By PHIL RICHARDS
The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS -- This time Tom Brady had no need for the proverbial look at the film.
"I sucked," he said after throwing two interceptions and no touchdown passes amid the New England Patriots' 23-20 AFC Championship Game escape of the Baltimore Ravens.
Harsh, maybe. Honest, surely. It's a matter of perspective. The Patriots quarterback plays at a level frequented by few. It's only natural that he holds himself to a higher standard.
That's why former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci, moments after leaving a function at which he introduced Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback in history last week, stuck Brady in the same backfield.
"He's not thinking in these terms, but he's making his case for the best quarterback ever," said Mariucci, now an NFL Network studio analyst. "He's right there, knocking at the door."
If the Patriots beat the New York Giants on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium, they will earn their fourth NFL championship in 11 years, all with Brady under center.
That's history, high ground trod only by Montana and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terry Bradshaw, and as Logan Mankins noted, Brady's final whistle hasn't blown.
"He's still playing," the Patriots guard said. "They're not."
Brady is 34 but remains at or near his best. His team is very young, particularly on defense, and there is a new set of Roman numerals to pursue every year. The Patriots certainly know the way.
Brady was born in San Mateo, Calif. San Francisco, where Montana was constructing his legend, was little more than an ambitious hike away. Brady's parents had season tickets to 49ers games. While they tailgated, he pitched passes around the parking lot at Candlestick Park wearing a Montana jersey.
No one knew then that imitation would evolve into replication, but Tony Dungy sees it 20/20 in retrospect. He was Montana's 49ers teammate in 1979, Montana's rookie season, and he faced Brady nine times from 2003-08 as the Indianapolis Colts coach.
"What you saw (Montana's) first year was the calm composure and confidence that, 'I can get this done,' " Dungy said. "There was never any doubt in his mind, and just the few times that he played that year, you saw that swagger.
"I think Tom has that same swagger, that no matter what happens, we can get this done, and he just transmits that belief to his guys."
Brady's career passer rating, 96.4, is fourth-highest in NFL history.
His Super Bowl rating is 95.1. On the grandest stage under the most enervating pressure against the best opponents, he is his Sunday self.
Put it on me, boys.
"Playing big in big games and how he handles himself, all of those things, he's a lot like Joe," Mariucci agreed. "Joe Cool. Tom Cool. Mr. Clutch."
That preternatural poise is evidenced by the fact Brady has led three game-winning, fourth-quarter scoring drives, more than anyone else in Super Bowl history.
The number would be four, but after Brady concluded an 80-yard drive with a 6-yard pass to Randy Moss with 2:42 to play in Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix, the Giants and Eli Manning got the football back.
Manning threw the game winner, a 13-yard touchdown to Plaxico Burris, with 35 seconds to play.
Manning's lone Super Bowl victory, 17-14, is Brady's lone loss. It hurt.
"I remember waking up in Arizona that morning after an hour of sleep thinking: 'That was a nightmare. That didn't happen,' " Brady recalled. "That feeling didn't go away for a long time."
Brady will need command of all his considerable tools Sunday. The Giants pass rush, led by ends Jean Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, is formidable, and chirping.
Pierre-Paul said that when the teams met in November, a 24-20 Giants victory at Foxborough, Mass., Brady was shaken, skittish, reacting to pressure that wasn't there.
"He did react to pressure that didn't exist, and he was just throwing the ball places where there wasn't even a receiver there," Pierre-Paul said. "Imagine us getting there even faster and actually doing our jobs and getting hits on him."
The Patriots have a name for that kind of chatter: noise. They ignore it.
Whether he will be able to ignore the Giants' pass rush Sunday remains to be seen. If he can, he almost certainly will have his fourth ring, the same handful as Montana and Bradshaw.
If not? The morning will come. The nightmare will be real. The feeling will linger.
And Tom Brady will get up and set about the work of playing in Super Bowl No. 6.
The Indianapolis Star