Vintage Brady in game's final drive

562834.jpg

Vintage Brady in game's final drive

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady had 2:31 to drive down the field and, at the very least, get into field-goal range.

Starting from their own 20, it wasn't an impossible task. And with Brady leading the way, thinking "touchdown" instead of a game-tying field goal wasn't outrageous.

Especially since Brady was determined to make up for the interception he threw two drives earlier, which led to a 26-yard field goal and a 16-13 Dallas lead with 5:13 left to play in the fourth quarter.

"Mistakes are going to happen in football," said Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after the game. "And obviously we had a few too many turnovers. But we kept fighting, and it shows our team. You can't leave any time left on the clock. Because we'll keep fighting and winning."

And that they did.

The Patriots had one last opportunity to make something happen. The only concern was, New England's offense hadn't been too pretty all afternoon. The only sense of comfort was, Tom Brady.

And with one timeout left, Brady opened the drive with big passes to Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, and Wes Welker, advancing the ball to the 50-yard line at the two-minute warning, while still possessing their lone timeout.

After the two-minute warning, Brady found Welker and running back Danny Woodhead with several passes. he even grabbed a first down of his own with a quarterback sneak on 3rd-and-2.

On 1st-and-10 from the Dallas 14, Brady found Welker over the middle for a 6-yard gain to the 8. The Patriots then used their last timeout to stop the clock with 27 seconds remaining.

"You're down three, so you know you've got to get into field-goal range," said Brady after the game. "And once you get into field-goal range, you're thinking, scoring touchdowns."

On the very next play, Brady found Hernandez in the middle of the end zone to give the Patriots a 20-16 lead after the extra point, with 22 seconds left on the clock.

For the Patriots' quarterback, it was simply a better group of guys stepping up and being on the same page when they needed to.

"It was great protection, a great catch by Aaron," said Brady. "A lot of guys made big plays on that drive, when we needed it. We really kind of squandered some opportunities throughout the game.

"Your margin for error is very, very small," added Brady. "You can't not get the ball in the end zone. So the throws need to be more accurate, the routes need to be better, the protection needs to be better, and the entire offense needs to be better. It's something we work on quite a bit.

"I'd prefer to be up four touchdowns with two minutes left, but that wasn't really the case today, so we just had to keep playing, keep battling, keep fighting, until the clock says zero-zero at the end. And we did that today."

The game-winning drive took 10 plays, and marked the 32nd time in Brady's career that he led the Patriots to a victory following a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. He's now accomplished that feat 26 times in the regular season, and six times in the playoffs.

"Coach Bill Belichick put us through a lot of things, a lot of different situations. That was one of them," said Deion Branch. "And I think all the guys showed a lot of resilience on that drive. Everybody was stepping up and making plays when they were called upon. And, you know, Tom doing his thing."

"When you got a quarterback like Tom, anything can happen, as long as there's time on the clock," said Hernandez after the win. "And he had enough time to get it done.

"We just knew it was time to step up," added Hernandez. "And with the type of players we have, everyone knows we have to step up. And all of us stepped up.

"We just came out to play at the end. We follow Tom's lead, and Tom was out there. We know he's going to put us in the right play at the right time. And all we've got to do is the easy part. Run the route, and he'll put it there."

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.

 

PFT: Belichick can still diagram his dad’s Navy plays from 1959

PFT: Belichick can still diagram his dad’s Navy plays from 1959

CBS interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick and 1960 Heisman winner Joe Bellino from Navy as part of its Army-Navy Game coverage Saturday.

Belichick's father, Steve, was an assistant coach at Navy when Bellino played there, and little Bill, then 7, took it all in. So much so, that 57 years later, Belichick can still diagram the 27 F Trap play that his dad used to drew up in the 1959 season for Bellino.

More from NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk here.