There are very few athletes, let alone quarterbacks, who have had as much success as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. With a chance to reach the fifth Super Bowl in his Hall of Fame career on Sunday afternoon, though, Brady turned in a rather forgettable performance.
Or, to put it another way, he was outplayed by Joe Flacco.
In the end, however, it didn't matter, as the Patriots bailed out their signal-caller as he has for them many, many, many times before. Still, No. 12 was his harshest critic after the game.
"I sucked pretty bad today," Brady said on the field in the middle of the AFC Championship ceremony.
And if we're going by the lofty standards that the All-Pro has set for himself, then yeah, his assessment is pretty spot on.
Brady was just 22-for-36 for 239 yards and a pair of interceptions. Brady was held without a touchdown pass (though he did add a gutsy rushing score) for the first time in his last 18 postseason appearances.
"As a quarterback, you never want to turn the ball over," Brady said. "You want to hit the open guys; you want to capitalize when you have open receivers. I wish I had done a better job of that today. In some ways, you always beat yourself up. I've been doing this for quite a while. I'm glad we won, I'm glad we're moving on. Hopefully I can go out there and do better in a few weeks."
As one might expect, Brady's teammates are more than confident that their quarterback will bounce back in the Super Bowl and return to his customary high level of play.
"Tom's very hard on himself," wide receiver Deion Branch said. "That's why he's the best player in the NFL. He works hard. He expects to go out and do everything perfect. We expect it from him as well."
Offensive tackle Matt Light went as far as to say he thought Brady still played pretty well, expectations aside.
"I disagree, man," Light said when told of Brady's harsh self-assessment. "I sure as heck wouldn't want to replace him with anyone. That said, he did a fairly good job. We'll keep him around."
Luckily for Brady and the Patriots, an off day from the franchise quarterback didn't slow the team's march toward the Super Bowl.
However, you can fully expect Brady to be looking to bounce back in a couple of weeks in Indianapolis, the subpar performance motivating him to be even better on the game's grandest stage.
"He said to me, 'I promise you I'm going to play a lot better in two weeks,'" Patriots owner Robert Kraft offered after the game. "He's still pretty good in my book. I'll take him over any quarterback. I've been watching the NFL for a long time and there's still no quarterback I'd rather have."
It should probably go without saying, but there's a locker room full of Patriots that agree.