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Brady off, but Pats carried on

One game at a time. That's been the New England's hymn from training camp to 15-3, through summer and winter, through stress-free supremacy and resilient days like Sunday when tenacity was essential.

Theirs has been a dogged tunnel vision, resistant to anyone outside of Patriot Place. There's only one game to go so, for a change, they can look ahead.

They can think about climbing even further into history. This is New England's seventh trip to the Super Bowl and a win in their rematch of Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants would tie the Patriots with the Green Bay Packers with four. Only three franchises have claimed more.

"I think the players deserve it, they've worked really hard this year," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "We've had a lot of different challenges and those guys have stepped up there and tried to meet them every week. It hasn't been perfect, but they've never backed down. They didn't back down from Pittsburgh on the road. They didn't back down when we've been down by 17 or 21 points in the game, all that stuff. Same thing [Sunday]."

They can think about further adding to their legend. Discuss it. Dwell on it. Squeeze it and enjoy the fruits of entitlement.

"This is what we play for," New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "At the beginning of the year, you have 32 teams at the bottom and everybody is climbing the ladder to get to this moment right here. Luckily, we got to this moment. It's been tough. Nothing's been easy."

We were reminded of something about the Patriots in their 23-20 victory in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. They can still perform on the large stage without their customary offensive showpieces.

As Sunday went along and the Baltimore Ravens fought the good fight -- but Lee Evans couldn't hang onto a pass in the end zone or Billy Cundiff make a 32-yard field goal -- a few observations come to mind.

Where was the real Tom Brady? Where has that defense been all season?

The Patriots' offense has often been a whole lot of good things rolled into one this boisterous season. But the Pats won with Brady throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns and a defense that held Ray Rice to a harmless 67 yards on 21 carries.

"As a quarterback, you never want to turn the ball over," Brady said. "You want to hit the open guys; you want to capitalize when you have open receivers. I wish I had done a better job of that [Sunday]. In some ways, you always beat yourself up. I've been doing this for quite a while. I'm glad we won, I'm glad we're moving on. Hopefully I can go out there and do better in a few weeks."

New England was just 2 of 5 in the red zone while its willful defense held the Ravens to 1 of 4 inside the 20. But Sterling Moore's break-up of Evans' potential winning touchdown was the game's biggest play.

"This defense have been working each week in practice to get better and to see it happen when everyone says we're a horrible defense and we're this, we're that, and to just come out here and just play football," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "Each week we're preparing to come out and play and to get off the field and get those stops and help this team and feed off the offense and the offense feed off us. That's how it's supposed to be. This was a championship game."

These were the old-fashioned Patriots -- conjuring up the days before Brady-Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez-Wes Welker connection started the image of an NBA fastbreak.

But what can the Giants say when Brady is imperfect and New England still finds a way to win?

"It is awesome and we look forward to the challenge," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "They are a great football team. They have always been a great football team. We are looking forward to it, and it is going to be a great game."

That comes in two weeks.

email: rmckissic@buffnews.com