Tom Brady delivers the perfect tribute to himself and the 2001 Patriots

Mike Petraglia
December 04, 2016 - 7:08 pm

Tom Brady walks off the field Sunday, after becoming the winningest quarterback in NFL history. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO - Leave it to Tom Brady to find the perfect way to honor the first championship team of his career on the day he becomes the winningest quarterback in NFL history.

It was the quintessential Brady game - quintessential for Tom Brady, circa 2001. Only Brady could pull off what he did Sunday in his 201st career win, a 26-10 triumph over the Rams before an always-appreciative crowd at Gillette. But then again, he is the GOAT.

While Brady didn't catch a pass like he did in the regular season home finale against the Dolphins in that magical '01 season, he played the perfect game of complementary football.

Brady, who finished with a fairly routine 269 yards passing and a single touchdown pass, passed Peyton Manning for all-time wins in NFL history with his 201st victory. The irony of that was not lost on Bill Belichick.

"Tom breaking the record today, of course what it's all about is winning games," Belichick began. "Thinking back to that first one in 2001 against Indianapolis, that's a lot of water under the bridge, but good, good."

That was the 44-13 Tom Brady-led win over the Peyton Manning-directed Colts at Foxboro Stadium on Sept. 30, 2001. But that year was not so much about Brady as it was a team that hit its stride playing perfect complementary football after they were 5-5 after 10 games. Don't ask the kid Brady to do too much.

On Sunday, facing a rookie quarterback in Jared Goff, Brady was again not asked to do too much. But when his throws had to be perfect, they were.

There was the back shoulder toss to Chris Hogan to put the Patriots up 14-0 in the second quarter. There was the back foot heave to Julian Edelman down the right sideline as he was getting pancaked by 300-pound defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks. When Brady had to be perfect, he was.

Just like on the final drive of regulation against the Raiders in the snow, leading to the biggest clutch field goal in NFL history, Brady completed passes under duress while he was scrambling away from an onslaught of defensive line pressure.

That's what made this game the perfect tribute by the 2016 Tom Brady to Tom Brady of 2001. He was big when he needed to be while not putting up huge numbers.

Yes, he threw the ball 46 times, completing 33 passes. But many of those passes were like the flares and screens he threw to J.R. Redmond and Kevin Faulk and Troy "Greatest team on effing earth" Brown. Only substitute Redmond, Faulk and Brown with the likes of Dion Lewis, James White, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan.

Brady targeted Edelman 12 times for eight catches and 101 yards while Malcolm Mitchell caught eight passes for 82 yards. Playing the role of Antowain Smith was LeGarrette Blount, running 18 times for 88 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown rumble on fourth down.

"It's an honor. Like I've said, I've watched him play since I was in eighth grade and I've been here for eight years, so that tells you something," Edelman beamed after. "To get to see him do this, it couldn't [have] happened to a better guy or a better player. Everything he's done, he's deserved. He should be the face of this league with his story, how he prepares, he's a family man and it couldn't [have] happened to anyone better.

"His relentlessness to always improve. We're in the National Football League and I train with a bunch of quarterbacks, to have a guy like who's been playing for however long he's been playing, to have him work with guys on his fundamentals, always trying to improve and that's just Tom. Always trying to improve his body, always going to bed early, waking up at the right time, getting his body working, I mean the guy lives, breathes, and dies football. He's a great leader. He's a great role model to learn after and it's an honor to get to play with a guy like him."

Another amazing aspect of watching Brady win 201 games over his unmatched career is how he's been able to transform his game at the drop of a hat.

"I'm grateful for all of my teammates and my coaches and for my family and friends," Brady said with genuine humility afterward. "There's been a lot of football over the years, so it's always been about winning and I've been very fortunate to be on a lot of great teams. I just feel very grateful." 

Brady usually gets to sleep super early the night before a game, especially a 1 p.m. game. But Saturday night, he made an exception to see some of those former teammates from 2001.

"Yeah, I saw some of them last night at the banquet that Mr. Kraft had, but I didn't stay too long because I wanted to be up early and ready to go," Brady said. "I'm fortunate to play over a long period of time with a lot of different players. I think I've learned so much from everybody that I've played with and I always try to watch everybody and learn from different things that they do. Whether it was Drew [Bledsoe], who I saw, or Damon Huard, who I saw, watching Jimmy [Garoppolo] and watching [Jacoby] Brissett, I feel like there's always something to learn. Like I said, I've just been very fortunate to be around a lot of great teammates over the years, a lot of great coaches, and a lot of wins."

This was Brady's first game after losing his best receiver for the season to back surgery. Brady was clearly bummed Friday after talking with Rob Gronkowski Thursday night before surgery. He knew that Gronk is one of the few people in the building who works as hard as he does to make the offense run.

Brady still has Edelman and Martellus Bennett and rookie Malcolm Mitchell. And he used them all brilliantly on Sunday. Like he did in 2001, Brady didn't force things Sunday. He took his 269 yards passing, one touchdown and the 26-10 win and called it a day. That's all that was needed. He didn't need to be the star of the show.

"I think Tom does the things he's always done," Belichick said. "He prepares hard on and off the field physically, mentally. He studies film, knows how to game plan, knows the opponents, [and] he's got great experience. Every game he has a couple of plays out there that are I'd say just made on experience. Just kind of sensing something or doing the right thing in the right situation and he's got a lot of poise. Guys are flying around all around him but he's able to keep his eyes downfield and focus on the target and does a great job in the pocket of sensing the rush. It's a pretty long list. I don't think you win over 200 games by just doing one or two things right. You do a lot of them; he does.

As great as Brady's skills still are, Brady knows when to dial it back and not try to put up fantasy numbers for the sake of his stat sheet. Better to get rid of the ball on flares and screens and slants than sit back there and take abuse. He did take the aforementioned blow from Westbrooks and turf shot from T.J. McDonald in the first half.

But that was certainly the exception to the rule Sunday.

If there's one difference from the '01 Brady to now, it might have been on that McDonald hit. The '01 Brady might have just scooped himself up and gotten back to the huddle as McDonald was standing over him. Not Sunday. Brady jumped up and lunged briefly at the Rams safety and McDonald backed off quickly.

To wrap up his press conference Sunday, Brady was asked if that 44-13 win over Peyton Manning seems like yesterday.

"Yeah, I mean it goes fast. It's gone really fast. The seasons go fast and the years have gone faster, and yeah, time's flying."

Maybe that's why it was so easy for Brady to turn back the clock Sunday.