Tom Brady Always Wins. Even Against the Refs.


And still he was not happy. His tight end, Rob Gronkowski, dropped a potential fourth touchdown pass in the end zone. Brady threw his hands in the air.

Somewhere, perhaps Gisele Bündchen repeated the most incisive football wife comment of all time: “My husband cannot throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.”

But back to the officials and how Brady rescued the league from another Patriots-versus-the-N.F.L. contretemps.

Photo

Brady making sure an official knew the rules in the second half.

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Butch Dill/Associated Press

The first incident came with the Patriots leading by 13-3 in the final minute of the first quarter. Brady tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hogan, who was remarkably uncovered as he collected Brady’s throw near the goal line.

But a yellow flag had fluttered to the turf: offensive pass interference. Pointing, shouting and running toward the conferring officials, Brady was not pleased.

Tony Romo, the former Dallas quarterback who was a color analyst with CBS for the game, offered that Brady “was good at winning arguments, too.”

A sideline microphone picked up Brady’s plea: “He was blocked on the line of scrimmage.”

He said it twice. An official tried to lead Brady away, but the quarterback did not appear interested in retreating.

After the game, a reporter told Brady that he looked like he was being very persuasive.

“Did I?” Brady said with a smile.

Hogan and his fellow receiver Brandin Cooks had criss-crossed on the play, with Cooks planting a sturdy shoulder block on P. J. Williams, the New Orleans defender covering Hogan, allowing Hogan to run away unaccompanied.

It was a classic pick play, one that often results in an offensive penalty.

Except, as referee Craig Wrolstad soon clarified — echoing a loud voice that must have been ringing in his head — there could be no penalty because the defender had been blocked within one yard of the line of scrimmage.

The Patriots led 20-3.

Romo, with a faint snicker, then suggested that there was “always a little gray area,” when it came to the rule’s enforcement. It was a comment that summed up the way the Patriots have tip-toed along the borders of the rulebook for more than a decade.

At the same time, the play was another small illustration of the Patriots’ genius that drives the rest of the league mad. It was about knowing the rules precisely and understanding how to use them to your advantage.

There is little doubt that the New England coaches in their game preparation had noticed New Orleans lining up in the tight formation along the line of scrimmage and knew how to exploit the situation. So, obviously, did Brady, who reacted appropriately as soon as he saw the flag.

Two quarters later, with New England leading by 30-13, Brady appeared to make the kind of ill-advised play that had fans wondering last week if he had suddenly slipped into middle age. A wobbly, aimless pass down the sideline was effortlessly intercepted by Saints safety Marcus Williams, who returned the football to the Patriots’ 2-yard line.

The Saints, it seemed, might rally yet.

Not so fast. The officials had yet to consult with Brady, who was already dashing toward them.

As a group, they gave him a tired, “What now?” expression.

As Brady jogged, he held aloft the index finger of his left hand and a peace sign with his right hand. It was not a very complex code.

Put them together, and you have a “12.” As in, one more than the legal number of players a team can have on the field for a play.

“I didn’t see a flag and I said, ‘What the heck?’ ” Brady said after the game. “I saw the 12th guy. But the officials said they were going to review it.”

Albeit much later than Brady had, the officials counted 12 Saints on the field. The interception was nullified. The Patriots actually gained five yards with the penalty.

“I wish they had thrown the flag right away and took away the drama,” Brady said.

Three plays later, Brady threw another interception. This time the officials avoided a rebuke by Brady, immediately tossing a flag to the ground for defensive holding.

For Brady, it all added up to a redemptive victory. His 447 yards were the most by a 40-year-old player in league history, and the third-highest total of Brady’s career. It was the 52nd time he had thrown three or more touchdowns in a game without an interception, which was an N.F.L. record. Peyton Manning did it 51 times.

Brady acknowledged after the game that he was aware some fans had been questioning after last week’s loss whether he had somehow precipitously declined since winning the Super Bowl seven months ago. One stat provided a stark answer: The victory over the Saints improved Brady’s record in games following a Patriots defeat to 43-10.

“I’m expected to lead us into good plays and to get us playing better when we need to play better,” he said. “Whatever that takes.”

All part of the job(s).

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