HOUSTON - Tom Brady knew what had to be done by the Patriots" offense to win. Block the Panthers" determined defensive linemen and roving linebackers. Outmus cle and outmaneuver their defensive backs. Convert on third down to control the ball and the clock. When in the red zone, score a touchdown rather than settle for a field goal or make a costly turnover.
And the Patriots did just enough for a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers, their second Super Bowl triumph in three years.
Brady was 32 of 48 for 354 yards and three touchdowns . He was named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player for the second time in three seasons.
After two weeks of study, Brady knew what to expect from the Panthers, beginning with the front four of Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins (Maryland), Brentson Buckner and Julius Peppers.
"Their size, their strength, their speed." Brady had said when asked what stood out about that front four.
"They"re relentless. They are as tough as any [defensive line] we have faced. Jenkins is one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Rucker and Peppers are two of the best ends. They"re fierce, they're tough. I think they have all the attributes of a great line."
Brady was also well aware of the Panthers" blitzing linebackers - Dan Morgan, Greg Favors and Will Witherspoon - as well as their cornerbacks, rookie Ricky Manning Jr., and Reggie Howard, and their safeties, Mike Minter and Deon Grant.
"Their corners." Brady said, 'do a great job of forcing receivers into different releases. Manning is always up in a receiver's face, jamming him, trying to push him out of bounds, trying to reroute him. Howard does a good job of that, too.
"Most of the time our receivers are going to be fighting through some press techniques, and they have to be able to get open whether it's man coverage or zone coverage when they"re up there bumping."
Brady, who knew he had to guard against an interception, had seen the videotape of Manning swiping three passes in the Panthers" 14-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game.
"Whether we throw it short, intermediate or long, we expect to run good routes." Brady said.
"But Carolina is one of those teams that if you don't run a good route and the quarterback makes an errant throw, they"ve shown they can pick it off just about anywhere you can throw it."
For all of Brady's reputation as a careful passer, he also knew that the Patriots had to run the ball effectively with Antowain Smith or Kevin Faulk to keep the Panthers" defense guessing.
"If you don't run the ball, you don't control the clock." Brady said. "If your running game is going, it's discouraging for the defense. If you hand it off for 5 yards, you have the whole menu of plays on your game plan to choose from.
"If you run it and lose a yard, the coach." meaning the offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, "isn't going to come back and call a run."
In their 24-14 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title, the Patriots were in the red zone (inside the 20-yard line) seven times but produced only one touchdown - Brady's 7-yard pass to widereceiver David Givens.
"One for seven isn't going to get it done against Carolina." Brady said. "We haven't done a great job throwing and catching down there. It's tough to run the ball down there because you have all 11 guys within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. You have to find ways to get open down there, and when those guys are open, those windows are small, those windows are tight. You have to make good throws and the receivers have to come down with some great catches. Down there, it's more execution than scheme."
Then again, Brady also knew that sometimes a field goal is all you need. In his precocious success against the Rams in the Super Bowl two years ago, his last-minute passes positioned Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal for a 20-17 victory over St. Louis.
"I think there are things I do better now than I did a couple years ago." Brady said. 'I think that's come from the playing, from the experience of being in all those situations you can be in as a quarterback. The more you play, the more comfortable you are with your offense. I've been fortunate to be in the same of fense for four years.
"Charlie gives me a lot of latitude to say, "I don't like this play," or "What do you think about trying this with the backside receiver?" I feel far more comfortable now than I did two years ago."
Last night, Tom Brady felt more comfortable than ever.