Sportswriter Jake Force takes us through some of Tom Brady’s most memorable playmaking moments and what to make of the 957-word retirement letter that did not mention the New England Patriots — the team that Brady played for 20 years of his career.
By Jake Force
Boston University News Service
What is the Tom Brady moment you’ll always look back on?
Is it the young kid leading an improbable game-winning drive against the big, bad St. Louis Rams with less than two minutes to play in Super Bowl 36? Or is it the famous snow bowl against the Raiders several weeks prior? Or maybe the iconic comeback from down 28-3 with 2:10 to play in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51? I know that one takes the cake for me.
Brady’s most exciting moments span far beyond the Super Bowls that allowed him to shine on the global stage.
This has always been one of the best parts about growing up a Boston sports fan — the victories that led to the championship titles. The ‘04 Red Sox didn’t win their first World Series in 86 years without first making a miraculous comeback against the Yankees in the playoffs. The 2011 Bruins claimed their Stanley Cup title only after a tumultuous first-round playoff series with their sworn enemies of almost a century, the Montreal Canadiens.
Everyone remembers the championships. But what surrounded them was pretty awesome too. So, in that spirit, here are just three of my favorite Tom Brady moments that weren’t in the Super Bowl.
Jan. 10, 2015. AFC Divisional Round, Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens. Gillette Stadium.
It’s one of those vintage Patriots games.
In a season that began with a 2-2 record and many suggesting the official end to the dynasty, Brady led the Patriots to a 10-2 record down the final stretch of the season to earn the AFC’s number one seed.
The Baltimore Ravens were the one team everyone said the Patriots did not want to face in the playoffs. Nonetheless, into Foxborough came the Ravens, and it was the first time an NFL team has ever erased two separate 14-point deficits in the same playoff game: 14-0 and 28-14.
And of course, Tom Brady was the quarterback of that team.
Brady completed 33 of his 50 passing attempts for 367 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw a screen pass to Julian Edelman — a QB in college — who from there proceeded to uncork a 51-yard wide receiver pass to his wide-open buddy Danny Amendola for a touchdown, the most memorable play of the game.
Brady would lead the Patriots on another scoring drive late in the fourth quarter that saw him rush for a first down and complete eight of nine attempts, the last of which was a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell to give the Patriots a 35-31 lead.
The score did not change again.
Jan. 20, 2019. AFC Championship game. Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs. Arrowhead Stadium.
In what’s widely known as one of the most challenging NFL stadiums to play in, Brady, with help from a strong rushing attack, gave us one of the great Patriots games we’ve ever seen.
Brady was also lucky to have what would’ve been a couple of costly interceptions get called back due to penalties on the defense, but he made sure to capitalize on those second chances.
He got the ball at his 35-yard-line, down 28-24 with 1:57 to go in the game. Just over a minute later, after key passing hookups to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, Brady handed the ball to Rex Burkhead who bulldozed his way into the end zone with 39 seconds to play.
Patrick Mahomes, who had a spectacular game in his own right, got the ball back and maneuvered his team into field goal range to tie the game at 31 as time expired. Fortunate enough to get the ball first in overtime, the Patriots made sure Mahomes never saw the field. Brady took the Patriots 75 yards in overtime and completed two enormous third-down passes to Edelman and one to Gronkowski.
Those plays were vintage Tom Brady. Burkhead finished off the thriller two plays later with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Final score: Patriots, 37, Chiefs, 31. You remember where you were.
Dec. 16, 2012. Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers. Gillette Stadium. One of only two matchups between Brady and Colin Kaepernick.
One of the great losses of Brady’s career. NESN’s Zack Cox puts it at number 11 on the list of Patriots games of the decade.
On this particular evening, the Patriots found themselves trailing 31-3 to Colin Kaepernick’s 49ers midway through the third quarter. It was their largest home deficit since being down 31 points to the Falcons on Nov. 8, 1998.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Patriots had gotten the score to 31-10. Brady would then lead the Patriots to score 24 points in the fourth quarter. One possession was six plays for 66 yards in just over a minute.
Just like that, it was 31-24, and we had ourselves a football game. Then it took just 3:13 to go 92 yards on seven plays to score a touchdown. In the blink of an eye, this absolute blowout went from 31-3 to 31-31.
Despite Kaepernick and the 49ers scoring ten more points to seal a 41-31 victory, this game always reminds me that the Patriots were just never out of a game until the clock ran down.
Even in a loss, Brady showed us all why it was a fool’s errand to think you had beaten the Patriots in the third quarter. This time it wasn’t enough to win, but it was another example of how the Patriots would make you pay for thinking they were down and out.
Now, about that retirement announcement …
Even with all the glory he brought us, Brady’s retirement letter should leave New England with a sour taste in its mouth.
When you look back through history, sports legends who end up leaving their first team usually make sure to include that team in their retirement proceedings. Joe Montana played his last two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs but went back and held his retirement press conference in front of 25,000 people in San Francisco. Wayne Gretzky, despite always regretting being traded by the Edmonton Oilers, thanked them extensively in his retirement speech.
For anyone who suggests that Tom Brady’s snubbing of the New England Patriots in his near thousand-word retirement letter was anything other than one last calculated jab at a franchise he still feels wronged by, look closer. Because it was just that.
Patriots fans, remember when you defended Brady during the Deflategate scandal when the rest of the nation was calling for his head? Remember spending your hard-earned money to stand in the bone-chilling Foxborough freeze of late January to scream and cheer for him in person? The hours you spent on Route 1 after those games? So, even though he thanked his fans when he was pushed out the door of Gillette Stadium two years ago, the definitive document that marked the end of his football career mentions none of those things.
Did he follow up with a bunch of subsequent posts about the Patriots and its fanbase?
But that was after he had already retired. And acting like there’s any sort of equivalence between the two is failing to see Brady for who he truly is. That is a man who was – and still is – constantly driven by persistent doubts that dogged him throughout his Hall of Fame career.
It’s still about proving people wrong.
The fact of the matter is that Brady still had more to give when he left New England. He proved that to all of us when he got the last laugh in Super Bowl 55 with the Buccaneers. He wanted to finish his career here, and the bottom line is that Bill Belichick didn’t want to give him a two-year, $50 million deal. The Bucs, on the other hand, happily obliged.
Brady was hurt by the Patriots not thinking he still had more to give, and he still is in some capacity. If he wasn’t, then “New England” would surely have been two of the roughly 960 words in his retirement statement.