Brady not perfect, but 1 more game and the Patriots will beFOXBOROUGH, Mass — Tom Brady’s hair was perfect, even if his game wasn’t. The New England Patriots are perfect, too, and if this was as bad as they’ll ever be the only mystique left in Arizona will be finding a crown big enough to fit Bill Belichick’s head.
By: By TIM DAHLBERG/AP Sports Columnist, The Daily Telegram
FOXBOROUGH, Mass — Tom Brady’s hair was perfect, even if his game wasn’t. The New England Patriots are perfect, too, and if this was as bad as they’ll ever be the only mystique left in Arizona will be finding a crown big enough to fit Bill Belichick’s head.
This magical season wasn’t going to come to an abrupt end Sunday in chilly Foxborough, even with Brady throwing to the wrong guys and Randy Moss running routes like his thoughts were elsewhere. The New England Patriots easily beat Spygate and 17 other opponents, and the gimpy and mostly L.T.-less Chargers weren’t going to ruin this celebration no matter how many field goals they kicked.
Perfection doesn’t come along often, and it never comes easy. If it did, the 1972 Miami Dolphins would have cracked open far fewer bottles of champagne over the years to celebrate the demise of yet another unbeaten pretender to their record.
These Patriots might just be the best football team ever assembled, and if the ease at which they stormed to wins most of the season didn’t prove that, the way they won when they weren’t at their best might have. They’re now in uncharted territory, the only team in NFL history to win 18 games in a season without a loss, and their Super Bowl matchup with the New York Giants seems to shape up as more of a coronation than a contest.
Full-time linebacker and part-time philosopher Junior Seau seemed to understand that, even if his coach will probably make him run laps for admitting it. If this is truly a team of destiny, it is now only one game from fulfilling that destiny.
‘‘Separating is key in history,’’ Seau said. ‘‘We have a chance and that’s all we ever need.’’
True perfection is now just two weeks away, but it seems as inevitable as Belichick throwing around coaching clichés after the game. The only difference is that this time he really meant it when he said the Patriots will be taking it one game at a time — one really big game that will not only decide the NFL championship but the Patriots’ spot in sports history.
‘‘There will be a time and a place to sit back and reflect on it, but right now I’m just glad our team won this game and has a chance to go play for the NFL title,’’ Belichick said.
Las Vegas oddsmakers were busy crunching numbers late Sunday, trying for one final time this season to come up with a line that truly reflects the dominance of the Patriots.
Lately the job has been more difficult because the team that so efficiently dispatched opponents all season has had a few brief moments where it almost seems beatable.
That was the certainly the case in the first quarter when Brady threw some bad passes on New England’s first two possessions, then threw one even worse on the third into the waiting hands of Quentin Jammer. The Chargers turned it into a field goal and their only lead of the game, and an uncomfortable silence descended among the faithful at Gillette Stadium who were witnessing things they were not familiar with.
Watching Brady struggle in the wind and cold was as disconcerting as seeing him have a bad hair day — it just doesn’t happen, especially at this time of the year when most teams have long since gone home and he is usually at his best.
He threw three interceptions, after throwing only eight all season. A week after missing only two throws out of 28, he missed that many the first two times he dropped back to pass.
‘‘It just felt like everything was a struggle today,’’ Brady said.
Ultimately it was the defense Belichick takes such pride in that was the difference in this game.
The Chargers had the ball inside the 10 three times and had to settle for field goals each time, including their final score midway through the third quarter.
That made it 14-12 and caused some nervous twittering among the bundled-up crowd.
Brady would make one final mistake, getting picked off in the end zone by Antonio Cromartie, but came back to lead the Patriots to a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Then he mostly handed the ball off to Laurence Maroney as the Patriots ran the last 9:13 off the clock.
‘‘It’s nice to know you can win the close ones,’’ Brady said. ‘‘It’s nice to know you can win the ones when you face some adversity.’’
More than just winning the close ones, Brady wins the big ones.
He’s an amazing 14-2 in playoff games and is heading for his fourth Super Bowl, where he’s undefeated in three previous appearances.
He’s the game’s biggest star heading once again to the game’s biggest showplace. Arizona awaits.
Expect the hair to be in place, as well as his game. Brady had barely gotten out of the postgame shower Sunday and he was already talking about redeeming himself in the Super Bowl, as if he had something to prove.
He doesn’t because things are already about as perfect as they can get.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org