FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady set another record and thinks he deserves one more award.
The dimple-chinned quarterback with the winning smile took the snap – after faking as if the ball had gone directly to running back Kevin Faulk – and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass in the New England Patriots’ 31-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night.
It was just one of his 26 completions in 28 attempts, an NFL record 92.9 per cent for regular-season and playoff games.
“I’m looking for my Academy Award on that play,” said Brady, already named the MVP and offensive player of the year. “They bit on the run pretty good.”
Brady caught the snap, jumped with his empty right hand raised high, then shifted the ball from his left hand and threw a six-yard scoring pass to Wes Welker that gave the Patriots a 21-14 lead six minutes into the third quarter.
By the time it was over, they had advanced to the AFC championship game for the second straight year and remained perfect at 17-0, matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team to go unbeaten from the first game of the season through the Super Bowl.
The old NFL accuracy record was 91.3 per cent (21-of-23) set by Vinny Testaverde with Cleveland in 1993. The old playoff record was 88 per cent set by Phil Simms in the Super Bowl after the 1986 season. Simms watched Brady best his mark from the broadcast booth.
Add that to Brady’s record of 50 touchdown passes, one more than Peyton Manning threw in 2004, and it’s been a spectacular season for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Then, forget about it.
“The thing about it now is that none of it matters.” Brady said. “For 17 games, it all comes down to this and we were here last year. I hope we perform better.”
Last season, the Patriots lost to Indianapolis in the AFC title game, 38-34, after squandering an 18-point lead. They could meet again; New England will be host next Sunday at Gillette Stadium to the winner of Sunday’s game between San Diego and Indianapolis.
The Patriots beat both this season and coach Bill Belichick said he has no preference.
“We don’t have any control over it,” he said.
It seemed the Jaguars (12-6) had that same problem when it came to stopping Brady, who had just two completions longer than 14 yards.
“It was a dump-down game,” Jaguars rookie safety Reggie Nelson sniffed. “Anybody can go 26-of-28 in a dump-down game.”
Nobody ever has, and Brady did it mostly without Randy Moss, who had only one catch against double-and triple-coverage.
“They went back to the old way of covering me,” Moss said. “We win as a team. I’ve never been a greedy guy. I’m not going to start now.”
Brady hit all the other receivers – throwing for three touchdowns and 262 yards.
“When they’re open like that, it’s my job to hit them,” he said. “They were open every time, so it’s easy to play quarterback.”
And he was sacked just once, on the Patriots’ first offensive play.
“You can’t have a guy like Brady sitting back with time – five, six seconds – to find a receiver because, believe me, he’s going to find a receiver,” Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer said.
While Jacksonville’s defence struggled to stop Brady and crew, New England’s defence had no such problems against the Jaguars’ one-two rushing punch of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The league’s second-most productive duo during the regular season combined for just 66 yards.
It was the Patriots who dominated on the ground as Laurence Maroney rushed for 122 yards, including a one-yard touchdown.
Jacksonville became just another team that couldn’t stop the Patriots, and they’re not done yet.
“Brady’s been great all year,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s as good as they come.”
Brady completed his first 16 passes before the next one went off the hands of Benjamin Watson, who caught two others for touchdowns.
“You always think you should catch anything,” Watson said. “Hey, my bad.”
The next nine passes found their targets before one went right through Welker’s hands with 6:46 left in the game.
One throw the Patriots didn’t make may have helped the Jaguars take a 7-0 lead. David Garrard completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Matt Jones on their first possession. He threw as he was going down while in the grasp of Mike Vrabel, and his knee might have touched the turf before he released the pass.
Belichick pulled the red challenge flag from his sock, but held on to it.
“It was just too late by the time we got a look at it,” he said.
Brady tied it on the Patriots’ first possession with a three-yard scoring pass to Watson.
New England capitalized on Garrard’s fumble on Jacksonville’s second possession when he was hit by Ty Warren and Vrabel recovered at the Jaguars 29. On the first play of the second quarter, Maroney ran in from the 1.
But Garrard, in just his second playoff game, kept matching the success of Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“They’re explosive and they’re efficient,” Garrard said. “We felt we could fight fire with fire.”
Garrard directed a 95-yard drive after Jones-Drew misplayed the kickoff and recovered at his own 5. With an excellent blend of passing and running, the Jaguars covered those 95 yards in 11 plays – never even reaching a third down – and tied it on Garrard’s six-yard pass to Ernest Wilford.
The Patriots then moved to the Jaguars 19, but a chop block against guard Stephen Neal set them back 15 yards and Stephen Gostkowski ended up missing a 35-yard field goal, leaving the score tied at 14 at halftime.
Then the Patriots went ahead on Brady’s acting job and the Jaguars couldn’t come back they way they did a week earlier when they beat Pittsburgh 31-29 on Josh Scobee’s 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds left.
One of their last chances ended when Rodney Harrison intercepted Garrard’s pass with 4:34 left. That gave Harrison four interceptions in his last four playoff games, tying Aenaes Williams’ record for the NFL’s longest playoff streak.
“Rodney’s interception at the end sealed it,” Brady said. “We really needed that play.”
Notes: Gostkowski was 8-for-8 before missing his first field-goal attempt in his four playoff games. … Welker, who tied for the NFL lead with 112 receptions, added a game-high nine for 54 yards. … The Jaguars’ streak of 11 games scoring at least 24 points ended.