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Brady again manages to win

FOXBOROUGH -- Larry Centers has been around the National Football League for a decade and a half, which qualifies him as a registered football savant.


So you might want to file away his answer to the simple question, "During your time in the league, does Tom Brady remind you of anyone you've either seen or played with?"

"Right now, after we've won, 31-0," replied the Patriots fullback, "I'd have to say Joe Montana. Tom Brady is a winner. He is the best field manager I've ever seen. He plays within the scheme. He does not try to be bigger than the team."

Heresy? Let every individual be the judge. Quarterbacks are somewhat easily categorized, but has there ever been a doubt that Brady is the latest offshoot of the Bart Starr/Joe Montana School of Sheer Efficiency, as opposed to the Norm Van Brocklin/Sonny Jurgensen/Terry Bradshaw/Dan Fouts/Peyton Manning school of Golden Arm Strength or the Fran Tarkenton School of Improvisation, or the Brett Favre/Steve McNair School of Swashbuckling Grit? And, yes, Brady is still but a pup out of that Starr/Montana litter. He hasn't won five championships (three NFL titles and two Super Bowls, as Starr did), or been the star of four Super Bowls, as Montana was (all without throwing an interception). He's just got the one Super Bowl on his resume, although surely he rates some extra credit for doing it as a de facto rookie. But in the way he goes about his business, combined with his ever-rising efficiency rate, Brady is demonstrating that when you talk about contemporary quarterbacks and their capacity to find ways to win, he is as good as anyone you can name, including the many who put up far gaudier stats, week in and week out.

Brady knows all about the stats. But he is very comfortable pointing to the most important stat, that being the one on the left side of the win-loss column. The Patriots have finished the regular season at 14-2, and Brady has been the starting quarterback in every one of them.

He's usually the finishing quarterback, too, although that was not the case yesterday at Gillette Stadium, when Bill Belichick pulled his QB in the middle of a series with fewer than seven minutes to play and his team in firm control of the game by that 31-0 score. Turns out the coach actually does have a tiny showman hidden deep inside that granite-like constitution.

"I think he deserved to be recognized by everyone for what he did," Belichick said, "not only today, but for the entire year. He had a tremendous year; he really did."

Brady capped off that year with four first-half touchdown passes in a game we really have no choice but to label the Payback Bowl. Who among us was unaware that when the Patriots traveled to Buffalo Sept. 7 for the season opener, that the Bills had manhandled them by -- is this coincidence, or what? -- a score of 31-0? There really was no need for Belichick to go into his Rockne mode, whatever that might be (Actually, I'd pay pretty good money to hear that speech). "I don't think anybody was particularly proud of that opening game," Belichick said.

"Obviously, there was a rivalry," said Brady. "You get beat, 31-0, that means they really started the season the way they wanted to. Fifteen weeks later, this proves we are a different team. This was one of our best games of the season, and it was a good time to do it. We all knew about the first week, and we didn't have to dig deep to find those emotions."

The Patriots will be entering the playoffs as a significantly improved team, even compared to what they were as recently as four weeks ago. For most of the season, the victory formula was for the defense (mostly) and special teams (occasionally) to dominate a game while the offense would do just enough to earn its keep. This usually meant Brady would make just enough key plays to win the game.

Now it's starting to look as if the Patriots have an offense the defense can be proud to associate with. For a big chunk of the season, the offense practically depended on the defense to shorten the field with turnovers. In the first 13 games of the season the Patriots had failed to score on their opening possession. But they scored on a nine-play, 62-yard drive to start yesterday's game, and that makes three opening drive scores in three weeks, which is a true nightmare for opponents. Playing from behind is not the way to beat these Patriots, not with this defense.

"That's huge for us," said tight end Christian Fauria. "That put them right where we wanted them, making them a one-dimensional team, slinging the ball around."

Brady continues to make people understand why Belichick handed over the keys to the car two years ago. His decision-making and execution yesterday were spectacular. He threw for those four TDs (raising his season's total to 23), and he had no interceptions. For what it's worth, his quarterback rating was 122.9, as opposed to poor Drew Bledsoe's woeful 34.7. But his teammates don't need the stat sheet to know they're in good hands.

"The more games you play, the more experience you get, the better off you are," said guard Damien Woody. "We all know that. But Tom has always had great leadership qualities. He has always commanded your attention. I have never seen a situation where he was flustered. That's why we always believe in him."

"The numbers mean nothing to me," said Fauria. "I'd rather have the worst-rated passer in the league if he knows how to win the game. Tom just makes you feel good that he's in there. If he says something, you just go with it."

"He has just a great huddle presence," added Centers.

It's a good thing the others will talk about him because Brady won't help you very much.

"When you're 14-2, you look real good as a quarterback," he said, "and when you're 6-10, you don't look so good. But it's a team game. I'm not the reason we won. But I'm happy I had a role."

He may not be the reason they won the 14. But everyone drawing a paycheck from the Patriots also knows he's a very large part of the reason they only lost the 2. I think Joe Montana would agree.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

last game
Last game / Dec. 27 vs. Bills
 Box score         Game log
Sidelights to the game
afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 14 2 0 .875 348 238
Dolphins 9 6 0 .600 288 240
Bills 6 9 0 .400 243 248
Jets 6 10 0 .375 243 279
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