MIAMI -- They're all the same when they get hit too much.
Tom Brady is better than most quarterbacks when it comes to being patient, avoiding mistakes, and giving his team a chance to win no matter what the situation, but when you get knocked around the way he was being knocked around last night at Semi-Pro Player Park, there's not much you can do but hope for the best and accept the consequences.
Last night the consequences were four interceptions, including back-to-back ones on the final two drives. The two interceptions killed his team, the first setting up the Dolphins' winning touchdown and the second ensuring there would be no last-second comeback when he was hit once more as he was releasing a pass, which fell short and into the arms of Dolphin safety Arturo Freeman to seal a remarkable 29-28 comeback by the Dolphins that literally handed Miami its third victory of the season.
The third of Brady's four interceptions on the previous series was Bledsoe-esque, to say the least. Trapped, surrounded, the walls caving in on him and his team holding only a slim 5-point lead, the previously calm Brady hit the panic button just as Jason Taylor hit him. Hit it the same way every quarterback in the history of the game has before him when faced with such a situation. Brady did what they all do under duress. He threw the ball up. He threw in desperation, which proves only one thing and one thing only. The guy's human.
For one of the few times since Brady became New England's starting quarterback four years ago, he tried to do more than was wise. He tried to make a play when the wise thing would have been to cut his losses and live for the next one. The result was an interception by Miami linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo at the Patriot 23-yard line.
"They just never blocked me," Taylor said. "I thank God I missed him. I'm sure Tom would like to have it back."
Sure he would, but it doesn't work that way. Nobody gets them back, as the Patriots' defense has taught many a quarterback in the past three seasons.
This time the roles were reversed. Suddenly Miami was alive and the Patriots were reeling. It was first and 10 at the Patriot 21 with 1:45 to play but New England still had the lead, 28-23. All the Patriots had to do was make a few more plays on defense, as they'd done so many times before.
But nobody makes the plays all the time. Not Tom Brady. Not anybody's defense. This was one of those times.
Four plays after Ayanbadejo's interception, Brady's counterpart, A.J. Feeley, lofted a 21-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-2-inch Derrius Thompson over the head of 5-foot-10 wide receiver-turned-defensive back Troy Brown on fourth down and Miami had the lead, 29-28. One time too many the secondary was populated by second stringers and a converted wide receiver and this time it didn't work.
Miami got the mismatch it wanted and threw the ball over Brown's head and Thompson outjumped him. It had taken only 22 seconds to wrestle the lead from the Patriots but with 1:23 still left on the clock, the feeling on the New England side of the field was, "Tom will make a play."
He might have if he'd been given a chance but the final series was like too many of the other ones that had preceded it on this long evening. Brady was sacked only twice but far too often he was jostled, crowded, pushed, grabbed, slapped, bumped, and generally harassed by a pocket that was a tighter squeeze than he's grown used to and the outcome was predictable. He got uncomfortable and bad things followed.
On the first play from his 24, Brady dropped back assuming he'd have time as he'd had so many times before. And then he was flat on his back, in the hands of Miami defensive end David Bowens, rudely thrown to the ground for a 9-yard loss. There was only 1:09 to play and the ball was on the 15. It was time to make a play.
Something had to be done. So he dropped back again and Dolphins were all around him but these were not like Flipper. They were Dolphins with dorsal fins and several of them jostled him one last time as he tried to step into his throw.
The ball fell short of its mark and was intercepted by Freeman at the 37-yard line. Brady didn't have to see it through the mass of bodies around him to know what had just occurred. He only needed to hear the crowd go wild and see the Dolphins leaping up and down as if they were on pogo sticks.
This game was over. The Patriots had fallen to 12-2, a game behind the Steelers in the race for the relatively meaningless homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Nothing he could do about it. Not this night, but in fivedays, he will get another chance against the New York Jets. A chance to do again what he'd done so many times these past four years. Another chance not to make mistakes. Not to take risks. Not to do what every quarterback does when he keeps getting hit and crowded and pushed around on too many plays.