2007 season, which saw New England Patriots Rewriting the offensive record book and posting the NFL’s only regular season record going 16-0, he is remembered as one of the Tom BradyBest. The additions of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth led to some Madden-worthy performances, especially during the first 10 games, when the Patriots averaged 41.1 points per game (and allowed only 15.7).
But for my money, the season I remember as the one that cements Brady’s place as the best quarterback of all time was the season before. In 2006, Bill Belichick replaced Brady favorite Branch Dionne and handed him a receiving corps from Richie Caldwell’s 35-year-old Benjamin Watson. Troy Brown and Doug Gabriel (who? Exactly) to work with.
And damn it, Brady did. New England was 12-4 that season, upsetting the top-seeded San Diego Chargers on the road in a memorable Divisional Round game and almost advancing to the Super Bowl.
In the AFC title game, host Indianapolis Colts Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison appeared. Brady had outcasts and soon-to-be retired players, and that game is still a 38-34 shootout that wasn’t decided until the last minute.
That Brady is gone. And it’s okay. Brady has had more years at a very high level than any player could hope to have, and he has.
But it’s time.
While watching Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose from 31 to 14 l Dallas Cowboys On Monday’s NFC wild card playoff game — full disclosure, I didn’t watch the entire game but much of the first three quarters — there were times I spoke to my laptop. Usually the subconscious go-to phrase in times of exclamation need is, “Holy crap!” But this time, I didn’t say it excitedly. It was almost sad.
Brady seemed like an athlete who did the one thing you hope your favorites never do: He stayed one year too long.
On his second quarter interception in the end zone, Brady saw the pressure coming and just threw the ball, too high and to the left of anyone in a Bucs jersey. In the second half, there was another moment when the pocket broke, and Brady seemed to shrug off the ball as if it were a blazing shot, wanting no part of it being tackled.
One of the things Brady is celebrated for is his subtle pocketing movement, his ability to slip out of danger, reset his feet and still throw the ball. On Monday, it almost deflates.
Nobody blames him for that – not here anyway. He is 40 years old. Eventually time will come to all of us. Even cute Brady.
He has long shied away from sneaking into the middle, which is another small but important part of his game in which he has excelled. But sneaking and taking hits sometimes are things a quarterback has to do – he has to be willing to do. Brady didn’t seem to want any part of it.
The other thing that seemed to be fading this season: mystery. There was a long period of time when it seemed like no lead was too big for Brady to beat. It was only a matter of time until he carried out a crucial mission. Then another. Then another. While watching the game on Monday, ESPN commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman mentioned the magic of Brady’s career comebacks several times, but it never materialized.
Fans will point out the problems with Tampa Bay’s offensive line this season and the lack of a rushing game, and those things are true. Brady’s raw stats look remarkably similar to what they’ve been in years, and he’s even led the league in pass completions and attempts.
But he needs a lot of things to be perfect now in order to look like the guy we’re used to seeing him — a perfect line, a perfect running game, a perfect set of receivers and tight ends, and according to fellow Yahoo athlete Charles Robinson, Perfect coaching staff. Maybe that is Las Vegas RaidersAnd, as many in the NFL media ecosystem are now speculating, but this league is so fickle, a Las Vegas team that looks so relevant today might look very different in August or October.
Brady has been cool for so long that it seems like a lot of people take him for granted. We could be here for paragraphs and paragraphs detailing all of his amazing games, other than those seven Super Bowl victories, and we’d never paint the full picture. He is one of one.
Watching Manning in his final season with Denver was almost uncomfortable because we all knew what he was up to at his best. Although he won his last game, Super Bowl 50, his play was forgettable, and his contribution minimal.
Brady may continue to play, continue chasing postseason glory and the feeling a win gives him that he probably fears won’t get anything else. It was crossed out by, or declared cooked or washed or whatever the term du jour was at the time. It has happened more than once, and it always proves its critics wrong.
But on Monday, I searched for the whole world like that day had finally come. Time will eventually get to us all.