THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Truth hurts regarding Brady

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 11, 2010

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There’s nothing more for Tom Brady to do now than go home to the wife and baby. He couldn’t possibly be thinking about playing in that stupid Pro Bowl.

Nope, he can go home, relax, and tend to what ails him, which, if reports are correct, is plenty.

He will, of course, admit to none of it. The Patriots quarterback may have been playing with a broken finger, cracked ribs, and a hurting shoulder, but he’s going to be true to the code.

“I think injuries are a bunch of b.s.,’’ he said. “When you can play, you play. When you can’t play, you can’t play. I think we all deal with injuries, I really do. There’s not a guy in the locker room who’s not banged up. We all fight through it, and that’s part of playing football.

“I was able to play 16 games,’’ he said. “That’s the only way a quarterback can display toughness is to be out there. We don’t hit anybody, we don’t block, we don’t do that stuff, and I want the team to be able to rely on me and count on me, whether it’s practice or the game.’’

He’s being predictably noble. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. Injuries had nothing to do with his abysmal performance in yesterday’s 33-14 season-ending thrashing at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

Fine. He’s entitled to have it his way. He will have to accept full responsibility for his three interceptions, a strip sack and lost fumble (he should have unloaded the ball well before Terrell Suggs got around Matt Light), and the truly shocking total of 3.7 yards per pass attempt.

Brady has ridden the heights. He won three Super Bowls in his first four years as a starter and he came within seconds of winning a fourth. He was 1-2 with Peyton Manning as the best quarterback in the league. But first came the knee injury in the first game of the 2008 season and then a very uneven comeback season, which, with one strangely aberrational big day (vs. Jacksonville) ended with Brady being very pedestrian in four of his final five games, bottoming out with yesterday’s terrible performance.

And it was terrible. OK, he didn’t have Wes Welker, but there were plays to be made and Brady couldn’t make them, or, at least, not enough of them. The strip sack and the interceptions provided short fields for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, whose only apparent responsibility was to hand the ball to Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain and step nimbly aside. Flacco only threw the ball 10 times, completing four.

Brady put it up 42 times, completing 23 for a paltry 154 yards. That kinda speaks for itself.

He did not lose the game by himself. This was a very well-crafted team disaster. But when someone is as acclaimed and respected as Tom Brady, more is expected.

Let’s never forget this was a comeback season. There was no reason to think he’d automatically be the old Tom Brady, and he wasn’t. He threw for 4,000-plus yards this season, but who doesn’t in this pass-crazy league? We all know what we saw, and what we saw was an inconsistent quarterback who had his good days and his so-so-days, and then, in the end, a truly awful day in the biggest game of the year. Manning reigns supreme now, and the new flavors of the month are named Rivers, Brees, and Romo. Brady suddenly has a lot of catching up to do.

And he’ll have to do it with a team that is now officially yesterday’s news. For once, I agree with Bill Parcells. The Patriots’ record is who they are, and the final record was 10-7.

Brady is not stupid. He has to know as well as anyone just how flawed his team is. He knows the Patriots never had a quality road win all year. He knows how many times they had dreadful fourth quarters. He knows what separates good teams from great teams, and he knows the Patriots were an occasionally good team in 2009, and nothing more.

Brady ticked off four things he feels are necessary for a team to be among the elite. “Mental toughness and leadership, discipline and commitment,’’ he said. “All those things we displayed at times, but we certainly didn’t display them at other times. We lost a lot of games in the second half, and that’s uncharacteristic.’’

The obvious inference is that the team has sufficient talent. Does Brady really believe his team actually has Super Bowl talent? Does he think his team is strong enough at linebacker or defensive back or running back or that he has enough quality receivers? Do any of us know if Welker ever will be the same again? We have to believe he knows the truth, that this team needs a lot of work in the personnel department. It may even need a true offensive coordinator.

Brady is keeping the stiff upper lip, urging everyone not to panic. “We weren’t 2-14,’’ he said. He pointed out that the team still has Robert Kraft, still has Bill Belichick (“probably the greatest coach of all time’’), and still has what he referred to as “some great core leaders’’ and “a lot of youth that are really good players and work hard.’’

We’ll see about that. What we know is that Tom Brady hasn’t always won his final game of the season, but he’s never been this embarrassingly bad. That’s a whole new experience.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe’s 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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