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No flash in the plan

Style points don't interest two-time Super Bowl MVP Brady -- he'll just keep winning his way

Remember this amazing run of Patriots prominence. In decades to come, those who rewrite sports history are bound to tell the story with such poetic license that the record will have to be set straight.

When Tom Brady's feats are summed up for posterity, allow for some creative prose and overstatement. But remind those who will listen that above all, the star quarterback had a knack for winning -- not for heroics, not for drama, not for thrills.

Some may point to Brady's performance in Super Bowl XXXVI -- when he led a drive with 1:51 left that set up kicker Adam Vinatieri's winning 48-yard field goal -- or last season's 82-yard pass to Troy Brown in overtime to defeat Miami. Works of art? Testaments of courage? No, more like the right plays with the right precision at the right time.

The great thing about Brady is you can't easily categorize or stereotype him. He's neither blue-collar nor flashy, demonstrative nor unassuming. He's not fast. He's not slow. For many of the wins in which he led the Patriots, what you remember most is that the Patriots won.

He has great physical, emotional, and mental aptitude, a command for his craft and unquenchable confidence. But Brady never will be confused with Sonny Jurgensen or Sonny Liston, Bert Jones or Smarty Jones.

He simply does his job better than most QBs.

Brady is success in its purest form. He does whatever it takes for the Patriots to win, and perhaps someday his exploits may lead some to rethink how quarterbacks are judged. Critics may say Dan Marino had a better release, Fran Tarkenton was better on the run, Roger Staubach threw a tighter spiral.

But Brady has the most completions in a Super Bowl game (32 in Super Bowl XXXVIII) and of the five Super Bowl quarterbacks who completed at least 28 passes (Jim Kelly in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVI, Marino in Super Bowl XIX, Neil O'Donnell in Super Bowl XXX, and Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXVI), only Brady led his team to victory.

What's more:

* Brady is the first quarterback in NFL history to start and win two Super Bowls before his 27th birthday. He led the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI when he was 24 and to a win in Super Bowl XXXVIII when he was 26.

* Brady enters this season as the NFL's all-time leader in overtime wins without a defeat (7-0). Terry Bradshaw is the only other quarterback to go undefeated in at least five overtime games (5-0).

* Brady has led the Patriots to victory in 34 of 46 regular- season starts for a .739 winning percentage -- the best record among any quarterback in the NFL with at least 25 starts.

* Brady threw the first 162 passes of his career without an interception. It was the longest streak to start a career in NFL history and ranks as the third-most attempts without an interception in Patriots history.

The more many liken success to superhuman athleticism, the more you see success stories such as Brady's -- those who embody commitment, enthusiasm, and desire.

"Over the course of the year, you develop some things you're really good at and then you go to those things more often," said Brady. "Then, the things you're not so good at, you decide, `These things aren't working this year.' Some teams may scheme you up differently and take away some things that are not working well, and you try different things.

"If those don't work, you try other things, and when those work, you try to get better at those. I think I've gained tons of valuable experience that you can only get by playing. There are certain situations you're in and you learn to adjust mentally and physically.

"You get these two-minute drills, where you don't think you make the best decisions, and sometimes throwing the ball away in certain situations. All the decisions you make in critical times you put them away in your memory bank. And boy, if it ever comes up again, you know how to react."

Qualities embodied
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who made Brady a starter during the 2001 season, said that when you're listing the attributes of a successful NFL quarterback, you must begin with production. "The second thing is accuracy," he said. "The third thing would be a combination of intelligence, game management, and decision-making.

"It could be separated, but it all kind of comes back to the same thing, the game from the neck up. You can be good in two of those areas, and not good in the third, and you're not going to have much. At some point, for a good NFL quarterback, those are going to have to be above average for the guy to be successful."

The coach said he has seen vast improvement in those areas from Brady since the latter came to New England in 2000. "I think Tom's throwing mechanics have improved significantly since 2000 . . . they have continued to improve even from the 2001 season," Belichick said.

Indeed, Brady is entering just his fourth season as a starter, but he is the Patriots' all-time leader in passing percentage (61.9 percent) and passer rating (85.9). Already he has orchestrated 15 winning drives to break the tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Four of those came in postseason -- though he has just six postseason appearances.

"I think he has good accuracy, and a lot of that good accuracy is combined with good decision-making, where if you throw the ball to a more open space, there is more margin of error than if you throw the ball into a tight space," Belichick added. "I think his accuracy has improved. I think it was OK as a rookie."

Brady said that at the end of each year he evaluates his progress.

"Each year in the league, I think guys tend to feel that they've experienced more and they're able to handle more things," he said. "It almost feels more second nature now than it ever did before. You put the pads on and the helmet on and you're like, `Oh, this feels kind of normal,' whereas in the first year in the league, you're getting used to the routine, getting used to the game planning, the way plays are called, the way plays are changed, the styles of practicing, everything.

"Now, there is more of a sense of me knowing what to expect, and I think with that you have higher expectations of yourself, and the things you try to take on that continue to challenge yourself, and that's what keeps you mentally stimulated."

Winning traits
Dan Doyle, founder and executive director of the Institute of International Sport, said there are similar characteristics in athletes and coaches in all sports who have a knack for winning.

"A winner has that Paul Silas, Bill Russell, Hondo [John] Havlicek ability to be ferociously competitive yet in full control, particularly at critical junctures of the game," Doyle said. "During competition, winners employ the sports psychology mantra of staying in the present, they don't worry about what just happened or what will happen.

"Winners have the important ability to put disappointment in the past quickly. We found that winners do not dwell on failure. Rather, they view failure as a setback and learn from it."

Doyle added Joe Montana and Bill Walsh were among many winners who spoke about the serenity of playing in the last 4-5 minutes. He said many view that time in the game as their "reward" for the work they've put in to reach a competitive level.

Brady said he's never given his accomplishments much consideration. "I think [winners are] competitive, and I think competitors don't mind any situation they're in," he said. "I'd much rather be up by 50 points at the end of the game and kneel on the ball, to tell the truth.

"It's not something I'm conscious of. I just go out and play like I'm capable. I just try to rally the troops."

Brady said that in the three short seasons he's been the starter, he's learned to gauge his temperament. Behind the scenes, he's constantly working to get himself "geeked up" for a game. "There are certain ways you know how to prepare," said Brady. "I remember last year going into the regular season, I wasn't feeling great. And I thought I was, but evaluating, looking back on last year, I just wish I had been in a better place.

"This year, I'm trying to geek myself up for that opening game, which means everything I'm doing now is preparation for that."

The Patriots were far from sharp in the exhibition season, and Brady has said the team should not necessarily be expected to open up with Super Bowl effectiveness.

"It's a new team, it's new challenges, and everything changes," said Brady. "As much as you would like to continue on from year to year, it doesn't happen. I remember that practice before the Super Bowl and we were practicing so good, we were so crisp, we were so sharp. The receivers were doing a great job, the line was communicating great.

"Everyone knew what to expect. We went into the game and had a great game. Then you want to come out there and pick up where you left off, but it's all different. The scheme is different. The players are different. And if there's one or two new guys in there, there are a lot of things that are adjusted." 

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