Unbelievable. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., the greatest gridiron football player in history, is going to his tenth, yes, tenth Super Bowl after upsetting the favored Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game, 31–26. Brady threw three touchdowns in the win, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to become the first team in NFL history to host the Super Bowl at their home field. This caps an incredible run for a Bucs team that was only 7–5 entering December and in real danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
Since then, Tampa has yet to lose a game and Brady has played, arguably, some of the best ball of his career, throwing an absurd 19 touchdown passes to just four interceptions, good for a passer rating of 108.9. Having to go on the road as wild card team for the first time in his career, Brady beat a Washington team with one of the best defenses in the league, Tampa’s archrival New Orleans Saints with another Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, and the NFC’s top-seeded Packers, with the likely league MVP, Aaron Rodgers. Given the adversity Brady had to overcome, one could argue that this championship run is the most impressive in his illustrious career. Which begs the obvious question, why is he doing this in red and pewter and not navy and gray?
It feels like forever ago now, but Tom’s last game as a New England Patriot came in a disappointing home playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans in the 2019 AFC wild card round. That game capped a frustrating slog of a 2019 season in which Brady, having to work within the confines of an extremely limited Patriots receiving corps, set near-career lows in almost every statistical category. There had been whispers all of that year that Brady might leave, exacerbated by the public knowledge that he had put his Boston-area mansion on the market, resigned from his position as chairman of the Best Buddies charity, and seemed generally noncommittal about his future. But, most people assumed, he would never actually leave a plum situation where he, along head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft, had partnered to build one of the greatest dynasties in the history of North American sports. Or would he?
Brady stunned the sports world when, on St. Patrick’s Day 2020, he announced that he would be leaving New England and starting anew in Tampa Bay, a full two decades after the Pats had drafted him as a relatively anonymous sixth rounder out of Michigan who most scouts assumed would be relegated to a career backup. Seeing the glimmer of a diamond in the rough like that might’ve been the best decision of Belichick’s career. Deciding that the diamond who had brought him an embarrassment of riches was no longer worth the investment might’ve been the worst.
In hindsight, the Pats never had a feasible plan for life after Tom at quarterback. Brady’s erstwhile heir to the throne, Jarrett Stidham, had never seen much action in regular season NFL play, and reports surfaced last summer that team management had soured on his potential after what they viewed as a lackluster offseason where he didn’t do much to convince them he deserved the job. Perhaps because of that, the Patriots decided to take a flier on a free agent, former No. 1 overall pick and MVP Cam Newton. However, Newton was subpar at best, finishing the year with just five touchdown passes to 10 interceptions. The Patriots went 7–9, their first losing campaign since 2000, and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Now, as Brady prepares to go to yet another Super Bowl with another team, one has to wonder what the Patriots’ thought process was in moving on from the undisputed GOAT. A GOAT, who, as it turns out, still had a lot of gas left in the tank. No one they could’ve brought in this year, and likely no one they have any shot of signing, drafting or trading for this upcoming offseason is better than No. 12. The Patriots had the golden goose and instead of nourishing it for as long as they could, just let it swim down the river. Now that goose has made another franchise very rich, while they are left to wonder how things got away from them so quickly. Cherish the memories, Pats fans. The good times may not be back for a long, long time.