This is the Tom Brady we will tell our grandchildren about.
And by the time some of you have grandchildren, the story of Brady's performance during the final, game-winning drive of New England's 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints at GIllette Stadium will go beyond football.
Of this cool, autumn New England evening, we'll also be telling those who weren't there in person or watching it on TV, that New England's all-world quarterback did the following:
- Defeated every James Bond villain.
- Arrested General Zod.
- Delivered a set of triplets.
- Brought peace to the Middle East.
- Discovered a guaranteed way to lose weight without diet or exercise.
As we embellish what really happened, it will seem the only things this Super Man couldn't do on Sunday, Oct, 13, 2013 were find a cure for whatever ails Rob Gronkowski, end the government shutdown or sign up for Obamacare.
The lesson of this bed-time story about No. 12 will be a simple one:
"Don't quit . . . on Tom Brady."
In reality, the Patriots (5-1) were on the verge of self-destruction off the field after they had pretty much self-destructed on it. Reports of a team rift over Gronkowski's inability to get himself in the lineup percolated all day Sunday. And no doubt the team was headed for another week of recrimination directed at Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels on sports talk radio, across the print and digital media spectrum and at water coolers across New England.
Brady's numbers were hardly noteworthy. He was 25 for 43, with 269 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception. But it was his sense of timing, and the killer instinct he displayed on New England's final drive that will be seared into our memories and become New England football folklore. And unless the Patriots win another Super Bowl this time, or least make it to Met Life Stadium in the snow and cold of February, his 17-yard TD pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds to play will be the signature moment of their season.
Brady was his old self-assured during Sunday's final drive. He was Larry "Mighty Wings" Bird against Magic in 1984. Curt Schilling against the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS 20 years later. Tim Thomas circa Game 7 in June 2011 against Vancouver.
Acknowledging his "post-Spy Gate" 3-4 record in the playoffs will let the cynics know we're not completely in the tank. But we're also wise enough to appreciate the football brilliance Brady displays in games like this while he's still around to provide it.
A sizable portion of the once nearly-silent sell-out crowd in Foxborough was within sight of their cars or SUVs in the parking lot or already snaking their way down Route 1 when the end came.
Brady and Patriots were down to their last shot in the fourth quarter three times in the final four minutes. The third time was the charm, thanks to the quarterback who looks a look like Prince Charming.
Speaking of Brady's looks, it's time he starts letting us know who he's wearing each week during his post-game press conferences. Certainly that fisherman-knit sweater he donned Sunday had a designer label on it and inquiring minds want to know which one.
Brady had just thrown his worst pass of the season in the team's penultimate possession, a one-and-out interception/wounded duck/can of corn picked off by Keenan Lewis.
The interwebs and social media were nuclear with profanity directed at Josh McDaniels, frustration at Brady's ineffectiveness to that point and thoughts of ill-will toward Belichick and Robert Kraft for letting you know who go you know where.
The Patriots then turned over the ball on downs with 2:46 to play after failing to convert on a 4th-and-6 pass to Aaron Dobson from their own 24. It was a maddening turn of events. Kyle Arrington's interception earlier in the quarter had given the Patriots the ball on New Orleans' 20. Seven plays later, six of which were runs and one was a 1-yard hitch pass, the Patriots had to settle for a field goal from Steven "Big Money" Gostkowski.
That left the Patriots exposed to Brees and the Saints.
The Patriots' defense continued to neither bend nor break, playing with a deck of about 46 cards thanks to injuries to key stalwarts like Talib and Vince Wilfork. The Saints settled for a field goal after running just 22 seconds off the clock, which put New England down 27-23.
Chance number two came and went after just one play, the interception by Lewis that left just 2:16 on the clock and the ball on the New Orleans 30. The Patriots' defense went back to work and the Saints kept the ball for just 54 seconds [thanks in part to a New England time out and the two-minute warning].
A punt gave Brady one more chance with a 1st-and-70 from the Patriots' 30.
It was the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI, minus the stakes and with Troy Aikman starring in the role of John Madden. While that game was played in New Orleans, this comeback came at the expense of New Orleans.
It would be a victory that was even more delicious thanks to the presence of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on the Saints sidelines.
Brady's 70-yard drive to glory with no timeouts and 73 seconds to play was more like a passing drill in practice. The Patriots went out of the shotgun on seven straight plays, running no-huddle on the final six. The march began with a 23-yard completion to Julian Edelman. That was followed by a 15-yard burst over the middle to Austin Collie and a six-yard swing pass to Dobson. Two incompletions slowed the clock but not Brady's pace.
Collie fetched a nine-yard pass over the left side with 24 seconds to go that left the ball on the Saints' 17.
Tick, tick, tick.
A spike stopped the clock with 11 seconds to play.
That set up the game-winning touchdown, the 342nd TD pass of Brady's career. He made up for that earlier interception with perhaps the best ball he's thrown since last season's playoff victory over Houston.
The ball caught Thompkins in mid-stride in the left corner of the end zone, looping down perfectly over the head of Jabari Greer.
Those who stayed at Gillette roared in delirious disbelief. Or maybe it was delirious confirmation of what they all thought, or at least believed: that you simply can never count Tom Brady out of any game as long as the numbers allow him a chance to win it.
Don't count him out.
Brady may not always come through like he did Sunday. [Even in the Super Bowl XLVI loss to Eli Manning and the currently 0-6 Midgets, Brady still kept hope alive until the final pass fell just beyond the reach of Gronkowski in the end zone.]
But there's no reason not to keep watching as long as he's still playing. It's never over until Brady says it's over.
Those who left Foxborough early Sunday will have to live with whatever rationalization they concoct for their actions. Too much traffic. Too long a day. Too much tailgating. Too many bad calls on offense. Work tomorrow. There's no need to further humiliate those sorry folk, or force them to wear pink hats, fake beards, carry Fenway Bricks and wear a Pat Patriot t-shirt for the rest of the season. Their inner-shame is pain enough.
Same with those who bailed on the telecast. Not wanting to miss the Red Sox pre-game show on NESN doesn't cut it as an excuse to miss Brady's brilliance.
"Today it took us 59 minutes and 55 seconds. We needed all the time we could get," he said when it was all over.
59 minutes and 55 seconds.
Brady is certainly worth that much of your time.
And at least five seconds more.
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