Tom Brady made coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots look very good. Brady justified Belichick's decision to stick with him over a healthy Drew Bledsoe, throwing a career-high four touchdown passes as the Patriots beat the New Orleans Saints 34-17 Sunday. The sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft has avoided fueling any controversy with his friend Bledsoe, a nine-year veteran who has played in three Pro Bowls and has a $103 million contract. ``Any team is lucky to have him,'' Brady said. ``I've got to go out and worry about preparing myself.'' Brady is 6-3 as a starter since Bledsoe was hurt when he was hit by Mo Lewis of the New York Jets. And Brady now is 1-0 since Belichick made him the starter for the rest of the season barring ``unforeseen circumstances.'' Bledsoe was upset when he learned of Belichick's decision early last week but said Sunday, ``It's not about who plays or who doesn't play. It's about who wins, and I'll do what I can to help this team.'' During the game, Bledsoe talked with Brady on the sidelines. Toward the end, they exchanged smiles. But Brady's performance solidified his job security before next Sunday's game at the Jets, who are tied with Miami for the AFC East lead at 7-3, 1½ games ahead of the Patriots (6-5). ``Tom started last week against St. Louis, this week against New Orleans, and he's probably going to start next week against the Jets,'' Belichick said. ``That's the way it was. That's the way it's going to be. I think it's pretty clear cut.'' Brady completed 19 of 27 passes for 258 yards and no interceptions. Antowain Smith caught one scoring pass and rushed 24 times for 111 yards, the third time in four games in which he ran for at least 100. ``It's a good win for us because everybody played well,'' Brady said. ``We're right where we want to be. We're in the thick of it and I like our chances.'' The Saints (5-5) trailed 20-0 at halftime. ``We got off to a slow start,'' New Orleans wide receiver Willie Jackson said. ``Usually we are capable of coming back from that.'' They did in a 34-31 win over St. Louis, rallying from a 24-6 deficit and handing the Rams their only loss. The Patriots lost to the Rams 24-17 a week ago. The Saints were coming off a 34-20 win over Indianapolis in which Aaron Brooks threw for two touchdowns, ran for one and had just three incompletions. His only scoring pass Sunday went 7 yards to Jackson and made the score 27-17 with 8:15 left in the game. ``I thought we'd get back in it, but they didn't let up,'' Brooks said. ``It's frustrating to be 5-5 now. We can't keep telling people we're better than that.'' Bledsoe has been healthy enough to play the last two games, but Brady threw touchdowns covering 41 yards to Smith, 8 to Troy Brown, 22 to Charles Johnson, and 2 to Marc Edwards. The Saints have an aggressive defensive front seven but are vulnerable in the secondary. ``They did a lot of talking about how physical they were,'' Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. ``Well, they can keep on talking about it on the plane.''
The Saints had their usual strong third quarter, cutting the lead to 20-10. But Edwards scored 1:26 into the fourth. His catch was set up by one of two key pass interference calls against defensive backs trying to cover David Patten. Two plays before the touchdown, Fred Weary was called for a 24-yard penalty that moved the ball to the Saints' 7-yard line. Brown's touchdown made the score 13-0 and came one play after Fred Thomas was penalized for interfering with Patten, moving the ball 42 yards to the 8. The conversion attempt failed. ``Every time we needed to make a play, we just couldn't do it,'' Weary said. In the third quarter, John Carney's 31-yard field goal and Ricky Williams' 3-yard scoring run made it 20-10. Brooks' 56-yard pass to Jackson set up the touchdown. New Orleans played without left tackle Willie Roaf, who is scheduled for right knee surgery Tuesday.