INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Brady overthrew a wide-open Rob Gronkowski in the first quarter. Then he threw an interception in the fourth. He was right on target, though, in his postgame assessment.
The three-time Super Bowl champion admitted that he played badly in the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.
And that may be bad news for the New York Giants when they face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
"I wouldn't want to have to deal with Tom Brady after he was disappointed in himself," said Brian Hoyer, who had a close-up view of Brady's hunger for success after three seasons as his backup.
The Patriots beat the Ravens 23-20, but Brady had a season-low passer rating of 57.5. He threw two interceptions, his streak of 35 games with at least one touchdown pass ended and his 239 yards passing were his fourth fewest of the season.
It was quite a drop for the quarterback who threw for 5,235 yards, second most in NFL history, and directed the league's second most productive offense.
But at least his team won. Four years ago the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants 17-14 and Brady's performance was far from his best. He threw for 266 yards and one touchdown and was sacked five times.
It was a loss that was very tough to forget.
"All the games you lose, there are plays that you want back," Brady said at media day for the championship rematch. "Certainly, every time you lose, you think there is more that you could have done to help the team win. But when you win, you don't think about any of those things. You think about what you do well."
He'd like nothing more than to spend the offseason thinking about his fourth championship in 12 pro seasons, not his second Super Bowl loss in the last four.
A lot hinges on how he bounces back from a game in which, he said soon after it ended, "I sucked pretty bad."
But don't expect him to change his meticulous, disciplined preparation, regardless of how he played in the previous one.
"The guy is constantly finding ways to get better so his demeanor really never changes," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "He's always out there trying to do whatever he needs to do to win the game."
Brady wasn't the only reason the Ravens held the Patriots to 330 yards, their second lowest total in 18 games this season. They gained 96 yards on the ground with an average of 3.1 per carry.
"The Ravens have a great defense, but we just didn't focus on the small details as well as we have been doing," right guard Brian Waters said. "It's definitely a wakeup call. If we play like that again we will not be successful and we realize that."
The last time the Super Bowl opponents met was in the eighth game this season. The Giants won 24-20 and Brady completed 57.1 percent of his throws with two scoring passes. One of his two interceptions led to a field goal and a fumble he lost set up a touchdown.
That could provide added incentive for him to raise his play in the biggest game.
"He's always highly motivated, but I think he knows what's at stake," Hoyer said. "He's always focused and attentive and passionate about every play in practice so I see that this week. I'm sure it'll continue."
The Giants had a porous defense, allowing the fourth most yards in the NFL. But they can put pressure on Brady with five pass rushers who each had at least four sacks and one, Jason Pierre-Paul, who was fourth in the NFL with 16½ .Comment on this story
"I don't think Brady will have extra motivation," Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "I think playing in the Super Bowl is all that any competitor here needs."
Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch expects Brady to rebound "like the professional that he is, like the best quarterback in the NFL that he is, in my eyes."
And Giants safety Antrel Rolle is confident the Giants will match his performance.
"We're expecting to see the best Brady possible," Rolle said, "and we're going to go out there and be the best Giants defense possible."