HOUSTON (Feb. 1, 2004) -- Two late, winning Super Bowl drives in three seasons. Two Super Bowl MVP awards in three seasons.
Can there be any doubt now that Tom Brady is one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history?
I don't think so.
Great quarterbacks give their best performances in the biggest games, and that was exactly what Brady did. Twice. In Super Bowl XXXVI, he marched the Patriots to the winning points against the St. Louis Rams. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, he marched the Patriots to the winning points against the Carolina Panthers.
Think about how incredible that is. It's the sort of stuff that has elevated players to Pro Football Hall of Fame status. And the kid is only 26 years old.
Yet, once again, Brady was so cool and so poised beyond his years. He was everything a top-notch, championship-level quarterback needs to be.
You could base that opinion on Brady's numbers alone: 32 completions in 48 attempts for 354 yards and three touchdowns. The 32 completions broke a Super Bowl record that Jim Kelly had set at 31 in Super Bowl XXVIII against Dallas.
But Brady's excellence went well beyond numbers. For the second time in three Super Bowls, he came through in the most pressure-filled of situations one can face in football -- or in any sport for that matter.
For one thing, he did not lose his cool after suffering an interception in the end zone that allowed the Panthers to make a stunning, 90-yard scoring march that gave them their first lead of the game -- 22-21 -- with 6:53 left in the fourth quarter.
For another, when the Patriots got a huge break when John Kasay sent a kickoff out of bounds that started them on their 40 with 1:08 remaining, he just tossed completion after completion against one of the NFL's best defenses. The 37-yard drive put them in position to score their 15th consecutive victory, which Adam Vinatieri delivered with his winning 41-yard field goal.
"Who would you rather have running a two-minute drive than Tom Brady?" Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "I'll take him 10 times out of 10 times."
Brady took some big hits, but never went down, giving the Patriots zero sacks for the postseason. He threw touchdowns to a pair of wide receivers, Deion Branch and David Givens, and to linebacker Mike Vrabel. He played like a champion and celebrated like a champion, giving credit, as usual, to everyone but himself.
"To win this, the way we did it, is just incredible," Brady said. "Just a great, all-around game."
But Brady deserves all of the credit he can get. He can be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the all-time greats, including his boyhood idol, Joe Montana.
And give credit to Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who also passed for 300 yards. In fact, it was only the second time in Super Bowl history both quarterbacks amassed 300 yards. The first time was Montana and Dan Marino in Super Bowl XIX.
Conventional wisdom suggested this game would be dominated by defense, and in the beginning it was. When the Patriots scored the game's first touchdown, with 3:05 left in the second quarter, it marked the latest first score in Super Bowl history.
After the first quarter, Delhomme had completed 1 of 6 passes for 1 yard. After five series, the Panthers had zero net yards of total offense. After the game's first 20 plays, the Panthers had minus-7 yards in total offense.
But just when it seemed as if the Patriots had built an impenetrable wall in front of Carolina, Delhomme got hot. The Patriots ended up allowing three offensive touchdowns of 33 or more yards, including an 85-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad that was the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
Then Brady got a little hotter. And with the Super Bowl on the line for the second time in three years, he gave the Patriots the clutch work they needed.
"Tom's going to be mentioned with the better quarterbacks playing now and in the past," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "You can't deny his production. He's a winner. He does what he needs to do to help the team win, and he does it as well as anybody."