Brady proves mettle in biggest game

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The only thing spectacular about Tom Brady is his success.

The sore-ankled former fourth-stringer completed an improbable season for himself and the Patriots on Sunday, guiding New England to its first NFL title with a 20-17 victory over the Rams in the Super Bowl.

Brady, selected the game's Most Valuable Player after going 16-of-27 for 145 yards, led New England to the Rams 30 to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning 48-yard field goal with no time left.

He also hit David Patten with an 8-yard touchdown pass that made it 14-3 with 36 seconds left in the first half.

But mostly what the 24-year-old former backup to Drew Bledsoe did was steer the offense with a steady hand and convert the opportunities handed him by the defense and special teams.

Brady took over the starting job when Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 and won it outright when the $103-million, three-time Pro Bowl selection was ready to return. Brady led the Patriots to an 11-5 regular-season record, then keyed a 16-13 overtime win over the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.

But in the AFC championship game, Brady twisted his left ankle and had to leave. Bledsoe got credit for the 24-17 win that put the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but when the time came to pick his starter, coach Bill Belichick went back to Brady.

Bledsoe took the decision with grace. He helped his understudy in meetings, at practice and on the sidelines, and was there hugging Brady during the Patriots' celebration after they beat the odds and the ``Greatest Show on Turf'' at the Superdome.

Brady had trouble holding onto the starting job at Michigan _ one reason he wasn't picked until the sixth round in the 1999 draft. But Belichick saw enough in him to keep him on the roster for all of last year as a rare fourth quarterback.

This summer, Brady started training camp as the No. 4 quarterback before being promoted to Bledsoe's primary backup. When Bledsoe was hurt Sept. 23 _ an injury that would keep him off the field for seven games _ Brady came on in relief and sparked New England's turnaround.

The Patriots, who went 5-11 last year and lost their first two games this year, were 5-4 when Bledsoe was ready to return. Belichick made a half-hearted attempt to let the two quarterbacks compete for the job, but after a loss to the Rams on Nov. 18, he decided he couldn't do that and adequately prepare for the week's opponent.

The job became Brady's for the rest of the season, and he led the Patriots to one of the most stunning wins in Super Bowl history.