Tom Brady is in midst of his best playoff run ever, and it isn't close

Alex Reimer
January 16, 2019 - 12:47 pm

Even the most ardent Tom Brady defenders would admit he just experienced one of his worst seasons in years. There’s debate about the root of Brady’s relative struggles –– age, subpar supporting cast, missing OTAs, his air yards, or whatever Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier was trying to argue –– but we all agree he did not put forth many vintage efforts.

That is, until the Divisional Round matchup against the Chargers. Brady picked apart the Seahawks-Gus Bradley soft Cover 3 defense like he did in Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI, completing 34-of-44 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown. It was his best effort of the season and latest playoff masterpiece.

Sunday’s AFC championship will be Brady’s 39th career postseason contest. Amazingly, he’s won more playoff games (28) than Peyton Manning has playoff appearances (27). In 17 healthy seasons, Brady has reached the AFC championship 13 times. That means Brady plays for a chance to go for the Super Bowl at least 76.4 percent of the time. 

There have been several iterations of the Brady-Belichick dynasty, but TB12 is playing his best January football right now. There’s no need for him to turn back the clock when the Patriots arrive at Arrowhead Stadium to take on the vaunted Chiefs. Brady just has to keep doing what he’s been doing for the last two years, at an age where his demise is celebrated after seemingly every bad throw. 

During the first wave of the Patriots’ dynasty from 2001-04, Brady played in nine playoff games. He completed 62.5 percent of his passes and averaged 217 passing yards per game with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. It was a different era and Brady was in a different phase of his career. The stellar touchdown-interception ratio and game-winning drives –– most notably Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams –– showed he was incredible under pressure. But those were team wins more than anything else.

Then Brady didn’t hoist another Lombardi Trophy for 10 years, which is ironic, considering he was in the prime of his career during this period. Brady developed into one of the game’s most prolific passers from 2006-14 and his regular season numbers reflect that. But his production took a dip in the playoffs. In 17 games, Brady completed 61.9 percent of his passes for an average of 263 yards per game with 32 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. 

During the historic 2007 season, Brady had an average QB rating of 68.55 in the AFC championship and Super Bowl.

This is also when the Patriots suffered their last home playoff loss: the 2013 AFC championship against Baltimore. 

Following the 2014 AFC championship loss to Denver, Belichick drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and referenced Brady’s age and contract situation. That is the line of demarcation in Brady’s changing playoff fortunes. The next season, he completed 68.8 percent of his passes and averaged 307 yards per game with 12 touchdowns and four picks on the Patriots’ three-game run through Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. 

The Patriots’ repeat campaign was halted due to an abysmal offensive line and foot injury to Julian Edelman. Then Brady’s superhuman run began. 

Over his last six playoff games, beginning with the 2017 AFC championship against Pittsburgh, Brady has completed 69 percent of his passes for an average of 388 yards per game with 14 touchdowns and one interception. That includes, of course, the historic Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta and last year’s 505-yard performance against the Eagles.

With the weather set to be well below freezing Sunday, it will be more challenging for Brady to replicate those numbers. But as John Tomase points out, he’s 5-1 when the temperature is 20 degrees or colder, including the epic Divisional Round win against Baltimore in 2015. 

As far as playoff performance is concerned, Brady is living the glory years right now. Winning his first road playoff game since 2006 against the top team in the AFC would be quite the exclamation point.