I don’t care about the Super Bowl-winning rallies anymore, or any fancy, piercing comebacks against Manning or San Diego or Pittsburgh or whomever else he’s buried in the past. I’ve forgotten them all now. Sunday’s distressed, improbable, eight-play resurrection that beat the Saints was the greatest Tom Brady drive I’ve ever seen.
It was the greatest because, by God, it wasn’t built to happen. He didn’t have the people for it…the healthy bodies. Or talent. It was a defiance of nature. Bill Belichick had taped the offense together all game long but now it had fallen apart and he was readying his standard “We didn’t execute…we did some good things…but not enough…we’ll get back to work tomorrow” diction for the postgame.
Brady’s prior two possessions had been duds – a four-and-out followed by a deep interception. He had been knocked around and sacked five times and his people had stopped holding on to the ball. He didn’t have a friend out there. At one point in the Fox broadcast, Troy Aikman commented, “Well, Tom Brady admits this new group of receivers tries really, really hard, but…”
Julian Edelman, the only guy Brady really trusts anymore, was hurting and in la-la land and dropping it all over the place. Danny Amendola, the big free agent, was on the sideline once again – this time a woozy head. Gronkowski never suited up. I mean, who in hell was Brady supposed to throw it to?
His backs can’t catch. Randy Moss is retired. Welker is in Denver. The Pats signed up Austin Collie ten days ago. You can’t overcome the Saints that way. You can’t outgun Drew Brees, who had all his people available. Montana couldn’t if he was around…nor Unitas, nor Staubach or any of those wonderful old miracle workers you used to read about. You need weaponry for those kind of heroics, don’t you? Don’t you??
The New Orleans’ defenders, even at the 1:13 mark of the final quarter, when Brady took his last possession, still had their legs. They were still getting an honest rush from a four-man front and their cover people were moving around fine. Even on the first play of the drive, that 23-yard laser to Edelman, Brady withstood a heavy blast from defensive end Cameron Jordan that could have ended things right there. But the ball arrived on the numbers and Edelman held on.
And from there he was suddenly completing them to strangers named Collie and Dobson…zip, zip, zip…then back to Edelman, and as the last one sailed into the hands of Kenbrell Thompkins, a guy nobody drafted, Brady had his miracle comeback, maybe his finest. This was no Vinatieri field goal drive. He had taken it all the way in with backups and nobodies against an unbeaten NFC heavy. Doves should have been released. It was a page for the QB mythology books.
“That’s what football teams are all about,” said Brady, “using all 53 guys on the roster to try to move the ball down the field and get it into the end zone one way or another. Today it took is 59 minutes and 55 seconds. We needed all that time and it took all that time.”
Bill Belichick, whose pulse never races, explained his quarterback’s game-winning moves with this burst of extravagance:
“He made a couple good throws… We had good protection, that's number one. He did a good job reading the coverages and threw the ball very accurately and gave the receivers a chance to make the play and we made enough of them. That's what he does. That's what he gets paid for. That's why he's so good.”
As the camera showed Brady disappearing off the field and into the darkness of the stadium tunnel, the only thing I could think of was a pair of quotes from the old Dallas Cowboys…after a very young Joe Montana had willed the 49ers all the way down the field at the end of the game and ripped the ’81 NFC Championship from them.
“They were executing with guys that I didn’t even know who they were,” said Charlie Waters, the Cowboys’ safetyman. “I mean, who was No. 35? Who was that No. 30 who was in there? I don’t mean to be demeaning, but they’re not exactly Tony Dorsetts.”
Shortly after that, someone asked Tom Landry, the beaten Dallas coach, what he thought was the key to San Fran’s victory.
“Montana has to be the key,” he said. “There really is nothing else there except the quarterback.”
New England beat the Saints through one man’s force of sheer will. Brady was the key. Sorry, but there was really nothing else.
Columnist Tom Danyluk joins FootballNation after nine years with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can find on Amazon.com. Questions or comments? Contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.