New England quarterback can't avoid memory of playoff loss

Thursday, September 21st 2006, 8:42 am
By: News On 6

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ As hard as he might try, Tom Brady can't escape reminders of one of his most damaging plays and disappointing games.

Eight months ago, the two-time Super Bowl MVP's pass was picked off by Denver's Champ Bailey, who returned it 100 yards, a play that became an enduring image of New England's rare playoff failure.

``I've talked about that a bunch the last six months,'' Brady said Wednesday, brushing aside a question about how often he's replayed the game in his mind. ``So I'm looking forward to this week and see what we can accomplish.''

The venue has changed _ the Patriots are home Sunday night against the Broncos _ but the challenge is the same. If New England doesn't reduce the five turnovers it committed in the 27-13 loss last Jan. 14 that ended its 10-game playoff winning streak, Brady may have to deal with reminders of another loss to Denver.

There already have been plenty.

The teams have played five games against each other in the past five seasons and the Broncos have won four of them. Brady has completed more than 57 percent of his passes in just one of those games, while throwing eight touchdown passes with seven interceptions and seven sacks.

``They have some playmakers (defensively) and I think they're fast and aggressive and they play physical,'' Brady said. ``We've gotten behind them a bunch in these last bunch of games that we've lost to them.''

But the Patriots can be successful even when Brady's far from his best. They're 2-0 this season even though he's completed just 50 percent of his passes for an average of 191.5 yards per game with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The offense is led by a strong running game with Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney behind a solid line.

The Patriots lost starting wide receivers Deion Branch and David Givens to other teams. Four of the five players now at that position are in their first season with the team.

The passing attack improved in last Sunday's 24-17 win at the New York Jets, but Brady knows it takes time to develop the chemistry he enjoyed with Branch, a Patriot for four seasons before holding out and being traded to Seattle.

Now he has to get used to his new receivers.

``I'm only as good as they are and they're only as good as I am so we're in this together,'' he said. ``Is it frustrating? Sure, it's frustrating for everybody, coaches, players, fans.''

On Sunday, Brady will face a defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown in splitting its two games and a cornerback, Bailey, who leads the Broncos with 19 tackles.

At least the Patriots should be motivated by trying to avenge the loss that ended their hopes for a record third straight Super Bowl championship, right?

``Not at all,'' defensive end Richard Seymour said. ``We're looking to go 3-0 this week. That's our focus.''

Bailey even caused trouble for Brady before joining the Broncos. In 2003, he intercepted the Patriots quarterback in a 20-17 win by the Washington Redskins.

But Brady must concentrate on the entire defense, especially when all 11 members move up to the line of scrimmage on a blitz.

``There's a bunch of teams that are doing it now,'' he said. ``We really didn't think the Jets would be doing it, but they did and we handled it well in a few situations.

``I know that's part of Denver's package,'' Brady added. ``Whatever they throw at you, you've got to make sure you handle it because if they bring it and they get you, they're going to keep bringing it.''

The Broncos already have hurt the Patriots with that formation. It's the one they lined up in when the Patriots had the ball at the Denver 5-yard line, trailing just 10-6 in the third quarter of last season's playoff game.

Bailey then broke off to cover Troy Brown, intercepted the pass, and sped down the left sideline until tight end Benjamin Watson, coming at a sharp angle from Bailey's right, smacked him and knocked the ball out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

``I knew what they were doing'' before he threw, Brady said, facing another question about that play. ``I rolled to the right and I was trying to throw it over his head. I just didn't get enough on it and he made me pay.''