New England at halftime trudged to its locker room, and soon enough there was Tom Brady in the middle of it, demanding everyone's attention, commanding everyone's respect. The Patriots' season had been a joy ride for eight weeks, so this hadn't been needed, the team leader leading after the team had been punched in the mouth.
But this was what the old guys expected and the new guys had been seeking. There was Brady, giving a short, forceful speech, reminding everyone of the slogan of the week against these Colts.
"It's a 60-minute game," Brady said, eyes darting around the locker room. "We've got to play a 60-minute game and not give up a minute early."
No, it wasn't Lombardi or Rockne, but it was enough. This is Tom Brady, the new Joe Cool, and as long as he's standing there, his teammates never doubt what's possible.
"He's the leader," said Wes Welker, one of Brady's new receivers. "He does a great job keeping everyone together."
"It's Tom Brady," said fullback Kyle Eckel. "(He's) just a pro. Just a complete pro. His résumé speaks for himself. A guy like that, he's easy to follow."
It was January in this same building when the Patriots led 21-6 at the half, only to watch the Colts storm back, take their only lead in the final minute and win the AFC Championship. That burned Brady all summer. And the way the Colts manhandled the Chicago Bears two weeks later left every Patriot thinking they had been 30 seconds from a Super Bowl win but let it slip.
This time New England trailed 13-7, the vaunted offense had just 114 total yards (forget about the running-up-the-score debate) and Brady even had thrown a rare pick.
But it's a 60-minute game, Brady kept saying, so everyone kept listening.
By the end of those 60 minutes, Brady was taking a knee, playfully head-butting his teammates in the huddle and soaking up the one-of-a-kind feeling of turning a deafening Dome silent courtesy of a 24-20 victory.
"It was a battle," he sighed after. "It took us 60 minutes."
Down 20-10 deep in the fourth quarter, the offense still stalled and stumbling, Brady engineered two near-perfect touchdown drives in the span of a four-minute stretch to move to 9-0 on the season and give the defending champion Colts their first loss.
This was both Brady's worst game of the season and his best. His two picks doubled his season total to four, his 255 yards were a season low and he was sacked twice. Against the vicious Colts defense, the Pats looked rattled, not record-breaking.
But for Brady, until this year at least, it had never been about the statistics. The fact that he is en route to perhaps the greatest quarterbacking season of all-time simply is a byproduct of the weapons surrounding him.
Forever with this guy it has just been about winning. It was again Sunday.
"A guy like that, he knows what he's doing and everyone on the team knows he knows what he's doing," Eckel said.
This is a new era of Brady's career. At age 30 and in his eighth season, he's no longer the young guy – and in some ways no longer just one of the guys, no matter how much he tries.
Talent flocked to New England this season because of cap room, Bill Belichick and the obvious chance to win a title. But receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth, and even linebacker Adalius Thomas and others, came also because of Brady.
So while he tries to remain just another player – constantly praising his teammates, trying to minimize the attention on him – he is also a big presence now, a commanding personality.
Half this locker room has only seen his act on TV – not in person, in the huddle, in the Super Bowls. With the new guys, there is a cult of personality at work now.
When the chips were down, he was the one they expected would deliver. In a halftime speech, in a late-game throw.
And deliver he did. With the Colts set to take their fourth consecutive game from the Patriots, at a time when there was no more time for failed drives, when every play mattered, Brady returned to form.
For all the struggles of the first 3½ quarters, he finished the game on a torrid 8-for 11 streak good for 134 yards, two touchdowns and one huge victory.
"This was the first time we were really in a ballgame late," Brady said. "And I'm real proud of the way the guys responded when we were down. There was never really a loss of confidence or determination."
The players say that begins with No. 12.
"He leads us out there," said lineman Matt Light. "He is always matter-of-fact and it is the way we always are. We keep doing what we are doing and execute better."
Brady wasn't interested in talking about the possibility of a perfect season. He wasn't concerned about any touchdown record and he certainly didn't think this was anything but a nice – if mega-hyped – regular-season win.
"The thing is, we're 9-0 and it doesn't matter," Brady said. "It just doesn't matter. None of this matters. What matters is January."
But what came out of here is a reminder of why Brady has been so good in January (and February). The Patriots didn't steamroll anyone Sunday; they didn't trot out trick plays and laugh the afternoon away.
That's all been fun and nice, an astounding start to the season.
But when it gets tough, when the time gets short, when the playoffs arrive, Tom Brady reminded everyone – his new teammates especially – that for all the glory, he's still the same old gut-check guy, the same old gamer who's at his best in the biggest of moments.
- Tom Brady
- New England