FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -This is how terrific Tom Brady is: He was pitching the NFL equivalent of a perfect game two minutes into the third quarter, and no one on the New England sideline even noticed.
``I didn't really realize it,'' Pats tackle Matt Light said after New England's 31-20 victory sent Jacksonville home Saturday night. ``Somehow, though, it's not surprising to find out. I don't know. Maybe we just kind of expect it.''
On the Patriots' opening drive, Brady attempted five passes against Jacksonville's defense and completed them all, finishing with a 3-yard bullet to Benjamin Watson. On the second drive, he tried five and hit them all, letting Laurence Maroney run it over from 1 yard out. By halftime, Brady was 12-for-12.
If this were a baseball game, or if football players were half as superstitious as the boys of summer, coach Bill Belichick would have sent Brady to a corner of the bench where no one was allowed to go near him, let alone touch him.
``That's because there's way too much time in baseball sitting around doing nothing,'' Pats guard Logan Mankins said. ``You can't do that in football. Besides, nothing was different about tonight. Tom's walking around barking instructions at us the whole time the defense is on the field, just like he always does.
``But you know what?'' Mankins added. ``I would have loved to see somebody tell him to go sit in a corner.''
On the opening drive of the second half, Brady completed his first four. His fifth was a high, hard pass that Watson got his hands on, but couldn't pull down.
``You always think you should catch anything,'' Watson said. ``So it was my fault? My bad.''
Brady has been so good for so long in so many big situations that instead of letting that drop break his momentum, he simply began another streak. He completed passes of seven, 13 and six yards on the next three plays, ending the drive with a touchdown throw to Wes Welker.
``Those guys, when they're open like that, it's my job to hit them,'' Brady said. ``They were open every time.
``It's easy when you have receivers that are open all the time and an offensive line that never lets anyone touch you. It makes it fun to play.''
Thanks to Brady, playoff time in New England has become a lovefest. He's 7-0 at home and 13-2 in the postseason overall. The Pats won three Super Bowls in four years, and he was the MVP in two of those. Small wonder compliments fly around like snowflakes this time of year. Maybe that explains the first question asked by a TV reporter who came from Japan to see the magnificent one.
``You never seem flustered no matter the situation. From our Japanese point of view,'' he said, ``it looks very Zen of you.''
Brady bit his lower lip before answering, making him look even more boyish than usual.
``I'm all Zen,'' he chuckled. ``I'm all Zen.''
``I know you're from California,'' the TV reporter persisted, ``but where did you pick up that focus?''
``I hope I'm Zen-like for another week,'' Brady said a moment later. ``That would be a great feeling.''
The rest of the questions were variations on how Brady managed to play so well. Only two balls he threw all night hit the ground - Welker dropped the other one - and the interview room was quickly turning into a Tom Brady roast. Just about then, a New England public relations staffer yelled, ``last question,'' and from a corner came this one:
``Do you think you're a handsome quarterback?''
Brady blinked momentarily, then his eyes darted in the direction of the questioner. Seeing teammate Randy Moss wearing what looked like Superman pajamas, Brady had a comeback ready.
``Nice outfit,'' he said.
Yet the get-up almost seemed appropriate. Moss' arrival in the offseason gave Brady a receiving corps worthy of his talent for the first time in his career. Joining Welker and Donte Stallworth, Moss predicted that with a trio of receivers as good as those Colts quarterback Peyton Manning enjoyed for years, the sky would be the limit.
That was not an exaggeration. Brady broke Manning's single-season TD passing record with 50; Moss broke Jerry Rice's single-season TD reception mark with 23; and Patriots are now 17-0.
``I told you when I first got here, I've always been a fan of Tom's'' said Moss, who caught the only ball thrown in his direction, yet didn't complain one bit. ``He doesn't surprise me, man, but it's not just me. I think we expect greatness out of our leader.''
The only guy in the stadium Saturday night who wasn't impressed, ultimately, was Jacksonville safety Reggie Nelson.
Noting Brady completed only one long pass - a 53-yard post to Stallworth in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal and gave the Patriots a two-score cushion - the rookie said: ``It was a drop-down game. Anybody can go 26-of-28 in a drop-down game.''
Try it some time, Reggie, on your video game at home. Thanks to Tom Terrific you'll have all of next weekend off.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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