Brady bids farewell to Patriots

Posted 3/24/20

Sports fans across the nation took a break from their boredom last week to try and process an unfathomable fact: Tom Brady is no longer a member of the New England Patriots.

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Brady bids farewell to Patriots

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Sports fans across the nation took a break from their boredom last week to try and process an unfathomable fact: Tom Brady is no longer a member of the New England Patriots.

After 20 seasons, six Super Bowl titles and three Most Valuable Player awards, the greatest quarterback in the history of football will don new colors in the twilight of his unparalleled career.

The 42-year-old will switch conferences and become a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFC South in 2020.

20-something-year-olds such as myself can recall Brady winning championships while they were children, college students and working adults. He found success in two different eras of football and essentially led two separate dynasties in the early 2000s and again in the mid-2010s.

Brady’s stint in New England can basically be broken down into three parts: The First Dynasty (2000-05), Coming Up Short (2005-13) and The Second Dynasty (2014-2019).

The First Dynasty (2000-05)

Like many gridiron fairytales, Brady’s career was jumpstarted by a brutal injury. The sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan took over for starter and highly-respected signal caller Drew Bledsoe in week two of 2001 after he sheered a blood vessel in his chest on a devastating sideline hit by linebacker Mo Lewis of the New York Jets.

While Brady was far from perfect, he quickly found his role on a defensive-oriented New England squad that won 11 games and earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

He then led a 10-point, fourth quarter comeback while battling a blizzard and the Oakland Raiders in the Divisional Round in what is now famously referred to as the “Tuck Rule Game”, named as a result of a play in which it appeared Brady may have fumbled during the final drive of regulation.

The referees concluded, in accordance with the now extinct Tuck Rule, that Brady’s arm was going forward on the so-called fumble that would have sent Oakland to the AFC Championship. Instead, the drive continued and Brady positioned kicker Adam Vinatieri for a game-tying kick to send it into overtime. You can guess what happened next.

A week later, Brady exited the AFC title game in Pittsburgh during the first half due to injury and did not return. Bledsoe, who had since returned to full health but had been dubbed the backup by head coach Bill Belichick due to the team’s success under young Brady, entered the game and carried the Patriots by the Steelers.

Belichick then had another decision to make. He had to choose between the veteran Bledsoe and the 23-year-old Brady while preparing to face the St. Louis Rams and the most-feared offense in NFL history (at the time) in Super Bowl 36.

Belichick chose wisely. While Brady did not light up the scorebook, the Patriots played the perfect physical game to upset Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and the Rams, who were dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf” by the media.

The stats may not have been apparent at the time, but his flair for the dramatic was forged in the final minute-and-a-half of that Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Patriots, who led 17-3 after three quarters, allowed Warner and the Rams to fight back and tie the game late.

The great head coach and broadcaster John Madden, who voiced the game for Fox alongside Pat Summerall, famously opined that Brady and the Patriots should run out the clock and be content with overtime as the underdog.

In fairness to Madden, the Patriots had no timeouts and just 90 seconds to work with.

But they also had Brady, who instead completed five-of-six passes, including a 23-yard strike to Troy Brown, to set up Vinatieri for a championship-winning field goal.

Just like that, the legend of Tom Brady was born. He was named MVP of Super Bowl 36 and led a similar drive against the Carolina Panthers in Houston two years later, earning him the same distinction in a 32-29 New England victory. He had already established himself as one of the most clutch quarterbacks the game had to offer in just three seasons as a starter.

The 2003 season ended with 15 straight victories (including the postseason) and cemented New England as the dominant team of the NFL.

The dominance continued during the 2004 season as Brady and the Patriots went 14-2 for the second straight year. They defeated the 15-1 Steelers in Pittsburgh to avenge one of their regular season losses and advance to the Super Bowl again.

The Patriots took their third championship in four years in less dramatic fashion than the first two, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 (a late scoring drive by Donovan McNabb made the scoreboard closer than the game itself).

Before his 27th birthday, Brady had already won three Lombardi Trophies and two Super Bowl MVPs. His best statistical years were still ahead of him.

Coming Up Short (2005-13)

Despite a decade outside the winner’s circle, it would be inaccurate to say the Patriots ever fell off the top of the NFL mountain. Brady began to morph into the league’s best quarterback as the game of football changed and the team began primarily relying on him to win games as they rebuilt the defense.

2007 marked Brady’s best statistical season. He was the shining star on the only team to ever go 16-0 in the history of the NFL with 50 touchdown passes (a record at the time, currently ranks second) and eight interceptions. It was arguably the greatest NFL team of all time.

The boom in production was brought on by the addition of Randy Moss, who was the first elite wide receiver Brady ever played with for a significant amount of time. The connection between Brady and the rejuvenated Moss was, put simply, ridiculously unfair. Moss hauled in 23 of Brady’s touchdown passes that year (a record that stands to this day) to lead an offense that produced 36.8 points per game (a record at the time, now ranks second behind the 2013 Denver Broncos).

Despite the jaw-dropping, one-handed snags above three defenders from Moss and Brady’s near perfection on a weekly basis, the 2007 season would end in the same kind of heart break that would come to define this decade in Brady’s career. The undefeated Patriots were dethroned by the 10-6, Eli Manning-led New York Giants in Super Bowl 42 after a seemingly impossible catch by David Tyree and a forgettable 14-point performance from Brady and the feared offensive unit. It stands as the most stunning Super Bowl result in the game’s 54-year history.

The younger Manning would get the best of Brady and the Patriots again in Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis. While Brady did not perform well enough in either of the Super Bowl losses to the Giants, he managed to lead a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 42 and was defeated by an improbable catch in both.

While they did not win the Super Bowl, 2011 began a streak of eight straight trips to the AFC Championship for the Patriots.

By the time New England lost to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the title game to conclude their 2013 campaign, Brady had already established himself as one of the game’s greatest through pure longevity.

But it seemed hard to believe the Patriots and Brady still had just three championships. It was even harder to believe the best was yet to come.

The Second Dynasty (2014-2019)

In Brady’s final six seasons in New England, he led the team to four Super Bowls and won three of them. His victories in Super Bowls 49 and 51 would, in my opinion, establish him as the greatest player to ever hold the position.

The Seattle Seahawks, who arguably boasted the best defense of the 21st century thus far, led the Patriots by 10 midway through the fourth quarter in Super Bowl 49 before Brady led back-to-back touchdown drives in the final minutes.

This fact is often overshadowed by how the game ended. After Brady put New England up 28-24 with a touchdown pass to Julian Edelman, Russell Wilson led the Seahawks all the way down the field for a chance to win the game. In a controversial decision, Seattle chose to throw the ball from the one-yard line instead of handing it off to star running back Marshawn Lynch.

Wilson’s pass was intercepted by cornerback Malcolm Butler at the goal line, securing the team’s fourth championship in chaotic fashion. Brady was again named MVP.

At the time, he was the only player to ever overcome a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to win the Super Bowl (Pat Mahomes also brought his team back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 54 in February).

Considering the dominance of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense in the early 2010s, and the fact that it broke a 10-year championship dry spell, Brady’s comeback in Super Bowl 49 was arguably his crowning achievement at the time. But, again, the best was yet to come.

He found himself back in Houston for Super Bowl 51 two years later. This time, Brady and the Patriots came out completely flat against the Atlanta Falcons and fell behind 28-3 with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter.

Most people who still refused to call Brady the greatest of all time officially changed sides that night. He led the Patriots to 25 unanswered points, or a field goal and three touchdowns (including a missed extra point and two successful two-point tries), in the final 16 minutes to force overtime. After winning the coin toss, he led the Patriots right back down the field for a game-winning touchdown, completing the most improbable comeback in history on the game’s biggest stage. He was named Super Bowl MVP for a fourth and final time and the decision was never easier.

What made Brady so special is the fact that he seemed to improve with time. The most impressive moments in his remarkable career came after the age of 37.

He remained at the top of his game and brought New England back to the Super Bowl after a 13-win 2017 season. Ironically, his best Super Bowl performance came in a loss. He threw for over 500 yards (a Super Bowl record that stands today), three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles.

For reasons that remain unclear to this day, Belichick decided to bench Butler against Philadelphia and the team’s defense suffered mightily because of it. Nick Foles and the Eagles were able to expose the Patriots throughout the night and won the game 41-33.

Belichick and his defense more than made up for this the following year in Super Bowl 53. Brady threw for about half of the amount of passing yards he did the year before in the team’s 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta, which would prove to be his last title in New England.

While Brady struggled to find an offensive rhythm throughout the game, he was still able to lead what would prove to be the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to his connection with start tight end Rob Gronkowski in the final game before his retirement.

Individually, his shining moment during this particular championship run came two weeks prior in Kansas City when he out-dueled Mahomes to win the AFC title for a ninth and final time.

The Fallout

Despite winning the Super Bowl, Brady appeared to drop-off noticeably during the 2018 season. This drop-off only continued in his final year with the Patriots, in which he was surrounded by a flakey offensive line and lacked adequate targets after Gronkowski’s retirement.

The breakup between Brady and the Patriots is a complicated saga that may date back many years. The relationship between Belichick and Brady was clearly strained as the head coach/general manager seemed reluctant to offer the quarterback a multi-year deal.

Ultimately, it likely had to do with Belichick’s vision for the future. Brady is at a point in his career where he wants to go all in and immediately devote the team’s resources to another championship run. This would seem to be the logical thing to do once you have already won six titles and your star quarterback is on his way out.

Belichick, however, has always planned ahead and done things a certain way. This, as much as Brady, has contributed to the team’s longterm success. In his mind, no individual is greater than the system. This, apparently, includes Tom Brady.

Brady will inherit a number of intriguing targets in Tampa Bay, including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, as well as a capable defensive unit.

While potentially capable of attaining success as a member of the Buccaneers, the conclusion of Brady’s tenure in New England marks the beginning of the end for the legendary signal-caller.

His time in Tampa Bay may prove to be similar to Joe Montana’s stint with the Kansas City Chiefs after years of success with the 49ers or Michael Jordan’s two seasons with the Washington Wizards after leading the Chicago Bulls to six championships (sound familiar?). In 20 years, the average sports fan may not even know Brady ever wore another jersey.

It is also a crucial step in ending New England’s unprecedented two-decade stronghold as the NFL’s most feared franchise. It is possible we will never see another 20 years quite like it again in the history of professional sports.

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