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Brady to Coughlin: Sit those sackers

With a perfect season on the line for the Pats, the QB wants to get by the Giants in one piece.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Tom Brady looked into the TV cameras, smiled, and gave some advice to Tom Coughlin, the coach whose defense leads the NFL in throwing quarterbacks to the ground.

As a matter of self-preservation, Brady would rather not see Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck charging at him. Besides, the Giants might as well rest their top players because they are locked into their first-round playoff game anyway.

So Brady stood at his locker and delivered his message: "Coach Coughlin, if you're listening, definitely rest those guys."

The answer will come tomorrow night, when the New England Patriots can become the first team to finish a regular season 16-0 when they play New York at the Meadowlands.

"Well," said left tackle Matt Light, charged with protecting Brady's blind side, "maybe they'll take his advice."

Coughlin and Patriots coach Bill Belichick haven't tipped their hands about how much their regulars will play. New England can't change its playoff status, either; it has home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

But it can make history with the perfect record, an issue the players have avoided. But now that they need just one more win, the subject is no longer taboo.

"I think we all realize what a win would mean, but a win's always big," Brady said. "Being 16-0 would be a very special achievement, one that no other team has ever achieved, and we're finally at that point."

Brady is the biggest reason the Patriots got there.

He needs two touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning's single-season NFL record of 49, set in 2004. He has teamed with Randy Moss for 21, a league record for any one combination. And he has led an offense that needs six points to set the single-season scoring mark.

Brady has been durable in his eight seasons. His 124th consecutive start tomorrow would break a tie with former Eagle Ron Jaworski for third-most in league history, behind Brett Favre's 272 and Manning's 171.

But he must face a Giants team "as physical as any team that we've faced all year, on both sides of the ball," Belichick said. The coach said he would do what's best for the team, not even ruling out using Brady for most of the game.

An injury to the star quarterback would be devastating, the one setback that could instantly turn the Patriots from masterful to mediocre.

Matt Cassel has thrown 39 passes in three seasons as Brady's backup, and just seven this year. Third-stringer Matt Gutierrez, a rookie, completed his only pass this season.

It's up to the solid offensive line to keep Umenyiora (13 sacks), Tuck (10) and Strahan (9) at a distance. But Brady also has a knack for staying safe.

"He trains hard, he works hard, and I think he gives himself every opportunity to be as healthy and as physically in condition as his own personal body will allow," Belichick said.

Brady also has a keen sense of where danger lurks.

"He has really great pocket awareness," tight end Kyle Brady said, "awareness of where the opening's going to be in the pocket, when it's collapsing, when to move out of it, when to get rid of the ball - all those kinds of things that you can try to tell somebody, but it seems to be a bit more instinctive."

In his first eight games, the quarterback was spectacular: 30 touchdown passes, two interceptions, and a passer rating of more than 100 in each one.

In the last seven games, Brady's numbers have tapered off. He has thrown 18 touchdowns and six interceptions, and has only two games with a passer rating above 100.

"A negative trend. That's never good," Brady said. "I'm not a big statistics guy. I evaluate each play. 'What could I have done? What could I have done better?' I always feel I try to play very consistently and the team really can depend on me as a consistent player. I hope that continues."

That would be easier if Coughlin rested his starters in the last game before the Giants' playoff game the next weekend at Tampa Bay.

And that would be just fine with Brady.

"I think, definitely, Strahan and Osi should take the weekend off," he said. "I'd rest them."