FOXBORO, Mass. — The last time Tom Brady had more than two fourth-quarter game-winning drives in a season was way back in 2007.
Back then, those events were commonplace in New England. But as the offense has gotten stronger and the defense has weakened, those vintage Brady drives seemed to be getting rarer and rarer.
Well, No. 12 already has two on the year. And the season is just six games young at this point. Not to take credit away from Brady or get too Patriots-like, but those drives are about the whole team as much as they’re on the shoulders of the signal caller.
The defense has to keep games close and make key stops to put Brady in a place to win. And Brady’s receivers have to catch the ball and make plays.
“The defense made some huge stands,” Brady said. “They played great when they needed to, against a really good offense and a team that’s been scoring a lot of points. They’ve been playing good all year. Offensively, we still need to do a better job getting the ball in the end zone. Like I said, there were a lot of things to improve on. It was better, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Sunday’s win was a team victory, accentuated by a vintage Brady drive that drove a football down the throats of his doubters on the way to Kenbrell Thompkins‘ waiting arms in the end zone. Brady had messed up just minutes earlier. The man without a proper nickname was given an opportunity to win, and he literally threw it away.
Chandler Jones, Alfonzo Dennard and the Patriots’ defense didn’t mind the challenge, though. They had stopped the Saints all game on three-and-outs. They could give Brady one more.
So, Tom got the ball back and concocted some last-second magic. He hit Julian Edelman for 23 yards. Then he completed his first pass to Austin Collie for 15. Then he hit Dobson for six. He missed Edelman twice, one at the one-yard line (who knows what would have happened if the Patriots had to try to get it in from one yard out).
Then he hit Collie again for a first down when the Patriots were facing fourth-and-four. Brady spiked the ball to give him just 10 seconds to work with. There were murmurs that Brady likely had two plays to chuck it into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. He only needed one.
He hit Thompkins in the left corner of the end zone. Brady’s confidence in the rookie has probably wavered an infinite number of times over the past few months, though the quarterback would never say it. But he had the trust to loft it up to Thompkins, and the rookie pulled it in for the win.
“We had everybody going to the end zone, and he kind of snuck into the corner, and I put it up there for him, and he came down and made a great catch,” Brady said. “There were a lot of great catches there at the end. Julian with the seam ball to start the drive and then Austin had a fourth-down catch. AD [Dobson] came back and caught an in-cut that was a big play. So that was great situational football and great win against a really good team.”
Brady has struggled all season. He’s underthrown, overthrown and been picked off. He’s missed Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch. He’s hiccuped in monsoons, clear skies and domes. He even struggled against the Saints after starting the game 16-of-20. He finished 25-of-43 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception — a 74.7 quarterback rating.
But in that final minute, Brady was perfect, despite his incompletions. And he was perfect when the entire team needed a pick-me-up. When, despite his historic stature, there was a chance he was going to lose the confidence of his team and fan base.
Brady hasn’t been perfect this season. And he likely won’t be unless he gets his tight end back. But as long as he keeps getting it done when his teams needs it most (as long as he’s not throwing in a monsoon), that will be enough for a Patriots team with a top-tier defense and offense that’s “improving every day,” to use Patriot speak.