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Cowboys defense yields to Tom Brady

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Maybe against any other quarterback, 80 yards would have looked like 80 miles and 2 minutes, 31 seconds would have seemed like two-and-a-half hours. Maybe against any other quarterback, a three-point lead would have seemed like a 30-point one.

But that was Tom Brady and eventually you knew the New England Patriots' quarterback was going to come through when it mattered most, even if the Dallas Cowboys were able to call on Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Randy White, Mel Renfro and Deion Sanders in their primes and anybody else from those Doomsday defenses Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

That's why looking at the final statistics is so painful, because for so much of the game the defense was so good.

Brady threw for 289 yards, his second-lowest total of the season and lowest at home this year. The Cowboys intercepted Brady twice. Only Buffalo (four) had more against him this year, and it was the most he had been picked at home since Week 6 last year against Baltimore. His 82.3 passer rating was his lowest in 18 regular-season games.

"It really doesn't matter," Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said. "It always comes down to wins and losses. That's all that matters at the end of year, no matter how good we played."

Patriots 20, Cowboys 16.

There can be no solace in ending New England's run of games with at least 30 straight points that started after Rob Ryan's defense held the Patriots to 14 points when Dallas' defensive coordinator was in Cleveland last year.

There can be no solace in holding Brady and Wes Welker (six catches, 45 yards) to earthly numbers, or forcing four turnovers against an offense that had only six in the first five games.

"It's kind of crazy to say we were able to do this, this and this and achieve our goals yet still lose the game," said Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, who had the first of Brady's two interceptions.

Not when Brady connects on 8-of-9 passes for 78 yards on the final drive that looked like pitch-and-catch. Brady converted the only third down with a 2-yard keeper on third-and-1 at the Dallas 29 with 1:19 to play.

He coolly and calmly dissected a defense that had given him some trouble in the first three-plus quarters with Neftali Feliz-like strikes to Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Welker and Danny Woodhead with his team trailing, 16-13.

Every throw was perfect and Brady faced little pressure as the Patriots rolled most of the way with two tight ends, two wide receivers and one running back. There would be no game-clinching sack by DeMarcus Ware, who had two of Brady but finished the game in pain because of back spasms.

Before that drive, New England picked up 114 yards on four second-half drives. Two of the four ended in turnovers. Maybe that played into Jason Garrett's approach to run the ball three times with 3:36 to play instead of going aggressively at a pass defense that entered the game ranked last in the league.

Maybe against any other quarterback it would have worked.

But on that final drive, Brady was Brady and there was little Ryan could do to stop it. The only incompletion came on a great deflection by Orlando Scandrick on a pass in the slot to Welker.

"Obviously, that's why he's won three Super Bowls," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "When it comes to crunch time, he's at his best."

On second and goal from the Dallas 8 with 28 seconds remaining, Brady had tight ends Hernandez and Gronkowski to his left. The Cowboys doubled Gronkowski with linebacker Sean Lee and safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Cornerback Mike Jenkins had Hernandez in one-on-one coverage as Ryan elected to rush only two defenders at Brady.

Brady's throw was perfect, like all the others, and just out of Jenkins' reach to allow Hernandez to come down with the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds to play.

"I've got to make a better play," Jenkins said. "Ain't no excuses. He caught the ball. I've got to be on the man and make that play. Guys on the team look for me to make plays like that. I've got to finish the play."

Brady has been making those plays for years, and on Sunday he finished the Cowboys.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.