FOXBOROUGH -- When Tom Brady hangs up his cleats, Jan. 1, 2012 may only be just a footnote in his career. But it was an historic day nonetheless.
Throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns, Brady surpassed 5,000 yards for the season in leading the Patriots to a 49-21 comeback win over the Buffalo Bills to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
He’s the third quarterback in NFL history to have passed for more than 5,000 yards, finishing the season with 5,235, a total second only to the Saints' Drew Brees. The New Orleans quarterback threw for 389 yards Sunday to finish with an NFL-record 5,476. Both quarterbacks broke Dan Marino's mark of 5,084, which had stood since 1984.
Brady surpassed the 5,000-yard mark with a 39-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez in the second quarter.
Detroit’s Matthew Stafford joined the list later Sunday, becoming the fourth QB to throw for more than 5,000 yards, eclipsing the mark with 520-yard passing performance.
Brady also reached the 300-touchdown milestone Sunday, tying him with John Elway for fifth all-time in NFL history. The significance of the milestones was not lost on Brady, but it's not nearly as important to him as winning.
“I play this game for one reason and it’s to win,” Brady said. “There’s nothing more important to me than that. As a quarterback you do everything you can do to help this team win. When your number is called upon to go out and execute certain plays, that’s what you’re expected to do. It’s not something I think about, it’s not something I ever [think], ‘Man, I love throwing touchdowns,’ or ‘I love throwing for yards.’ I love winning and that helps me sleep at night.”
In retrospect, the 2011 season won’t match up to 2007’s perfect regular-season run. Brady may only be worried about Super Bowl wins at the end of the day. He’s burning for a fourth title, which eluded him in 2007. But he does credit his successes to the abundance of talent around him. Rob Gronkowski, who recorded an NFL-record 1,327 yards receiving this year for a tight end, has certainly made things easier for him. As has Wes Welker, who finished the year with 122 catches and 1,569 yards receiving. And one can’t forget Hernandez, who had his third 100-yard receiving day Sunday of the season.
“Our passing game has been obviously a big strongpoint of this team,” Brady said. “The pass catchers and the blockers have been great and we’ve run the ball great, too, at times. That’s what it takes – a complementary offense. You run it and we throw it when we need to throw it and we can be effective. You have to stay balanced and those guys have done a great job all year doing stuff with it.”
For Patriots coach Bill Belichick, much like Brady, there’s a tendency to gloss over individual accomplishments and focus in on the wins. But they are acknowledged, if only slightly. When asked to comment about Brady’s year as well as Gronkowski’s record – much like he’s been asked about their achievements all year long – Belichick didn’t give up much. But he at least acknowledged it.
“They’ve obviously had great years,” Belichick said. “No question, they’ve had great years.”
His attention, just like Brady’s, is on winning the next game.