Tom Brady announced his (second) retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, vowing on social media, “I’m retiring – for good.
“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first. I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year,” he said.
“Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
But this is still a very big deal, and we could go on forever whilst sifting through a 23-year career the likes of which has never been seen in the NFL and probably won’t be again.
But here’s my attempt to distill TB12’s accomplishments down to his 12 most memorable “moments”:
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12. Mike Evans chucking notable Brady footballs
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ perennial Pro Bowl receiver, who gifts balls he catches for touchdowns to lucky fans in the stands, accidentally gave away Brady’s 600th career TD pass and also what was initially thought to be TB12’s final TD throw, a 55-yarder in the 2021 divisional-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. (No word on the whereabouts of the 8-yard touchdown TE Cameron Brate snared – the 737th, playoffs included, of Brady’s career – at the end of the Bucs’ wild-card loss to the Dallas Cowboys last month.)
11. The many facets of Super Bowl 52
It was the only time Brady lost on Super Sunday … when not playing the New York Giants. The eventful 41-33 setback to the Philadelphia Eagles included a wide-open TB12 dropping a pass in the flat from WR Danny Amendola early in the second quarter for what would have been a massive gain on third-and-5. It happened six years after Brady’s former wife, Gisele Bündchen, notoriously complained, “My husband can not (expletive) throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time” after some infamous New England drops, including WR Wes Welker’s, in Super Bowl 46.
Yet Brady passed for a Super Bowl record 505 yards (with 3 TDs) in Super Bowl 52 and brought New England back from a 12-point first-half deficit, the Patriots leading 33-32 in the fourth quarter before succumbing. In one of the more entertaining games in league history, Brady provided nearly half of the game’s 1,151 combined yards – an NFL record for one game.
10. Ending Tebowmania
On Jan. 14, 2012, Brady tied a playoff record with six touchdown passes (half to second-year TE Rob Gronkowski) in a 45-10 divisional playoff rout of the Broncos, which also ended Tim Tebow’s lone magical season as Denver’s starting quarterback. The Patriots lost Super Bowl 46 three weeks later.
9. Brady vs. Peyton
Admittedly, not a self-contained “moment” per se. But how does one encapsulate TB12’s 15-year rivalry with Peyton Manning, the NFL’s version of Magic and Bird? Brady won 11 of the 17 matchups, though lost his final three postseason battles against the five-time league MVP. However, the tone was really set in the 2003 and 2004 AFC championship games – Manning the MVP both of those years – but the Brady-led Pats prevailing in both contests as he played with “Patriot Way” efficiency while Manning was hounded into poor performances by the New England defense.
8. 2018 AFC championship game
It wasn’t Brady’s greatest season or his greatest playoff performance, one that included a pair of interceptions. But he was vintage TB12 while orchestrating a game-winning, 65-yard drive in overtime at Arrowhead Stadium as the Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs and league MVP Patrick Mahomes 37-31. It was only the second time Brady started and finished an AFC title game on the road that ended in victory and was a precursor to his final Super Bowl win with New England.
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7. 2003-2004 Patriots
Certainly a protracted “moment,” but one worth noting given what the Patriots accomplished. The 2003 and 2004 teams were the bookends of the most recent Super Bowl repeat. They also set a record for the longest regular-season win streak in NFL history (18) – one broken four years later by Brady and Co. – and a 21-game win streak, playoffs included, that still stands. Arguably the peak of the longest dynastic run in league annals.
6. ‘Deflategate’ revenge tour
In one of the odder – dare we say, overblown – controversies in NFL history, Brady began the 2016 season serving a four-game suspension for his role in whatever happened with the air pressure adjustments of footballs in New England’s 45-7 dismantling of Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC championship game. And this isn’t to absolve Brady, destroyed cell phone and all, from whatever his part was in a sideshow that cost him more field time than other players who have committed more egregious infractions, whether on the field or off. Regardless, his penalty served, Brady was still the runner-up for league MVP honors – winning 14 of his 15 starts, including a victory in Super Bowl 51 (more on that later). His 28-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season was a personal best.
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5. 2007 season
When a guy’s already won three Super Bowls, you can’t deem his eighth NFL season a coming-out party. But it definitely signaled Brady’s arrival as the centerpiece of the Patriots. On the way to his initial league MVP award, TB12 also became the first player to ever throw 50 touchdown passes in a season – 23 going to Hall of Famer Randy Moss, the most any player has ever caught in a campaign. New England also completed the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history, though the team’s bid to finish 19-0 came up short after losing Super Bowl 42 to the underdog Giants.
4. Super Bowl 55
Brady’s first year in Tampa … ended in Tampa, the Bucs becoming the first team ever to win the Super Bowl on their home field. He passed for 201 yards and three TDs to win his fifth and final Super Bowl MVP nod, even if the Tampa Bay defense was arguably more deserving of the honorific after making Mahomes’ life miserable in the Buccaneers’ 31-9 rollover of the Chiefs.
3. ‘Tuck Rule’ game
There was no such thing as a viral moment in 2002. But had there been, this infamous sequence would have qualified. Oakland CB Charles Woodson seemed to make a decisive strip sack of Brady with 1:50 remaining in TB12’s first playoff game, a divisional round matchup with the Raiders that also served as the final contest played at New England’s Foxboro Stadium. Brady and the Patriots, trailing 13-10, walked off the field thinking their season was probably over. But instant replay overturned the fumble, ruling Brady tucked the ball back into his body, thus rendering the play an incomplete pass. New England tied the game five plays later before winning in overtime.
With the passage of time, Brady and Woodson, teammates at the University of Michigan, have had fun reflecting on the game and even participated in an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about it. Little surprise Woodson feels the Raiders were robbed to this day … while Brady nods and winks about a defining moment while not quite bringing himself to admit a turnover.
2. Super Bowl 36
Two weeks after escaping Woodson’s Raiders, Brady capped his first season as an NFL starter with a win in the Super Bowl. Maybe that game’s most memorable footage occurred in the tunnel pregame, an overhyped Brady head-butting teammates while waiting to take the field. OLB Willie McGinest and QB Drew Bledsoe, whom Brady replaced after his scary early season injury, had to calm down the 24-year-old. Mission accomplished. Brady passed for one TD and a modest 145 yards, though 53 came on New England’s final possession – which ended with Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal at the gun as the Patriots upset the heavily favored St. Louis Rams 20-17 for the first championship in franchise history. Brady was the game’s MVP.
In many ways, Super Bowl 51 has become a meme due to the second-half deficit the Patriots faced against the Atlanta Falcons. The Boston Globe even ran early editions with the headline “A BITTER END,” showing Brady crumpled to the turf as CB Robert Alford set sail on an 82-yard pick six that gave the Falcons a 21-0 lead before halftime. Oops.
The rest is vintage Brady, who passed for 466 yards and two touchdowns, bringing New England all the way back to tie the game 28-28 in the final minute. He had plenty of help – from WR Julian Edelman’s shoestring catch of a pass deflected by Alford to RB James White’s unsung heroics to LB Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack of league MVP Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter. But there was game MVP Brady, calmly throwing for 50 yards on the only overtime drive in Super Bowl history before handing it off to White for the game-winning TD.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
Story Credit: usatoday.com