FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You knew it, right?
You knew as soon as the New England Patriots defense stepped up for the umpteenth time and forced a Dallas Cowboys punt, as soon as Tom Brady trotted onto the field with 2:31 remaining, his team down three points and 80 yards to go. You knew the Patriots were going to win.
Forget that they had turned the ball over four times. Forget that Brady looked remarkably average for much of the game.
This was his time. This is his time.
He may say, as he did after hitting Aaron Hernandez with an 8-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to rally the Patriots past the Cowboys 20-16 at Gillette Stadium, that, “I’d prefer to be up four touchdowns with two minutes left.”
But this is who Tom Brady is.
Sunday’s comeback was the 32nd time in Brady’s career that he has led the Patriots to a win from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.
So you can understand why no one was panicking on the Patriots sideline in the final minute.
“I knew we were going to score, whether it was a field goal or a touchdown, I knew we were going to get some points,” said cornerback Kyle Arrington. “I was hoping that it would be seven so we could go out there and stop them with however many seconds were left and then get out of here and enjoy the bye.”
Matt Light, the Patriots’ left tackle, has been protecting Brady’s blind side ever since Brady became the starter in 2001. Light said today’s performance was nothing unusual.
“Look, I mean, he’s done a fairly good job in his 10, 11 years, right?” said Light.
So here’s how it broke down.
On first down from the 20, Brady threw 16 yards to Hernandez. In the no-huddle offense, he then threw 11 to Rob Gronkowski.
First down from the Patriots’ 47, he completes a 5-yard pass to Wes Welker, taking us into the two-minute warning. Then he throws again to Welker on the right sideline for 10.
From the Cowboys’ 38, he finds running back Danny Woodhead in the right flat for nine. After an incompletion, Brady keeps the ball for a 2-yard gain and a first down at the Cowboys’ 27.
Woodhead then is somehow wide open down the middle and Brady finds him for 13. He passes six yards to Welker on a slant from the left. Then Bill Belichick runs down the clock and calls a timeout with 27 seconds left.
Second-and-4 from the 8, Brady goes through his reads, finds the Cowboys double-teamming Welker and Deion Branch and rolling coverage to Gronkowski. He looks up, sees Hernandez has inside position on his man and throws a tight pass to the back of the end zone.
Hernandez catches it.
Asked why he is able to complete eight-of-nine passes for 78 yards to win the game, as opposed to New England’s previous drive, which was a three-and-out, Brady said the difference is that “your margin of error is very, very small at that point. You can’t not get the ball into the end zone.
“The plays — throws need to be more accurate, the routes need to be better, the protection needs to be better. It’s something we work on quite a bit. We prepare hard for that situation every week.”
The Cowboys knew what to expect in those final minutes.
“That’s why he’s won three Super Bowls,” said linebacker Keith Brooking. “Obviously, when it comes to crunch time, he is at his best.”
And maybe the Cowboys are kicking themselves a little, simply for giving Brady the ball back. Dallas got the ball with 3:36 remaining, leading 16-13, and ran three running plays. Linebacker Brandon Spikes blitzed on first down to blow up that play, setting the Cowboys back on their heels.
“Whenever you get the ball into the hands of a player like Brady at home, you’ve got problems,” said Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys. “We are up here on their field and we knew what the odds were, so we flipped a coin and it came up against us.”
For the Patriots, it was simply a great ending to a lackluster game, a comeback once again led by Brady.
“You keep playing and battling and fighting until the clock shows 0:00,” said Brady. “That’s what we did today.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: