How many times did New England Patriots’ opponents take themselves out of winnable games while Tom Brady and Co. stood there, didn’t do anything completely moronic and ultimately claimed the victory?
During Brady’s tenure in New England, we saw firsthand how a Bill Belichick team was nothing if not disciplined. Members of the Patriots rarely made mistakes, and if they did, they were almost never game-altering miscues.
On the opposing sideline, though, it happened a lot.
There was the AFC Championship game when then-Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford lined up offsides and thus negated a game-sealing interception. Brady and the Patriots, of course, went on to win that game in overtime and ultimately win Super Bowl LIII. Then there was the sack taken by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, knocking the Falcons out of field goal range as the Patriots completed the improbable comeback win for the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had a number of questionable play calls during the 2018 AFC Championship Game, too. Throw in the infamous ‘Butt Fumble’ by then-New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Indianapolis Colts’ special teams fiasco (Yes, you remember the play) and the list of examples add up.
Didn’t it feel a bit similar while watching Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night?
While some will say that Tampa forced four New Orleans turnovers, others will say the Saints imploded. Drew Brees threw two fourth-quarter interceptions and the Saints fell apart down the stretch. The Buccaneers, just like the Patriots always did, remained there, not doing anything stupid, and claimed 30-20 victory.
Now, Brady and the Buccaneers advance to the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers. It will be the 14th time Brady plays in a conference championship clash. He played in 13 of them over his 20 memorable years in New England.
It was a pretty similar script.
In addition to the costly turnovers by the Saints, which led to 17 Tampa Bay points, there were the penalties. New Orleans, specifically, had a first-quarter punt return for a touchdown called back due to an illegal block in the back. They had another special teams penalty later in the game, as well. Déjà vu, right?
The similarities didn’t stop there.
Brady, like he had done so many times in New England, played mistake-free football in the biggest game of the year. The 43-year-old signal-caller threw five interceptions in his two regular-season games against the Saints. He didn’t throw one Sunday as the Bucs were plus-four in the turnover department. Tampa Bay is 10-1 this season when Brady doesn’t throw an interception.
While Brady was far from at his best — 18-for-33 with 199 yards passing — he made it work with those who may not have been the biggest stars. New Orleans took away receivers Chris Godwin (four rec., 34 yards), Mike Evans (one rec., three yards, TD) and Rob Gronkowski (one rec., 14 yards). Instead, Brady hit Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson for crucial third-down conversions. He went to Cameron Brate (four rec., team-high 50 yards) and Leonard Fournette (team-high five rec., 44 yards, TD), too.
Remember the days when opposing defenses sold out on Gronkowski and Julian Edelman? Yeah, that just left guys like Chris Hogan open to make crucial third-down conversions and help the offense stay afloat.
Tampa Bay fans now have received the full Tom Brady experience. They’ve advanced to the conference championship, which Brady has done with better odds than flipping a coin and landing on heads.
It’s all been incredibly different with Brady in Tampa Bay, but games like Sunday show how it’s all been much of the same, too.