The 2007 season, in which the New England Patriots rewrote the offensive record book and tied the NFL’s only regular season record of 16-0, is remembered as one of the best in Tom Brady’s history. The addition of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth resulted in some Madness-worthy performances, especially in the first 10 games when the Patriots averaged 41.1 points per game (and only allowed 15.7 points per game).
But in my opinion, the season I remember as the one that cemented Brady’s reputation as the greatest quarterback of all time was the previous one. In 2006, Bill Belichick traded Brady favorite Deion Branch and gave him the host team of Caldwell’s Speech, Benjamin Watson, 35-year-old Troy Brown and Doug Gabriel (who? exactly) to work with.
And damn it, Brady did it. That season, New England went 12–4, upsetting the top-seeded San Diego Chargers on the road in a memorable divisional round game to narrowly miss the Super Bowl.
The AFC title game for the Indianapolis Colts was hosted by Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Brady had rags and soon-to-retires, and yet this game had a 38-34 shootout that wasn’t decided until the last minute.
That Brady is no more. And that’s okay. Brady has spent many more years at an extremely high level than any positional player can ever hope to get, and indeed ever has.
But it’s time.
Watching Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the Dallas Cowboys 31-14 in the NFC Playoffs on Monday is a complete revelation, I didn’t watch the whole game but most of the first three quarters – there were times when I talking to their laptop. Usually my unconscious phrase during an exclamatory need is: “Damn it!” But this time I didn’t say it with enthusiasm. It was almost sad.
Brady looked like the athlete who did what you hope your favorites never do: stayed one year longer.
During a second-quarter interception in the end zone, Brady saw the pressure coming and simply threw the ball too high and to the left of anyone in a Bucks jersey. There was another moment in the second half where the pocket broke and Brady appeared to drop the ball like it was a red-hot shot put, not wanting to be tackled.
One of the things Brady is famous for is his subtle movement in the pocket, his ability to slip away from danger, switch his feet and still complete the throw. On Monday, he almost cringed.
No one blames him for this – at least not here. He’s 40-fucking-5 years old. Time will eventually get to all of us. Even the ever-compliant Brady.
He had long since abandoned the quarterback flattery, another small but important part of his game that he excelled at. But sneaking up and taking hits is what a quarterback has to do – has to be ready to do. Brady didn’t seem to want to be a part of it.
Another thing that seemed to disappear this season: mystique. There was a long period of time when it seemed like Brady couldn’t get over any edge. It was just a matter of time before he made a critical play. Then another. Then another. While watching Monday’s game, ESPN commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman mentioned the magic of Brady’s career comeback several times, but it never materialized.
The Buccaneers’ wins this season were against the Los Angeles Rams, the Arizona Cardinals at Christmas, and the Carolina Panthers a week later. None of these teams made the playoffs.
Fans will point to problems with Tampa Bay’s offensive line this season and the lack of quick play, and that’s true. Brady’s raw stats are very similar to what they have been for years, and he even led the league in passes completed and tries.
But he needs too many things to be perfect now to make him look like the guy we’re used to seeing – perfect line, perfect run, perfect receiver group and tight ends, and according to Sportzshala fellow sportsman Charles Robinson, perfect coaching staff. It may be the Las Vegas Raiders, as many in the NFL media ecosystem are now suggesting, but the league is so volatile that a Las Vegas team that looks perfect today may look completely different in August or October.
Brady has been great for so long that it seems like a lot of people take it for granted. We could be here for paragraphs and paragraphs detailing all of his incredible games beyond those seven Super Bowl victories and still never paint the full picture. He is one of one.
Watching Manning in his last season at Denver was almost uncomfortable because we all knew what he was like at his best. Despite winning his last game, Super Bowl 50, his game was forgotten and his contribution was minimal.
Brady may very well keep playing, keep chasing postseason glory and feeling like a win gives him something that maybe he fears he won’t get anything else. It had already been written off, declared cooked or washed, or whatever it was called at the time. This happened more than once, and he always proved that his detractors were wrong.
But on Monday it seemed to the whole world that this day had finally arrived. Time will get to each of us sooner or later.