Bill Belichick said it best: Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. No one would have predicted that when Brady slid all the way to the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, going at pick 199 to New England. Twenty years later, Brady leaves the Patriots, a six-time Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL MVP and a man whose place in history is fully secure, even as he tries to add to it with Tampa Bay. Let's take a look at the most significant moments — good and bad — from each of Brady's 20 seasons in Foxborough.
Every great career needs a beginning, no matter how humble, right? Brady’s was as inauspicious as it gets. In a Thanksgiving Day blowout loss to the Lions, after Drew Bledsoe had been beaten up and pulled to spare him further punishment, Brady entered the game in garbage time and threw two incompletions and then had a completed pass called back by a penalty, before finally hitting on his first pass as a pro, a 6-yard gain to Rod Rutledge. Now you can wow your friends with that piece of trivia.
How could a Super Bowl-winning drive be overshadowed as the most significant moment of Tom Brady’s first season as Patriots starter? When the Tuck Rule Game happened earlier in that playoff push. Brady and the Pats trailed the Oakland Raiders, 13-10, late in the fourth quarter of their divisional round showdown, and their hopes appeared dashed when Charles Woodson sacked Brady with less than two minutes to go, knocking the ball loose, with linebacker Greg Biekert recovering. Officials overturned the play, Adam Vinatieri hit a 45-yard field goal to force overtime, and the Patriots went on to win, 16-13.
The 2002 Patriots represent the only time in Brady’s career that the team did not win the division when he started at least two games in a season. Still, that year’s opener was noteworthy, because it was the first glimpse the football world got of what Brady would become. In an AFC championship game rematch with Pittsburgh, Brady at one point threw the ball on 25 consecutive plays en route to a 30-14 domination of the Steelers. The game manager would soon become the game breaker.
Brady earned his second Super Bowl by winning a thrilling fourth-quarter shootout with Carolina’s Jake Delhomme, one that saw the Panthers and Patriots combine for 37 points in the final 15 minutes. After Delhomme tied the game with 1:13 left on a 12-yard touchdown to Ricky Proehl (the same man who caught the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI against New England), Brady faced a third-and-3 at Carolina’s 40-yard line. He hit Deion Branch for 17 yards, and Vinatieri drilled a 41-yard field goal to give New England its second title in three years.
The Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls, and their third in four seasons, but the defining moment of their season came in a loss. The Pittsburgh Steelers and rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thumped New England, 34-20, breaking the Pats’ record 21-game winning streak, with Brady fumbling once and Pittsburgh’s Deshea Townsend intercepting him and taking it all the way for a score. The loss was all the motivation Brady needed. The Patriots returned the favor with an AFC championship game thumping, and after that, Brady’s run of stunning dominance over Pittsburgh (career 111.1 passer rating in 12 regular season games) really got going.
The 2005 Patriots had a date with the Denver Broncos in the divisional round, and while they had gone just 10-6 on the season, many felt they were a serious threat to three-peat. Those dreams died when, trailing 10-6 late in the third quarter but driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, Brady was intercepted in the end zone by Champ Bailey, who returned the ball 100 yards to the New England 1-yard line. The Broncos punched it in for a touchdown to take a commanding lead, and New England’s dream of becoming the first team to win three consecutive titles went down in flames.
By the 2006 season, Brady’s mastery over Peyton Manning was well-established, with New England thoroughly dominating Manning and the Colts. That script finally got flipped in shocking fashion in the AFC championship game. The Patriots waltzed into the RCA Dome and jumped out to a 21-3 lead, eventually taking a 21-6 advantage into the half. Incredibly, Manning got the Colts up off the deck and rallied them with 32 second-half points, culminating in a game-winning Joseph Addai touchdown with a minute left. It was Manning’s first-ever playoff win against New England.
Let’s get something straight right now: The 2007 Patriots were the best team of Brady’s career, and that season was his personal apex. Yes, they didn’t win the Super Bowl, and yes, Brady was stopped one game short of immortality, but that team was a juggernaut. Brady led the league with 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns and a 117.2 passer rating. Unfortunately, all anyone remembers is some guy named David Tyree making a helmet catch in the Super Bowl. Without that play, the 2007 Patriots would rightfully be considered the greatest team in history. Alas.
Brady’s 2008 revenge tour got cut off almost before it began. Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard hit Brady in the knee early in the Patriots’ season opener, tearing his left ACL and MCL and ending his season. The Patriots managed to go 11-5 with Matt Cassel at the helm but missed the playoffs in an exceptionally strong year in the conference. The fallout from the hit was significant, making it the catalyst for the first of many rule changes that protected quarterbacks, as it prohibited defensive players from lunging or diving into a quarterback’s legs.
Brady’s 2009 return from injury resulted in another division title, but this time it landed the Pats in the wild-card round against the Baltimore Ravens. To that point, Brady was 8-0 at home in his playoff career, but Ray Rice made it clear right away that this game would be different. Rice took a hand off on the first play from scrimmage and sprinted 83 yards for a touchdown, and the Ravens never looked back, drilling New England, 33-14. Brady threw three interceptions in the game, tied for his most ever in a home playoff game, and posted his lowest postseason passer rating, of 49.1.
The 2010 season looked like it would end with another New England Super Bowl appearance, given that the Patriots were 9.5-point favorites heading into their divisional round matchup with the Jets. The winner of the game was set to take on Pittsburgh, over whom Brady had displayed complete mastery. New York had other ideas, however, and Mark Sanchez thoroughly outplayed Brady, who was harassed by Rex Ryan’s defense all game long, taking five sacks and throwing an interception. With the Jets hanging on to a 14-11 lead early in the fourth quarter, Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes for a 7-yard touchdown to give New York a 21-11 lead. The Jets would go on to win, 28-14.
The Patriots had a chance to finish off the 2011 season with a Super Bowl title and get revenge on Eli Manning and the Giants in the process. Neither one of those things happened. In another back-and-forth tilt, the Giants found themselves down 17-15 late in the fourth quarter, and backed up to their own 12-yard line. Manning proceeded to hit Mario Manningham with a picture-perfect, 38-yard pass, setting up the Giants at midfield, and they were able to drive the rest of the way and punch in a game-winning score. For the second time, Manning had vanquished Brady’s championship dreams.
If there was one AFC team that was never cowed by Brady in his Patriots career, it was the Ravens. They stalled out another championship chase by New England with a resounding 28-13 win in the AFC championship game, hammering the Pats in Foxborough for the second time in four postseasons. New England was down but not out with the fourth quarter halfway gone when Brady set up shop at the Baltimore 24, but his pass for Aaron Hernandez was intercepted by Dannell Ellerbe, and the Ravens were able to coast to victory from that point onward.
Brady’s 2013 season was one of the most pedestrian of his career, as he posted just an 87.3 passer rating and was not near his usual standard of play. Still, New England went 12-4 and found itself in the AFC championship game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. This time, it was no contest. Manning and Denver routed the Pats, building a 23-3 lead and cruising to a 26-16 victory. Unlike many Pats losses, there was no unusual element in play; the Broncos were clearly the better team. Perhaps the most significant thing about that season was that Manning set the single-season touchdown record, with 55. Barring a miracle, Brady won’t be able to snatch that mark away before he retires.
En route to their fourth championship, the Patriots steamrolled the Colts in the AFC championship by a 45-7 margin. That wasn’t noteworthy in and of itself; however, the game spawned the Deflategate controversy, one that resulted in Brady’s eventual suspension, and drove a wedge between Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell. The zeal with which Goodell pursued Brady dragged out the punishment process over multiple seasons, and like Spygate before it, commanded enormous amounts of attention. Brady wouldn’t serve his four-game suspension until the 2016 season.
Brady’s mastery over the Steelers was nothing new by the 2015 season. If anything, dominating performances were expected when the two teams met. Brady’s work in a season-opening 28-21 win over Pittsburgh was particularly significant, as it gave him his 161st win as Patriots quarterback, surpassing Brett Favre’s record for the most wins by a quarterback with a single team. Brady picked up the victory in style, throwing four touchdowns, three of them to Rob Gronkowski.
Brady finally had to serve his Deflategate suspension in 2016, and he came roaring out of the gate in Week 5. Brady started 4-0, throwing 12 touchdowns and no interceptions in those games. He saved his best work for the final game of the year, however, rallying the Pats all the way back from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. The Pats were down 28-9 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, but Brady led three scoring drives in the final 9:44 to send the game to overtime. No play was more pivotal to the comeback than Julian Edelman’s circus catch with just over two minutes to play. Edelman somehow caught a deflected pass that could easily have been intercepted, and from that point on it felt inevitable that New England was going to secure its fifth Super Bowl.
In some ways, it was an innocuous win over a Jets team that the Pats had dominated for nearly two decades, but appearances were deceiving. When Brady led New England to a 24-17 win over New York in Week 6, Brady took his place alone in history, passing Peyton Manning and Brett Favre for the most all-time regular season wins for a quarterback. What made the feat all the more impressive was that he did it with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder.
Brady and the Patriots were on the ropes in the 2018 AFC championship game against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Pats had blown a 14-0 halftime lead and had just dodged a season-ending disaster when a Brady interception was nullified by a Dee Ford offside penalty. Still, they trailed 28-24 and faced a third-and-5 with under a minute to go when Brady and Rob Gronkowski combined for a spectacular 25-yard completion that set the Patriots up at the 4-yard line. Rex Burkhead plowed in for the go-ahead score on the next play, and while the Chiefs forced overtime, the Pats got the ball first and marched down the field for the winning touchdown — aided by another third and long conversion from Brady to Gronkowski, no less.
They can’t all be fairytale endings. Despite it being unfathomable that a Ryan Tannehill-led team could come into Foxborough and defeat Brady and the Patriots, that’s exactly what happened. Derrick Henry dominated on the ground, and the final moment of Brady’s Patriots career was as inauspicious as the 20 seasons that preceded it were brilliant. With the Pats trailing, 14-13, and backed up to their own 1-yard line and just 15 seconds remaining, Brady’s last gasp pass was intercepted by Logan Ryan and returned for a touchdown. It was Brady’s final play as a Patriot.