A half-dozen thoughts on ol’ No. 12, bound for Super Bowl No. 10 …
1. Let’s get this straight right now. Nothing Tom Brady achieves or doesn’t achieve in two weeks will affect his standing among the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks. Any talk of anyone else being the best has been silly for at least four years, and probably longer. To me, Brady locked up the title when the Patriots came back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat a ferocious Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. That was his fourth Super Bowl win in six appearances to that point. Joe Montana was 4-0 in Super Bowls, but anyone with common sense knows that getting to a Super Bowl and losing is a far greater achievement than getting knocked out earlier. (Montana’s Niners lost their first playoff game three straight seasons from 1985-87.) But Brady’s status as the greatest ever to take a snap truly became undeniable when he led the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI two years later. The sixth Super Bowl win two years ago against the Rams was just the enhancement of a résumé that didn’t need it. Anyone making an argument that he is not the greatest has an agenda, one that should be easily exposed and readily mocked.
2. If you’re in the minority of Patriots fans and observers that are rooting against Brady – and though I’ve warmed up to appreciating his quest, I was in that group, mostly because people that should know better are using his success as a way to diminish what Bill Belichick has accomplished – it’s been uniquely strange to go through the Brady Experience from the other side. If you were pulling for the Saints last week or the Packers Sunday, you got a small sample of what it was like for those who had to endure Brady and the Patriots beating their favorite team in big moments over the years. Fair to say it’s much more satisfying to root for him. Our history of expecting him and the Patriots to come through in the biggest moments made Sunday’s game a different kind of visceral experience. When the Packers failed to take advantage of opportunities and – more damningly – played conservatively with the outcome hanging in the balance, you knew Brady wouldn’t let them get away with it. It’s like the Packers forgot who they were playing. But Patriots fans never did.
3. That’s not to suggest Brady was great Sunday. He completed just 20 of 36 passes and threw three interceptions. But he was superb in the first half, and his deft touch on deep passes was a major reason the Bucs built a 28-10 lead. In the end, the Packers are just one more vanquished opponent who were left with a stack of “may-haves” and “if-onlys.” The Packers could have won, perhaps should have, and were left with aching laments that will carry them over to the next season and perhaps beyond. The Packers should have gone for it on fourth down from the Bucs 8-yard-line late in the fourth rather than kicking a field goal to cut the deficit to 5 points at 31-26. Had Aaron Rodgers, who won’t even be the GOAT among quarterbacks with State Farm endorsement deals when all of this is over, run into open space on third down rather than flinging a low percentage pass, the coaching staff might have been more tempted to go for it on fourth down (assuming he didn’t scamper all the way into the end zone on third down).
4. I never wanted to see Brady play anywhere else. I wish he’d stayed. And does the decision to let him go – and really, actively participate in driving him away by treating him like any other player on the roster rather than one who had built up a massive reservoir of capital over 20 years – look brutal now. But don’t let the hyperbole of the next two weeks – or those who want to discredit Belichick – get to you. This not nearly as egregious as selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees a month before his 25th birthday in 1920. It’s not even as foolish a transaction as trading 27-year-old Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. Brady is 43. He has what, one good season left? Two? (Don’t say seven.) It will end soon. It’s just a shame it didn’t end here.
5. After the Bucs’ win, Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweeted a list of the 27 different quarterbacks Brady has defeated in the postseason during his career. The first name on the list was the one that reaffirmed to me just how ridiculous Brady’s run of sustained excellence has been. Rich Gannon was the Raiders quarterback on that snowy January 2002 evening at Foxborough Stadium, when Brady and the Patriot snatched victory from the jaws of potential postseason defeat for the first and far from the last time. Gannon is 55 years old now, and was drafted by the Patriots in 1987 (they traded him after he refused to change positions from quarterback), the same year they took Bruce Armstrong.
6. There are a million and one statistics that provide context to Brady’s unprecedented achievements as an NFL quarterback. But as a child of the late ‘70s and a prime target of the “America’s Team” propaganda in that era, I think my favorite is one I heard in the building to Sunday’s games. Brady has been to the NFC Championship more times in the last 25 years than the Dallas Cowboys. The same now applies to Super Bowl visits. Not counting on Tony Romo to mention that during CBS’s broadcast in two weeks.
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