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An inconvenient truth

Mr. Perfect was Mr. Average in Super Bowl XLII.

Tom Brady didn't play poorly on Sunday. But when you're the MVP, set a single-season record for touchdowns and garner more attention than most presidential candidates, the bar is set high. Brady couldn't do enough to lift a Patriots team that was outplayed in the trenches on Sunday.

Even with the record and the accolades, Brady is a system quarterback. A system that he mastered en route to throwing a record 50 touchdowns this season. When that system broke down because New England's line couldn't block the speedy Giants pass-rushers, Brady couldn't do enough to salvage a win.

"No quarterback can throw from his back," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.

Brady, whose right ankle clearly wasn't 100 percent, was sacked, hit after he passed or rushed almost every time he tried to throw downfield. The Giants saw some cracks the last time they played the Pats and came at Brady full bore.

New England's running game provided little relief, and Brady was left with few options except for the short passing game. The dink-and-dunk helped the Patriots move the ball in the second half, but it wasn't enough to get them into the end zone until late. Brady did complete 29-of-48 passes for 266 yards, but he didn't complete a pass longer than 19 yards. The Patriots' inability to hit the big play helped the Giants stay close enough to pull off the stunning late drive for a game-winning touchdown.

"We could move the ball and on some plays look good," Brady said. "But if you can't string 'em together you can never drive long enough to get the ball in the end zone."

The offensive line had been one of New England's strengths all season. Even in games where the unit struggled -- Baltimore, Philly, San Diego in the playoffs -- the Patriots were able to find enough pockets of time for Brady to make a play downfield. Or they could create holes for running back Laurence Maroney. Neither happened on Sunday. Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were too fast. And Brady started to wear down under the Giants' pressure.

After he was hit numerous times, Brady started to rush even when the pocket wasn't collapsing. One of the most telling plays of the night came late in the fourth quarter when Brady was completely isolated from the pass rush and still rushed a pass that sailed wide of a wide-open Randy Moss. Brady didn't have one miss that bad during the regular season.

"We all could have done things better," Brady said. "I could have made better reads and made better throws."

If the Patriots had won, Brady would have joined Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl rings. Already there was buzz about Brady being the best quarterback of all time. That buzz will have to wait. Brady is an accurate passer, makes great decisions and has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. But like most quarterbacks, he needs time and a great game plan. He had neither tonight.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will pore over the tapes in the coming weeks and months to figure out why they couldn't score more tonight. Problem is, so will the rest of the league. The Giants figured out something about the Patriots, and coaches from around the league will be calling New York's defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to find out what it was.

Typically, after players set single-season records, their stats go way down the next season. Don't expect anywhere near 50 touchdowns in 2008 for Brady. Just like the Patriots went out and improved their receiving corps last offseason, they'll focus on getting a running game and improving the defense this year.

Brady was supposed to ride off into the sunset with a Lombardi trophy under one arm and a supermodel under the other. Looks like he'll limp off with Gisele and a whole set of questions for a long offseason.

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