of a 24-3 lead and a desire to put away the Steelers, went three-and-out to start the second half. And not even when the Steelers moved 56 yards in five plays to make the score 24-10.

It was 11 degrees and the winds whipping off the three rivers that are at the heart of this city made it feel like 111 below, but Brady didn't notice.

"The heat," he said, "was always on."

That had to be news to the 65,242 spectators who by now were disguised as popsicles, but Brady was speaking to the pressure of the situation. His Patriots were somewhat back on their heels and the Steelers were suddenly playing like a bunch of guys who remembered that they had won 16 of 17 games.

Pressure? Yes. But no sense of urgency. "We never take things for granted," said Brady. Instead, he and his mates on offense knew what had to be done and so they did what they had to do. They put together a seven-play, 69-yard drive that was capped by Corey Dillon's 25-yard touchdown run.

No one had scored more than 30 points against the Steelers this season, but now the Patriots had 31. After Pittsburgh had cut the lead to 31-20, the Patriots put together a 10-play, 49-yard drive that was vintage Brady -- short, on-target passes to Troy Brown, then Branch, then David Givens, then Givens again. Hardly will film of the drive be enshrined for future generations to study, but it was a possession of 5:26 that resulted in an Adam Vinatieri 31-yard field goal, a 34-20 lead, and for all intents and purposes, it was over.

For Pittsburgh, not New England.

That's because Brady's numbers (14 of 21, 207 yards, 2 touchdowns, a 130.5 rating), though modest in stature, were immense and a big reason the Patriots will play for yet another championship. A week ago, the focus had been on Indianapolis's record-setting quarterback, Peyton Manning, and this week the buzz had been about Pittsburgh's rookie-sensation quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. By the time Super Bowl XXXIX rolls around, much will have been written about Philadelphia's respected quarterback, Donovan McNabb, but Brady is hardly losing any sleep about it.

"I definitely am not feeling slighted," he said. 

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