NEW ORLEANS -- "I was laying in the locker room before the game, and I fell asleep," Brady said after the Patriots' stunning 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams. "I woke up and said to myself, 'I didn't think I'd feel this good.' I don't know how to explain it. You just convince yourself that it's just a game. It's just another game -- even though everything leading up to it tells you how big it is."
After playing virtually error-free football for almost three quarters, the Patriots called on Brady to win the game in the final minutes of a 17-17 tie rather than conservatively killing the clock and flipping the coin in overtime.
"That wasn't even on my mind," Brady said. "I was planning to go out there and win the game."
With the Patriots having just 1 minute and 21 seconds and setting up on their 17-yard line, coach Bill Belichick could have had his emotional alter ego take a couple of knees, but he remembered Brady's young legacy of late-game theatrics, including a game-tying drive that led to an overtime win over Oakland in the divisional round.
"Tom's done it several times for us under pressure," Belichick said.
Brady completed 5 of 6 passes on the 53-yard drive, including three to J.R. Redmond. The key strike of the drive was "Max 64 All In," designed for New England's offensive line to provide maximum protection while Brady waits for receiver Troy Brown to free himself underneath. The Patriots' line played it to the max, and Brown made the catch, going out of bounds after a 23-yard gain to the Rams' 36 with 21 seconds remaining.
"We checked down a couple times then went to Troy," Brady said. "He made a great play, like he's been doing all year."
Brady next found Jermaine Wiggins for a 6-yard gain to the Rams' 30, from where Adam Vinatieri won the game with a 48-yard field goal.
"The routes made the difference, but Brady made the throws," Rams linebacker London Fletcher said looking back on the drive. "There are certain routes that can beat certain coverages ... He made the right decisions."
If the Rams' defense was surprised by Brady's late heroics, the guys running the routes knew he would be on the ball in getting it into their hands.
"You can't say enough about that kid. He has a tremendous amount of confidence; he has led this team," wide receiver David Patten said. "Maybe he doesn't have the most impressive statistics, but it doesn't matter. The kid knows how to win; he knows how to motivate other players. My hat is off to the guy."
The final game-winning drive proved a fitting climax to a season in which Brady ascended to the Patriots' starting job just two seasons after being drafted in the sixth round, the 199th pick of 2000. He finished a Pro Bowl season by completing 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, numbers not normally associated with Super Bowl MVPs, but indicative of Brady's abstract value and thinking.
"Don't let other people tell you what you're capable of," Brady said. "As long as you believe in yourself and work hard to achieve whatever you set your mind to, you just keep plugging away. It may not be up to your timetable, but you can get it done."
Brady, who suffered a sprained left ankle in the AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh, came to New Orleans not sure he would start in Super Bowl XXXVI. He'll leave with a Cadillac Escalade as the game's MVP.
"I think our whole team is MVP," Brady said. "We have an MVT -- a Most Valuable Team."