Brady fond of first times

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – If Tom Brady was shaking in his first playoff game, it wasn’t from nervousness.

The New England Patriots trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter with the snow flying and the temperature falling. A loss to Oakland and his season was over. So how did the first-year starter feel?

“Cold,” he said with a smile Wednesday.

The quarterback won’t be shivering Sunday in San Diego, five years after that 16-13 win on Adam Vinatieri’s overtime field goal in the final game at Foxboro Stadium.

The forecast calls for sunny skies and a high temperature of 61 degrees, compared to a game-time 25 degrees against the Raiders on Jan. 19, 2002. Brady, 11-1 in the playoffs, will face the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers, who’ll make his first postseason start.

“It’s his third year, so it’s not like he’s a rookie,” Brady said. “He’s 14-2. He’s done a lot of great things for them. I’m sure the situation isn’t too big for him.”

Rivers spent two seasons backing up Drew Brees, took over when Brees left for New Orleans as a free agent and was picked for the Pro Bowl ahead of Brady this season.

“There’s plenty of young quarterbacks that have done well,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “(Ben) Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl last year. Brady won a Super Bowl. Rivers is a good quarterback. They have a good football team. It’s no one-man band out there.”

Brady wasn’t drafted until the sixth round and was just 24 and in his second season when he became New England’s starter after Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury in the second game of 2001.

Brady threw his first touchdown pass in his third start – against San Diego – and led the Patriots from a 10-point deficit with less than four minutes left in regulation to an overtime win and a 2-3 record.

“Good memories of that day and that’s kind of when our season really started to improve,” he said.

The Patriots won their last six games to finish at 11-5 on the way to the first of their three Super Bowl championships. But they nearly were eliminated in the opening round, a game that brought the phrase “tuck rule” out of the depths of the rule book and into common football parlance.

The field was covered with snow, the Patriots managed just one field goal in three quarters, and they trailed 13-3 with eight minutes left in regulation. But he said he didn’t feel great pressure.

“It’s probably more over the course of the (previous) week, what you’re doing with your time, and making sure you’re just taking care of what you normally take care of,” Brady said, “not letting everything get to you because, ultimately, once the ball’s kicked off, you’re playing football, and that’s what you’ve been doing all year.”

The Patriots cut the lead to 13-10 with 7:52 left in regulation on Brady’s 6-yard run on a drive in which he completed nine straight passes.

But New England’s hopes seemed shattered on an apparent fumble by Brady. Charles Woodson blitzed and Greg Biekert fell on the ball with 1:43 to go in the fourth quarter. But referee Walt Coleman overturned the call, ruling the play an incompletion.

“When I got over to the replay monitor and looked at it, it was obvious that his arm was coming forward,” Coleman said. “He was trying to tuck the ball and they just knocked it out of his hand.”

Vinatieri tied it with a 45-yard field goal through the snowflakes with 27 seconds left, then won it with a 23-yarder in overtime in which Brady went 8-for-8 passing.

“It’s a bunch of hits ago,” Brady said Wednesday, trying to recall the game. “I can’t even remember what I had for lunch.”

The Patriots then won the AFC title game in Pittsburgh 24-17, and the Super Bowl over St. Louis 20-17 on Vinatieri’s last-play, 48-yard field goal and Brady’s MVP performance.

Four games into that season, though, the Patriots were 1-3 and Brady was facing the Chargers for the first time.

They trailed 26-16 then tied it on Brady’s 3-yard scoring pass to Jermaine Wiggins with 32 seconds to go. They won on Vinatieri’s 44-yard field goal in overtime.

On those final three possessions, Brady completed 13 of 19 passes for 127 yards.

“That was kind of the start of a very magical year for all of us,” he said.

AP-ES-01-10-07 1808EST

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