A Tale of Two Halves: Tom Brady and His Legacy

Is Tom Brady is the best Quarterback ever?

It’s a question that’s been posed many times and a question that has never had an easy answer.

With the 28-13 loss at the hands of the Ravens on Sunday, the Patriots franchise Quarterback may have suffered a blow to his legacy.

The game was very symbolic of Tom Brady’s career; it was a tale of two halves.

The Patriots opened the game against the Ravens on Sunday in an unusual fashion – they were to receive the opening kick. The game began as oddly as the way Brady’s career began: with the New York Jets Mo Lewis. Lewis was the one who knocked out Drew Bledsoe; the Patriots durable, franchise Quarterback in 2001. As Bledsoe went down, Brady went in and never let Bledsoe see the field again.

The Patriots only received the opening kick six out of the seventeen games they played this season before Sunday. Of the six times they received the Opening kick they lost three of those games (Seattle, San Francisco, and Baltimore) and went to overtime with the Jets in which a Gostkowski field goal sealed the 29-26 victory. The Patriots have won the toss 34 straight times since 2008 and elected to defer each and every time.

Brady and the offense struggled in their first possession of the game on Sunday – five plays and a punt – carried over, but on the next time with the ball, the Patriots kicked a field goal and that’s all they needed. The points on the board ignited the offense. Similar to the infamous “Tuck Rule” game early in Brady’s career, the Patriots needed a break – or some sort of momentum – to get a kick start.

The Tuck Rule, before the Brady decision, was an unusual and uncommon rule. Usually, if the Quarterback was bringing the ball forward in a passing motion and it hits the ground, that is ruled an incomplete pass. However, there is a corollary, if the Quarterback changes his mind and starts to tuck the ball into his body and the ball hits the ground, it is still an incomplete pass as opposed to if they had fully tucked the ball and then lost it – which would be a fumble. That rule requires a lot referee delineation.

After the Tuck Rule was utilized in a snowy Foxboro stadium in January of 2002, the Brady-led Patriots beat Jon Gruden’s Raiders en route to their first of three Super Bowl titles in four years. Brady dominated the league in the first half of his career, setting the record for touchdown passes in a season with 50, being the quickest to achieve 100 wins, and leading his team to ten AFC East divisional titles in twelve years.

And on Sunday, It appeared the field goal was all that New England needed as they absolutely dominated the first half. They held the ball 18:12 to 11:48 and ran 45 plays compared to Baltimore’s 27.

But, there was something amiss. They also ended the half with a 13-7 lead that could have been much larger.

It was a situation tinged with unease – the Patriots could have had a more significant lead, but clock mismanagement by Brady, who is normally accredited for his decision-making, held the Patriots to only a field goal. That situation was comparable to the same anti-climactic end of the 2007 season for the Patriots when their 19-0 quest was denied by David Tyree and the New York Giants. In both situations, Patriots fans were left with a feeling that there could have been something more, something greater. A two-possession halftime lead is a lot more comforting than a six-point one. Certainly there was a feeling of something greater during the 2007 season; it is as if a Patriots fan still owns the “16-0 Undefeated Regular Season” gear and gained some moral solace, but really the 16-0 means nothing without the Lombardi.

The offseason between 2007 and 2008 seems to be an appropriate halftime to Brady’s career.

Last Sunday’s second half was nearly the opposite of the first; the Ravens received the opening kick and – on their next drive – scored a touchdown to put themselves ahead 14-13 and ahead for good.

The litany of events that transpired in the second-half were all uncharacteristic for the usually calm and collected Patriots.

There was the holding call on Nate Solder after the Patriots had converted a 3rd-and-2, but failed to convert the 3rd-and-12. There was the unusual drop by Wes Welker where he was wide open on a 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens’ 34 – the Ravens received the punt, scored a touchdown and never trailed again. There were the five trips into the Ravens’ 25-yard line and only scoring on one of those efforts. It seemed as if Bill Belicheck was coaching not-to-lose, rather than win, punting three times in Ravens’ territory on Sunday.

Brady, who had a reputation of being oblivious to pressure and even having the nickname of Captain Comeback, did not play well – for the second year in a row. His reputation preceded him and the Patriots were upset in the playoffs once again.

Maybe it’s not just Brady, but the entire offense, because the top-scoring offense of the Patriots, who scored more than 100 points more than the second closest team, have not had the same production in the postseason. In every playoff loss since the 2007 Super Bowl, the Patriots have not scored more than three touchdowns.

There was the 2009 Wild Card game where they were beaten on the first play of the game by a Ray Rice 80-yard touchdown scamper. Then in 2010, the Patriots overlooked the Jets and then fell 28-21 in the divisional round, which was followed up in 2011 by another loss in which a miraculous catch saved the New York Giants (that time by Mario Manningham) in a 21-17 defeat for the Patriots.

There were some circumstances too, for example, Bernard Pollard continues to injure Patriots players. Pollard ended Brady’s 2008 campaign, tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 1 while with the Chiefs; tearing Wes Welker’s ACL in Week 17 of the 2010 season when Pollard was with the Texans, and spraining Rob Gronkowski’s ankle last year during the AFC Championship game. Last Sunday, Stevan Ridley was the victim of a vicious blow from Pollard that caused a fumble and led to a Baltimore touchdown and 15-point lead.

About 2011 though: Tom Brady did not play well then, either. In fact, Joe Flacco outplayed him – much like Sunday – and it was the Ravens miscues rather than the Patriots successes that led to the Patriots win. In 2011, Brady and Flacco were both 22 for 36 throwing the ball, but Flacco had 70 more yards and two touchdowns to Brady’s none. This prompted Brady to say, “I sucked today, but our defense saved us.” And in 2012, it was more of the same. Flacco outplayed Brady throwing for a better completion percentage, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady threw one touchdown and two interceptions (one was in garbage time).

Watching the game was much like watching Tom Brady’s career; a great start, an odd series before halftime, and then a feeling like there should have been something more, something greater, but instead it was Brady not making the plays and the Patriots just couldn’t deliver.

So when Brady takes the field next September at the (in football terms) ancient age of 36 years old, the only question is, what now, and what is Brady’s next performance and can he break out of a second-half slump?

Brady will take the field next season knowing there is still something more, something greater that he can give to New England and that his place in history is not yet cemented. Brady knows that he is one of the greatest Quarterbacks ever, but can he take the sole owner of the title ‘The Greatest?’

Because right now I think no, he is not the greatest of all-time. Certainly he’s up there; certainly he is right on that line, right below number 16, Joe Montana, of the San Francisco 49ers. Montana was the Quarterback who Brady looked up to when he was young.

Here’s why: a player becomes good in the regular season; they accumulate stats, win some games, and draw a crowd. A player becomes great in the postseason, legends are born when the pressure is at its absolute highest and legacies are left with wins when they matter most.

Brady and Montana are comparable in the regular season, but when it comes to biggest game of a player’s career – the Super Bowl – No. 16 has the edge. While Brady and Montana are within 100 passing yards of each other in the Super Bowl, have completion percentages that is decided by one percent, and have astounding touchdown-to-interception ratios (Brady has a 9 to 1 mark and Montana posts a 11 to 0 ratio) in the Big Game, but there is nothing more telling than their records.

Brady is 3-2 in the Super Bowl, including failing to finish off a perfect, 19-0 season while Montana is perfect with a 4-0 record in the Super Bowl.

If – and only if – Brady can get back to the Super Bowl and he can win, then he will be considered the greatest signal-caller of all-time. He will boast six Super Bowl appearances and tie Montana’s record of four wins. Brady needs to be the reason they win, however, he has to show up in order for that to happen – the New England Patriots are built around him. But, as of now things haven’t changed an while Brady looked up to Montana while he was in high school, he is still looking up to him on the ‘Greatest Quarterbacks of All-Time’ chart today.

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