Tom Brady still had winning football in him. But it was time to hang it up.

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With a retirement announcement posted to social media Wednesday morning, Tom Brady put an end to speculation that he might suit up for a third NFL team. After the slog of a season he just endured, it feels like the right time for him. But it’s not what most of us wanted, which was more. 

It is unfortunate that Brady is retiring after the first losing season of his career. I don’t think anyone wanted the story to end. We all would’ve been intrigued to see what Brady would’ve looked like in a 49ers, Dolphins, Raiders or even Jets uniform. Never mind what he still could’ve accomplished with a committed attitude and solid roster surrounding him. In a year that saw him turn 45 years old, Brady was still in the upper half of the NFL’s QB rankings. His completion percentage was just under 70%, he threw 25 touchdowns and only nine interceptions with a banged up offensive line, a nearly obsolete rushing attack and a mentally checked out number one receiver in Mike Evans. Speaking strictly on the terms of next season alone, at least several teams would be better off with a 46 year-old Brady than they would’ve with their current quarterbacks. 

But the bigger story is that Brady’s will to win faded this season. Which is why, despite the numbers, he simply didn’t look like the guy we’re used to. From skipping pre-season OTA’s, to attending Robert Kraft’s wedding two nights before an important game, to off-field family issues, to throwing the ball at the ground for much of the home wildcard game against the Cowboys and throughout the season to avoid getting hit, Brady didn’t have the same drive this year. Remember his last season with New England when he very much looked like his age was catching up with him? It wasn’t his age, he just wasn’t motivated by his current situation anymore. He still had winning football in him then, and he does now. But at that time he still had something to prove, which was that he could win at a high level without Bill Belichick on the sideline. Now that he’s checked that box, what else is there to prove? And since a mega broadcasting deal with Fox awaits him, why not get out now? For Brady, it makes sense. For everyone else, however, the sheer fun of his story is over and we’re all left to wonder what could’ve been.

Regardless, Brady is a perfect encapsulation of why growing up a Boston sports fan in the 2000’s and 2010’s was just different. Many people don’t understand why New England takes their sports so seriously and that’s because they never experienced rooting for someone like Brady. It didn’t hurt that that the Red Sox won four World Series titles from 2004 to 2018. Or that the Celtics and Bruins each won once and went to a few more championships. But Brady was the greatest player ever at the most important position of the country’s most popular sport. And he was our guy. No other fanbase has experienced anything like it. He represents every reason why the rest of the country hates New England fans, and why the experience of being a fan here is, simply put, just different.

Now that it’s over for real this time, let’s take a look back at some of my favorite memories Brady left us with. There’s a few random ones on the list, along with all the obvious ones that belong there, but you already know about those and there isn’t much else to be said about them. So, here goes… 

February 3, 2002 (Patriots vs. Rams – Super Bowl XXXVI)

Though I was barely 3 years old and don’t remember it, the documentary footage was all I needed. No one gave Brady and the Patriots a shot in hell at beating the St. Louis Rams, known at the time as “the greatest show on turf.” The patriots got the ball on their own 17-yard line with 1:21 remaining and no timeouts. Brady dished passes to the likes of J.R. Redmond, Troy Brown and Jermaine Wiggins to eventually set up a 48-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri and seal the first Super Bowl win in franchise history. The game-winning drive was a foreshadow of what the subsequent two decades had in store.

October 18, 2009 (Titans @ Patriots)

Just because it was my birthday, it snowed buckets in Foxborough, and Brady threw for 380 yards and 6 touchdowns in a 59-0 (yes…59-0) Patriots win. 

October 13, 2013 (Saints @ Patriots)

America’s game of the week had all the intrigue. The 5-0 Saints and 4-1 Patriots, Brady vs. Brees, Belichick vs. Payton. Brady was pedestrian, completing 25 of 41 attempts with an interception and touchdown. Throughout the afternoon, Patriots receivers dropped pass after pass thrown right at them, looking like their hands were made of two-by-fours. It was the final drive, however, that was yet another example of Brady’s late-game heroics. The Saints, down 23-17, scored a touchdown with 3:29 to play in the game and, following a quick Patriots 3-and-out, kicked a field goal to go ahead 27-23. Each team then traded 3-and-outs before Brady got the ball back on his own 30 yard-line with 1:13 to play and no timeouts. After a bullet into the hands of Julian Edelman, Brady hurried the Patriots down the field before throwing a perfect pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the back corner of the endzone for a touchdown with five seconds to play. Brady, once again, proved that he’s best with his back against the wall. 

November 24, 2013 (Broncos @ Patriots)

With Wes Welker having left to join Denver and contributing to another MVP season for Peyton Manning, the rivalry between Brady and Manning gained another layer to play out on Sunday Night Football. Down 24-0 at halftime, Brady and the Patriots offense, with help from a Knowshon Moreno fumble, led 3 touchdown-scoring drives in the 3rd quarter to claw within 3 points. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, a Logan Ryan interception gave the Patriots possession deep in Denver territory. Brady made quick work of the situation with passes to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman for the touchdown to get his team a 28-24 lead, which a Stephen Gostkowski field goal later stretched to 31-24. The Broncos tied it at 31 to push the game to overtime. After both teams traded possessions in OT, a muffed punt by the Broncos set the Patriots up deep in Denver territory, handing New England the 34-31 win. It was another chapter in Brady’s career-long domination of Peyton Manning. 

January 10, 2015 (Ravens @ Patriots – AFC Divisional Round)

Of all the great Patriots vs. Ravens games over the years, this one tops the list. The Ravens held two separate 14-point leads in a game that looked like it was going their way. Once again, Brady and company didn’t just make an epic comeback, they balled out in doing so. Rob Gronkowski was simply unstoppable, Brady ran for a touchdown, and Julian Edelman threw one. On one of the most iconic plays in Patriots history, Edelman caught a screen-like pass from Brady in the third quarter and proceeded to hurl it down the middle of the field to a streaking Danny Amendola. Touchdown, tie game. A Baltimore field goal made the score 31-28. Then Brady, with just over five minutes to play in the game, unleashed a 30-yard seam to Brandon LaFell for a 35-31 lead, passing his childhood idol Joe Montana for most career postseason touchdown passes. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was subsequently picked off in the endzone by Duron Harmon, sending the Patriots to the AFC Championship game.

January 18, 2015 (Colts @ Patriots – AFC Championship)

The game that made the Patriots the most hated team on earth. Regardless of how you feel about the Patriots and deflategate, the Patriots obliterated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. In the first half, Brady was intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who brought the ball to the referee and said it felt deflated. You know the rest of the story. And you also know that some Colts fans, to this day, will still say that slightly deflated footballs made the difference in a game that their team only scored 7 points and lost by 38. It was Colts tight end Dwayne Allen who famously quipped that “They could have played with soap for balls and beat us.”

February 1, 2015 (Seahawks vs. Patriots – Super Bowl XLIX)

For us kids born in the late 1990’s, the significance of this game can hardly be overlooked. Many of us were too young to remember the Patriots dominance that filled our early childhoods. In a way, it was the first time we really saw the Patriots win a title. Yet another game in which New England found themselves down two scores in the 4th quarter. Another example of Brady not being at his best, but nonetheless coming up huge when needed. And another game with a sub par rushing attack that left Brady to win the game through the air. Julian Edelman was magnificent, snagging 9 passes for 109 yards and the winning touchdown while helping convert 3rd downs throughout the evening. Running back Shane Vereen was also spectacular. With 11 catches for 64 yards, Vereen was a crucial safety valve for Brady throughout the game – garnering several chunk yardage plays from check-down passes. Late in the 4th quarter with Seattle down 28-24, Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse bobbled a deep Russell Wilson pass on his way to the ground, eventually securing a mind-bending catch deep in Patriots territory. Once again it felt as though the Patriots would be robbed by a David Tyree or Mario Manningham type of catch until, of course, the goal line interception by Malcolm Butler a few plays later to seal the deal. That’s the play everyone remembers, but it shouldn’t take away from the clinical second half display put on by Brady and his offense. Nor should it overshadow that the only reason Marshawn Lynch didn’t reach the end zone on the previous play to the Butler interception was thanks to a game-saving, shoe-string tackle by Dont’a Hightower that left Lynch a yard short of the end zone. And, once the Patriots had the ball on their own one-yard line where a kneel-down would’ve caused a safety, Brady was able to get the Seahawks to jump offsides and bring the Patriots to the 6-yard line where he could comfortably take a knee and bleed out the clock.

January 22, 2017 (Steelers @ Patriots – AFC Championship)

Not much to say about this one other than that Brady was purely dominant, completing 32 of 42 attempts for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was a clash of two teams that both hadn’t lost in 10 weeks; and further evidence that anyone putting the Steelers and Patriots teams of the 2000’s and 2010’s in the same category is a complete fool. 

February 5, 2017 (Patriots vs. Falcons – Super Bowl LI)

There isn’t much to say about this one other than it was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Made by the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady, down 25 points with just over two minutes to play in the 3rd quarter, led his team to an overtime victory in what is highly regarded as the greatest Super Bowl ever. 

January 21, 2018 (Jaguars @ Patriots – AFC Championship)

Another example of the Patriots being completely unfazed by a two-score deficit in the 4th quarter. The Patriots lost the ball on a Dion Lewis fumble recovered by Myles Jack, who had a clear path to the endzone. Luckily for the Patriots, the play was initially blown dead, killing what likely should’ve been a Jags touchdown. Jacksonville was awarded the turnover, but failed to score on the subsequent possession. Brady got the ball back and quickly found himself on 3rd and 18 from his own 25, where he gunned a pass into a tight window to Danny Amendola near midfield for the first down. On the next play, Brady caught a flea-flicker pitch from James White and threw a strike to Phillip Dorsett near the sideline for about a 30-yard gain. Brady then completed two short passes to Amendola, the second of which allowed him to find the endzone and got the Patriots to within a field goal. A short punt later allowed Amendola to return it deep into Jags territory. After a dump off to James White that gained 15 yards and a quick slant to Amendola, Brady bulldozed his way two yards forward to set up 1st down and goal. Then on 2nd down, Amendola once again came up heroic, catching a Brady pass in the back of the endzone keeping both feet in bounds. It was on 4th and 14 of the Jaguars’ next possession that Patriots all-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, with perhaps the play of his career, levitated through the air to make a one-handed pass breakup on a ball intended for Dede Westbrook, who had just burned Gilmore on a deep pass a few plays prior. The Patriots, with help from a clutch 3rd down run by Dion Lewis, were then able to force Jacksonville to use all of their timeouts and run out the clock. The Patriots, however, went on to lose to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. 

January 20, 2019 (Patriots @ Chiefs – AFC Championship)

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had only lost one game at Arrowhead Stadium all season. The Chiefs offense was quiet for most of the game until exploding for 24 points in the 4th quarter and sending the game to overtime. A Julian Edelman muffed punt – recovered by the Chiefs – was overturned once video review revealed that Edelman, though he tried to, did not actually touch the ball. The overturning of the play was much to the chagrin of the Kansas City crowd, who to this day will try to tell you that the officiating won the Patriots the game (it didn’t). Brady was intercepted a few plays later, anyway, leading to a Kansas City touchdown that put them ahead 21-17 with 7:45 to play in regulation. A Chris Hogan catch was then challenged by Andy Reid and upheld by video review – another excuse Chiefs fans will use to blame the officiating for why their team lost. The Patriots would then score on a Sony Michel running play, making it 24-21. A pass interference call on the Chiefs’ next possession put them in position to pull back ahead, 28-24. A solid kick return by Cordarrelle Patterson then gave New England the ball on their own 35-yard line with 1:57 to play. Brady started with a bullet to Julian Edelman to put the Patriots in Chiefs territory. A Brady interception was then overturned by Chiefs linebacker Frank Clark being lined up in the neutral zone, giving the Patriots another chance. (Chiefs fans conveniently ignore that part when you ask them why they lost, instead referring to how they “got screwed” by the officiating). Brady made Clark pay and delivered a strike down the sideline to Gronk, setting up a bulldozing touchdown from Rex Burkhead. Patriots 31, Chiefs 24, with 39 seconds to go. Patrick Mahomes, in his own display of greatness, then managed to get his team into field goal range. 31 all.

It was in overtime that Brady and the offense assembled a methodical 13-play, 75-yard march down the field. Brady dialed up passes over the middle to Edelman and Gronkowski, eventually setting up for a Rex Burkhead touchdown, sending Brady and Bill Belichick to their ninth Super Bowl with the Patriots. Two weeks later, in what may have been the most boring Super Bowl ever, the Patriots used defense to secure their sixth championship, beating the Los Angeles Rams 13-3.

January 24, 2021 (Buccaneers @ Packers – NFC Championship)

Not much to say about the game as a whole, but there were a few moments that displayed why Brady was a constant headache for anyone he played against. Brady was intercepted three times. But it was the last play before halftime when the Buccaneers lined up with four wide receivers and one running back on the Green Bay 39-yard line. Did everyone in the world know Brady was going deep? Yes…except Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who left a single high safety back to cover. Brady of course took advantage and unleashed a scintillating touchdown pass to Scotty Miller. It was further proof of Brady being an absolute assassin in key moments. LaFleur continued to mismanage the clock several times in the second half, once by settling for a field goal down eight with just over two minutes to play and inside the Bucs 10-yard line. This game also put to bed the debate over Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers; proving that such a debate shouldn’t even exist in the first place.

February 7, 2021 (Buccaneers vs. Chiefs – Super Bowl LV)

Once again defeating Patrick Mahomes, Brady wins a championship away from Belichick and the Patriots and cements his legacy as the greatest winner in the history of professional team sports.

Patriots Locker Room

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Me at Hunter Henry’s locker after a Patriots practice.
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