Tom Brady was arguably the most important component of the New England Patriots dynastic run that saw them win three Super Bowl titles from 2001-04. The Patriots were money in the playoffs – Brady won his first 10 postseason contests and collected two Super Bowl MVP awards.
Not only did the Patriots win these world championships with Brady, but the Patriots also benefited from his California cool demeanor when the game was on the line. In 2001 Brady rallied the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round in the now infamous “Snow Bowl.” The Patriots were down 13-3 late in the game, but thanks to well, the also infamous tuck rule, kicker Adam Vinatieri’s leg and some timely Brady throws, they came away winners in overtime 16-13 over the Oakland Raiders. Just two weeks later in the Super Bowl, Brady was at it again. After suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship game a week earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers that thrust longtime starter Drew Bledsoe into relief in an eventual 24-17 triumph, Brady drove down the field with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter of a tied contest with the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Brady-led drive was good enough to set up a Vinatieri game-winning field goal, and so the Brady legend was born.
Over the next couple of seasons, the legend expanded – from getting the better of counterpart Peyton Manning, to torching the highly regarded Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game and of course two more Super Bowl victories. Brady was simply invincible – already being compared to his boyhood idol Joe Montana, who was on the winning end of four Super Bowl championships.
Everything changed however in the 2005 AFC Divisional Round matchup when they traveled to Denver – ironically New England’s opponent this weekend at the razor and were thumped out of the playoffs to the tune of a 27-13 defeat. Brady finished the game with a mortal 74.0 QB rating and two interceptions. In his first 10 playoff games Brady threw just THREE interceptions while tossing 14 touchdown passes.
Little did Patriots’ fans know that the 2005 loss would be the beginning of a long streak of suspect play from Brady in the playoffs. Since the Denver game Brady has played in nine playoff games and has thrown 16 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions – certainly not the Tom Terrific we were getting accustomed to seeing early on in his career. The Patriots have a team have also suffered in those nine games, posting a 4-5 record with a losing Super Bowl appearance.
But also consider this. In the last nine games Brady’s counterpart has had a higher quarterback rating in six of them. The names that have outplayed Tom Brady – Jake Plummer, Philip Rivers (twice), Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and everyone’s favorite local punching bag Mark Sanchez. Other than the Manning brothers, none of the aforementioned players will be sharing space in Canton with Brady someday.
The Patriots have won just twice since 2005 when Brady has posted a worse rating than the opponents quarterback. The last time it happened was in the 2007 AFC Championship game, and the only other time since 2005 was the 2006 AFC Divisional Round game in San Diego. The problem is, the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Ty Law and others will not be walking through Fort Foxboro to play football anymore in an effort to pick up the slack should Brady need any help.
The fact of the matter is the Patriots are built to only go as far as Brady takes them. Brady simply not only has to be better than his opponent, but dominate the matchup like he has so often in the regular season. When looking at the facts, the only quarterbacks Brady has outplayed since 2005 postseason are David Garrard, Chad Pennington and Joe Flacco. Luckily for the Patriots, the remaining AFC opponents all lack a quarterback that can outplay Brady, or so it seems.
When all is said and done, Brady is more than capable of putting the Patriots on his shoulders and bringing home a fourth Super Bowl. He’s still shown flashes of his clutch play over the last several years. His performance in 2007 against Jacksonville where he went 26-of-28 for 262 yards and three touchdowns stands out as does his go-ahead drive in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLII that almost sealed a perfect season.
Brady knows that New England goes as far as he can take them – it has been that way for several years now. He and Bill Belichick are simply too good in my opinion to not get a fourth Lombardi Trophy, but time is running out. Brady will be 35 by the time next season kicks off. Improvement must come soon from Brady in the playoffs or everyone could look at Brady’s run as a tale of two careers. It’d a shame for a guy who has truly been a winner here from day one.
all statistics courtesy of nfl.com
photos courtesy of patriots.com