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NFL: Patriots' Super Bowl chances all on the line

ATLANTA -- Whether it is heads of state, endangered species or Fort Knox there are few things in this world better protected than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Mark Rebilas / USA Today SportsPatriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) credits his offensive line for keeping his jersey clean plenty this season, including against Kansas City during Sunday's AFC championship game.
Mark Rebilas / USA Today Sports Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) credits his offensive line for keeping his jersey clean plenty this season, including against Kansas City during Sunday's AFC championship game.

ATLANTA - Whether it is heads of state, endangered species or Fort Knox there are few things in this world better protected than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

And keeping Brady safe will be a key on Sunday when the Patriots take on a ruthless Los Angeles Rams defense led by Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

The problem facing the Rams is that Patriots offensive linemen Trent Brown, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney and David Andrews have provided a virtual force field around the 41-year-old Brady, allowing him to go about his work undisturbed.

In playoff wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, who also boast strong defenses, Brady was not sacked once, with his offensive line doing such a complete job that he did not even need to have his jersey laundered.

Brady offered proof posting a picture of his spotless jersey on Instagram following New England's AFC title game win over the Chiefs with the tagline; "Not even 1 grass stain!."

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"I love that group," Brady said. "I have so many great guys that I play with up front.

"They're sole job is to protect me and help our offense block for the running backs. It is the most unselfish job on the team."

Brady rarely ventures outside of his protective cocoon. This season, after 19 years in the league, he finally surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. For his entire career.

But Brady has not steered the Patriots to three consecutive Super Bowl appearances and four in the last five years with his legs, he has done it with his arm.

To do that Brady requires time and that has been provided by an offensive line that has exceeded all expectations.

After losing All-Star Nate Solder to free agency, the Patriots' line looked like it was in for a rebuild. But New England coach Bill Belichick cobbled together a unit of late-round draft picks that has become one of the NFL's best.

Thuney, a third-round pick, Mason (fourth), Cannon (fifth), Brown (seventh) and Andrews (undrafted unrestricted free agent) form a 1,633-pound wall protecting Brady.

"They played as well as any offensive line all season, they have really come together," Brady said. "We've been able to play the game on our terms and that includes being able to run it and throw it on our terms.

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"Our line has done and incredible job all year, but we have the biggest test of the year coming up."

Brady said he will be mindful of getting the ball out of his hand Sunday against likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and his defensive tackle sidekick Ndamukong Suh.

"This is a really unique defense," Brady said. "It's going to take our best game."

Patriots fans are beyond looking for positive signs in Brady. His 5-3 record in the Super Bowl includes wins in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015 and 2017. The losses, to the New York Giants (twice) and last year against the Philadelphia Eagles, provide "mental scar tissue," the type of endemic Brady uses as fuel.

But if New England fans needed a morsel of optimism on Tuesday, it could be found in a wide-open and relaxed Brady sharing stories about snapping a golf club, punching a hole in the wall and smashing a video game controller in what turned into a spontaneous Ask Me Anything style session with a couple hundred members of the media and cameramen.

"He's a great quarterback," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Brady. "I'd certainly put him up there against anybody. I don't think it's my job to rate anyone. His record is unmatched and I'm glad that he's my quarterback."

RAMS (15-3) VS. PATRIOTS (13-5)

When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday

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Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Line: Patriots by 2.5

TV: CBS3

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