Patriots first team ever to 18-0

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Even when he shows he's human, and not otherworldly, Tom Brady still found a way to his fourth Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots quarterback and 2007 NFL Most Valuable Player struggled at critical times, stunning many of the 68,756 in attendance Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

But Brady's two touchdown passes following a first-quarter touchdown run by Laurence Maroney pushed his Patriots past the San Diego Chargers, 21-12, in the AFC championship game.

Brady was coming off a performance in which he was 26-of-28 with three touchdown passes against Jacksonville in the divisional round, the most accurate performance in NFL playoff history.

On Sunday, he had his third incompletion on just his fifth attempt of the day in the first quarter.

"We were just trying everything," said Brady, who was battling 22 mile-per-hour gusts and wind chills of 9 degrees. "We were struggling a little bit early and I think we put the big guys on the field, tried to run the ball and got Laurence going a little bit."

Brady finished 22 of 33 for 209 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and an uncharacteristic 66.4 passer rating. But when he handed off to Maroney for a 1-yard plunge in the second quarter, the Patriots had a 7-3 lead - one they would not relinquish.

"You never know what to expect," Maroney said. "We come into the game and try to be balanced. Hopefully the pass works, if the pass doesn't work, hopefully the run works. I really didn't know what to expect in terms of carries. I just knew that whenever they called my name, I'd be ready."

Another sign this would not be Brady's best day came in the first quarter, when Quentin Jammer picked off his pass at the New England 40, leading to Nate Kaeding's 26-yard field goal and a 3-0 San Diego lead.

"I think the Chargers were more of a factor," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They are a good defensive football team. hey turned the ball over all year and they got a couple today, o give them credit. We got a couple, as well. The Chargers are good defensive football team."

Brady also threw am ill-advised pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Aaron Cromartie as the Patriots were driving leading by only 14-12 in the third quarter.

"I think we have really found ways to overcome some adversity in the season," Brady said. "We've had some games come down to two-minute drives. I don't think we played as well as we were capable. We couldn't just get drives going. It just felt like everything was a struggle today."

But Brady showed why he's considered the best clutch player in the game and one of the best of all time when he hit Kevin Faulk a pair of third-down passes to Kevin Faulk on the final drive to salt away the win.

"They are a very physical defense, and Kevin made some huge third down conversions," Brady said. "Laurence ran the ball extremely well. That's what we needed."

Even watching his quarterback have an off day in a big game, Belichick wasn't about to get on his star after a win that leaves the team one win from a Super Bowl title and an unprecedented 19-0 season.

"Well, I'm glad Tom's our quarterback," Belichick said. "I love Tom. He's a great player and he's been a great leader for us. He does so many things for our football team on and off the field and he's been a tremendous competitor, tremendous player."

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