When Brady got that chance, he elevated to a new level and led the Patriots to a 20-16 victory Sunday against the Cowboys at Gillette Stadium.
The quarterback pulled off the 32nd game-winning drive of his career, completing 8 of 9 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown to Aaron Hernandez. He was so sharp that the Patriots only had one third down on the drive, and Brady converted that with a two-yard sneak. Again, with his level of execution, it almost looked easy, particularly compared with the rest of the game.
"I think your margin of error is very, very small at that point," Brady said. "You can't not get the ball in the end zone. The plays and throws need to more accurate. The routes need to be better. The protection needs to be better, and the entire offense [needs to be better]…When it came up this week, it's good to get the ball in the end zone."
Brady had his struggles earlier in the game. Prior to the game-winning drive, Brady was just 19-for-32 for 211 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions — the second of which ranked among the ugliest of his career.
But that's where his legacy was born. The stuff that happens before that game-winning bid, it never matters to him. He could be playing the game of his life or putting forth one of his rare forgettable performances. Yet, he's got that ability to capture a moment and lift his teammates during the tensest of situations.
Every single one of his teammates over the last 10-plus seasons has had faith in Brady's ability to give that team a chance to win in the last minutes of a game. It makes it easier for them to stay focused on their own task because they know he's going to handle his business.
"We follow Tom's lead," said Hernandez, who caught a perfectly thrown ball in the back of the end zone to complete the comeback. "We know he's going to put us in the right play at the right time. All we have to do is the easy part, run the route, and he'll put it there."
Brady and the offense took over at the New England 20-yard line with 2:31 remaining and one timeout at their disposal. Brady set the tone immediately by hitting three consecutive passes to Hernandez, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Wes Welker for a total of 32 yards. They crossed midfield in time for the two-minute warning to establish their own momentum and create a seed of doubt in Dallas' defense.
On the final two plays of the drive, Brady threw a pair of indefensible passes, hitting Welker for six yards and then Hernandez for the final eight. Both players were covered, but Brady made it happen. It marked the 22nd time of his career that he has erased a fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a victory.
"You just keep playing," Brady said. "You keep battling. You keep fighting until the clock says 0:00 at the end, and we did that [Sunday]."