Loud and clear: Brady can lead, Patriots are contenders

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady had seen enough. He gathered his suddenly cold offense on the sideline, pulled them close, and then proceeded to scream at the top of his lungs.

Brady might have a Bieber haircut but his words were anything but cute. Brady has gotten angry before. He has screamed before. His face has turned bloody red in anger before. But Brady looked as disgusted as ever. If he had been any more volcanic, the gel in his hair might have caramelized.

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It was time to vent. It was time to lead. As far as the latter, few in NFL history are better.

The Patriots had a 10-3 lead that should've been much larger but wasn't because of penalties and dropped passes. Not long after the Brady explosion came a 10-play, 78-yard drive ending with a Brady touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. New England never looked back and wound up beating the Steelers 39-26.

"There were plenty of plays we didn't make we should have made," Brady said when asked why he became so angry.

"He's a competitor," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "He realized [New England's problems were] all self-inflicted stuff."

This was a total dissection -- frog under a hot lamp in biology class. Rashard Mendenhall was nullified, Ben Roethlisberger was petrified and Mike Tomlin was stupefied. Boos rang out across Heinz Field in the third quarter. More boos filled the air after Steelers kicker Jeff Reed missed a chip shot.

Brady seemed particularly emotional. After New England's seven-play, 80-yard drive that gave the Patriots a 23-7 lead, Brady grabbed the football, rushed to the back of the end zone, and spiked it with uncharacteristic zeal.

"It's plain and simple," cornerback Ike Taylor said, "we just got our butt whooped."

No question about it: Tom Brady is New England's on-field leader, and they respond to his criticism. (Getty Images)  
No question about it: Tom Brady is New England's on-field leader, and they respond to his criticism. (Getty Images)  
Brady wasn't the only emotional player on the Patriots. After the game, as New England players walked past a large group of media, some of them couldn't help but make a few comments. "Eat that," one of the players said. Another remarked: "All ya'll thought we were gonna lose."

He was right.

Instead, the Patriots made a statement to the rest of the league. So what if we don't have Randy Moss, they said. He can rot in Tennessee while we, again, challenge for a Super Bowl in a wide-open NFL.

It would take the collective brain power of an astrophysicist, a brain surgeon and Jessica Simpson to decipher this NFL season, in which every week is a mystery and every favorite a victim. The Patriots, for now, have kicked in the door and staked their position as the best team in football.

The Patriots have Brady, and when you have Brady, you always have a chance. New England has lost back-to-back games only twice in the past eight seasons, and Brady wasn't going to let it happen again following a brutal loss to Cleveland. Brady finished with 350 yards passing, no interceptions and three scores.

The interesting thing is Brady might be more injured than either he or the team is letting on. Brady was clearly limping several times during the game. Since the Patriots guard injury news the way Coke hides its soda formula, it's unclear if Brady was playing with a re-aggravated injury or if this was something new.

Brady isn't Brett Favre, so there won't be injury information leaked to the media to make himself look heroic. So we might never know if Brady is indeed more banged up than he's telling.

This was a masterful performance. Watching Brady pick the Steelers apart was like seeing a summer Hollywood blockbuster. Pass the popcorn.

"You know how it is when somebody does something against us," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "The sky is falling and we anoint that guy Baby Jesus. But Tom went out and did what Tom is supposed to do."

Brady isn't Jesus.

But he is a football god.

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