Patriots

With Jaguars defense looming, a reminder of Tom Brady's struggles in AFC Championships

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With Jaguars defense looming, a reminder of Tom Brady's struggles in AFC Championships

Check out this terrible lede: The Patriots should hope Tom Brady’s good in the AFC Championship. 

It’s the ultimate “no duh” statement. The best team in the world would obviously want the best player in the world to play well in the biggest game of the season. 

But here’s the thing: Context makes that really stupid lede a little more sensible. After all, Tom Brady has only been okay in AFC Championships. He’s had some great performances and more than one terrible performance. But overall? Just okay for me, dog. 

We remember the doomed 2007 season for its regular-season scares against Baltimore and Philly and its eventual demise in the Super Bowl, but can you remember that season’s AFC title game? It was against the Chargers. It was close, as in a two-point game in the fourth quarter. Brady threw three picks. Without a big game from -- you guessed it -- Laurence Maroney, those undefeated Patriots might not have even made it to the Super Bowl. 

Of course, even the greatest player ever is allowed his occasional off performance. Yet in AFC Championships, it’s more than occasional with Brady. He threw multiple picks in each of the Patriots’ next two AFC Championships as part of a stretch of six consecutive conference title games that saw him throw more than one interception four times. The Pats went 2-2 in those four games. 

Of the three playoff rounds (and yes, I’m saying three; Tom Brady plays in Wild Card games just a little more often than he tears his ACL), the AFC Championship is by far his worst. Here’s his average per-game performance in each round, with Brady’s injury-shortened 2001 title game being taken out so as to not skew the numbers. 

Divisional round

61.36 completion percentage, 288 yards, 2.07 TD, .78 INT

Conference championship

61.13 completion percentage, 264 yards, 1.5 TD, 1.2 INT 

Super Bowl

66.69 completion percentage, 296 yards, 2.14 TD, .71 INT

With a big sample size -- 14 divisional-round games, 11 conference championships (10 of which are included here; again, we left out his quarter-and-a-half performance against Pittsburgh in 2001) and seven Super Bowls -- it’s jarring that Brady’s worst numbers in every category, from completion percentage to passing yards to touchdowns to interceptions, have come in the AFC Championship. 

Which brings us to . . . the AFC Championship and the Jaguars. Jacksonville finished the season second in points allowed, second in yards allowed, second in sacks and second in interceptions. For as annoying as all the “The only way to beat Tom Brady is ____,” questions may be, the Jaguars seemingly have the tools. 

Good news, though: The Jaguars defense just got absolutely torched in the divisional round by a Steelers team that played through narcolepsy. For as daunting as the Jags should be considered, the Steelers game provided a reminder that they are a team capable of allowing 40-plus to a good team. 

There’s a lot of interesting storylines surrounding Brady entering Sunday. We’ll be talking plenty about Brady’s hand (?) now, but there’s also the fact that last year’s AFC Championship was by far his best performance in a conference title game (384 yards, three touchdowns, no picks). 

Those kind of numbers might not stand out for the best player to ever play the sport. But for a guy who’s 7-4 in these games, he’s rarely found them to be particularly easy. 

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Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Somebody needs to tug on Tom Brady’s sleeve and let him know that fun’s fun, but he’s drifting into Brett Favre territory now.

Forty-eight hours hadn’t passed since the Oprah Orchard Interview in which Brady said his retirement was coming “sooner rather than later” and there he was on Instagram Tuesday afternoon insinuating in Spanish that he’s back to playing until he’s 45

Given that he’s 40 right now and his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, 45 seems like later not sooner.

That’s standard fare this offseason.

There was Couch Brady in the Super Bowl aftermath, wondering what he’s doing it for anyway.

We had Robert Kraft in May saying that “as recently as two days ago [Brady)] assured me he’d be willing to play six, seven more years.

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Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, said in March, “I think this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons -- I mean, this is just me, the guy who has been around him for a while now -- I’d have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see.”

Last month, Brady said he’s negotiated “two more seasons” with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.

During TvT, he said he was chasing “two more Super Bowls. That can be shorter than five or six years.” 

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."

I’m not feeling the firm. Nor, it seems, are most people who have grown weary of the ping-ponging expiration dates Brady keeps floating.

I think you have to be either absent-minded or amazingly entitled to say with a straight face that Brady “owes” the Patriots, the fanbase or the media a hard answer on his retirement.

The guy has generated billions of dollars for the franchise. He’s provided 37 games -- more than three seasons -- of postseason football for the fans to revel in. He’s created almost two decades worth of content for us in the media to gravy train off of.

Until this past calendar year, Brady hasn’t outwardly put his family or personal “brand” anywhere near the top of the pedestal where football and the Patriots resided.

Now that he’s done so, some people (read: “morons”) don’t merely consider it jarring, they feel it rises to a betrayal of the bygone Brady, of Simple Tom and The Patriot Way, which was always a naïve concept anyway.

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Fortunately, Brady has a ways to go to match Favre’s Hamlet routine.

The former Packers quarterback started noodling about retirement after the 2005 season. Same thing after 2006. After the 2007 season -- in March of 2008 -- he actually announced his retirement.

Annnnnd by July he’d changed his mind and wanted back in. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers more than ready to succeed Favre, told Favre to screw. He did. Favre played three more seasons with the Jets and Vikings, then retired. The three-year post-Green Bay wandering hardly seemed worth it and the annual “is he in or is he out?” conversation was a tedious exercise.

By comparison, Brady has years of waffling to go. But he’s definitely come out of the blocks fast with crazy promises of longevity.

Last May, barely 13 months ago, Brady was telling ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that he didn’t see why he shouldn’t keep playing past 45 if he still felt good.

“I’ve always said my mid-40s,” Brady said. "And naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don't see why I wouldn't want to continue."

And 50? Why not?

"If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70,” Brady said in the same interview. “I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms.”

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That interview was one of a handful Brady did with the aim being to promote the TB12 Method. There was ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the book, the app and the Tom vs. Time docuseries, which began filming last summer. Having won his fifth ring, the time was right to maximize visibility. If that approach ran contrary to Patriots customs, well . . . sorry. What’s the worst that can happen?

How about a poorly-concealed, season-long pissing contest in which Brady was assailed for having changed and the coaching staff was assailed for being restrictive and unreasonable?

Which spawned Contemplative Tom, sitting on his couch during the final installment of TvT pondering what he’s doing it all for. 

I’m not sure Brady really appreciates how big this story -- his ultimate retirement -- truly is. Not just here but to sport in general. He should; he grew up rooting for Joe Montana. He understands Jordan and Tiger and Kobe.

Just before the Super Bowl, he was asked about retiring and he replied, “Why does everyone want me to retire?”

Was he being disingenuous? Or does he not get that his and the Patriots stranglehold on the NFL isn’t like Jordan’s on the NBA. It’s closer to Godzilla’s on Japan, and that every other NFL team and fanbase is counting the seconds until he walks.

That’s why every throat-clearing, every pause, every social media “like” is scrutinized for clues as to which way he’s ultimately leaning.

Maybe he doesn’t care. “Take Nothing Personal” is one of The Four Agreements. But the mixed messages -- over a period of time -- probably don’t help the brand.

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Tom Brady hints at playing until 45 in Instagram comment

Tom Brady hints at playing until 45 in Instagram comment

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's potential retirement has been the main storyline of the team's offseason workouts. After telling Oprah Winfrey in an interview that he is thinkning about retirement more than he used to, the five-time Super Bowl champion wrote a cryptic response to an ESPN Instagram post

The photo contained the full retirement quote from the Oprah interview, while Brady's account sent a response saying, "Cuarenta y cinco," which means 45 in Spanish. Brady turns 41 on August 3rd, which would give him at least four more years under center for New England if he wants to play to 45 years old.

There is also the chance that the response alludes to a potential contract extension, in which Brady may ask for $45 million. Brady reportedly wanted a new contract back in April, as he is signed through 2019 making a $14 million base salary that ranks fifth among NFL quarterbacks. 

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