NFL Network recently ran a piece on the top 10 clutch quarterbacks of all time.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sat happily at No. 3.
He of the three Super Bowl rings, all of which were won on the strength of clutch drives in the closing minutes, and the potential fourth ring that slipped away in Super Bowl XLII, got a huge nod from Joe Theismann when he said, "Up until just recently, I felt that Joe Montana was the greatest quarterback that ever played the game; I now reserve that right for Tom Brady."
While Brady has only recently begun to dazzle his fans and daze opposing defenses with his gaudy numbers, he has always been amazing in clutch situations. I recall the early parts of his career, where most of his games came down to the final minutes, and he managed to pull through and win the ball game in the end.
The only knock on Brady has been that he didn’t make the winning plays in the close games—mostly, he had a tie ball game and clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri on the sidelines waiting to win it by three points; however, I'm out to prove that this isn't the case.
I’m here to prove that it takes more than a clutch kicker to make a clutch quarterback.
With a solid five or six strong years left in the tank, it's good to know that Brady still has time to further his own legacy without the help of Vinatieri (though his replacement, Stephen Gostkowski, isn't far off).
Here is my opinion on his top five clutch performances so far.
5. Super Bowl XXXVIII vs. Carolina Panthers
And I’m not even talking about the drive that put Vinatieri in range for the game-winning kick.
The Patriots went up 7-0 with 3:05 left in the first half of the game. Somehow, Carolina put together an eight-play scoring drive, culminating with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith to tie the game at seven apiece, now with just 1:07 left before halftime.
Needless to say, that didn't sit well with Brady.
On the ensuing possession, Brady and the Patriots marched 78 yards down the field in just six plays. Brady was three-for-five on the drive, accounting for 73 of those yards, and capped it off with a five-yard touchdown pass to David Givens.
This drive allowed New England to regain control of the scoreboard, now in its favor at 14-7. Though the difference was only a touchdown, the quick scoring drive must have really taken the wind out of the sails of Carolina, and killed any potential momentum going into halftime.
Of course, the Patriots would continue to have to bounce back from behind.
Faced with a situation he'd seen before, Brady was now more comfortable in the spotlight. He had the ball at New England's 40-yard line, with a minute left in a tie ball-game at 29 a piece.
Brady calmly led his team down field with long passes, making three completions of more than 12 yards, including a four-yard completion to tight end Daniel Graham.
It was a huge 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 by Deion Branch that put Vinatieri in position to kick another game-winner, this time leaving four seconds to play in the game.
4. 2007 regular season, Week Nine vs. Indianapolis Colts
Both teams were undefeated going into this game; the winner would more than likely assure themselves home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Both teams were coming in with the emotional lows and highs (respectively) of their AFC Championship game the previous season, where the Colts miraculously came back from down 21-3 to win the game 38-34.
Both teams were playing with perfection, bitterness, and revenge in mind, but it was Brady's clutch play that let the Patriots keep a donut in the loss column.
The Patriots were down 20-10 with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. On a drive that started from New England’s 27-yard line, Brady knew just what he had to do—go to Randy Moss.
Brady was four-of-seven on the drive for 83 yards and the touchdown. Moss accounted for 70 yards, including a 55-yard strike where Moss turned around in stride to make the catch, that took the ball to Indy’s three-yard line. Wes Welker tip-toed into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown reception, bringing the score to 20-17.
That wasn’t the end of Brady’s heroics.
After Welker had a nice 23-yard punt return, the Patriots were set up in good field position at the 49-yard line. It took only three plays, all complete passes, for the Patriots to score the go-ahead touchdown, where Kevin Faulk reeled in a screen pass and scurried to the stripe with 3:21 left in the game.
Brady wrapped up, sealed, mailed, and delivered a win for his team—the defense just had to sign the receipt for the package. After forcing a turnover on Peyton Manning, Brady and the Patriots milked the clock to seal the deal on a huge come-from-behind victory over the league’s top-ranked defense that season.
3. ’01-’02 divisional playoffs vs. Oakland Raiders
Tom Brady came up clutch not once, but twice, in this classic divisional playoff match-up.
Say what you want about the “tuck rule” or the “Snow Job,” but regardless of what did or didn’t transpire in that one play of this high-adrenaline, exciting playoff matchup, it was the clutch fourth-quarter and overtime performances of Brady that—once again—gave his team a chance to win.
With the Raiders flashing a 13-3 lead on the scoreboard in the final quarter of regulation, Tom Brady led his team on a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. Brady accounted for all of the yardage on the drive, which included nine consecutive completions for 61 yards, and a six-yard touchdown run.
Then in overtime, faced with fourth down and just four yards to go, he completed a six-yard pass to David Patten to keep the drive alive.
Though it's the images of Vinatieri’s kicks that will forever live in Patriots and NFL lore, we never would have gotten there without Tom Brady—and to think that given all of his clutch performances over the years, his legacy may have begun with a playoff loss, were it not for the "tuck rule."
2. ’06-’07 divisional playoffs vs. San Diego Chargers
The Patriots were on the road facing the Chargers, who had posted a league-best 14-2 record that season. One could argue that "Marty-Ball" got the best of the Chargers in this game, but the clutch performance of Brady down the stretch didn’t hurt New England's comeback, either.
Trailing 14-3 with just over two minutes left in the first half, the Patriots seemed backed against an unfamiliar wall—a large deficit in a playoff game.
Then suddenly, Captain Clutch came cruising to the rescue yet again, leading a 72-yard scoring drive before the half. Jabar Gaffney, his weapon of choice during those playoffs, accounted for 46 of those yards, including the six-yard touchdown catch.
The cool, calm, and collected quarterback couldn't stop there, though.
With the Patriots down 21-13 in the fourth quarter, luck tilted Brady's way when an interception made by Marlon McCree was stripped just seconds later by veteran wide receiver (and former converted defensive back) Troy Brown.
Brady knew exactly what he had to do. Despite having thrown three interceptions in the game, he displayed his classic amnesia and continued to fire away, connecting with Reche Caldwell on a four-yard touchdown strike. A two-point conversion tied the game, 21-21.
The Patriots got the ball back on a punt. Brady completed a 19-yard pass to tight end Daniel Graham, and later a 49-yard bomb to Caldwell down the right sideline. Gostkowski came in to kick the winning field goal with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter.
If only Caldwell could have been that clutch the week after...
1. Super Bowl XXXVI vs. St. Louis Rams
This is the all-time Tom Brady clutch moment—perhaps the all-time Super Bowl clutch moment.
The Patriots held a 17-3 lead in the fourth quarter, but two quick scores by the NFL’s most prolific offense that season (and possibly ever) tied the score at 17 apiece with just 1:30 left in the game.
With no timeouts left, it was generally assumed that New England would down the ball to run out the clock and head to overtime.
At this point, Drew Bledsoe famously told New England’s new starting quarterback,
"F*** it, just go out there and wing it."
And Brady did just that.
From their own 17 yard line, the Patriots began their drive with a four-yard completion to JR Redmond. After another check-down pass to Redmond went for nine yards, the Patriots had a fresh set of downs at their own 30. Redmond hauled in a third consecutive pass, this one for 11 yards, and scurried out-of-bounds, just barely making it to the sideline before being brought down.
After an incomplete pass, Brady found Brown on a cross route with 29 seconds on the clock, and the prolific New England wideout took the ball out-of-bounds at the 37.
One more completion by Brady, this one to tight end Jermaine Wiggins, went for six yards, and was enough to put kicker Vinatieri in range to make history.
Brady spiked the ball, Vinatieri came on the field, and the rest was history as he drained the winning field goal as time expired.
Brady went an amazing five-for-six for 53 yards on the drive, where every play was a pass.
Gil Santos, radio commentator for the New England Patriots, said that "his complete game performance (in Super Bowl XXXVI) was not spectacular, but the final drive performance—that’s one of the great drives of all time."
Brady's history as a clutch player stems not only from his most memorable moments in big-time Super Bowls, but also from playoff matches and regular season games as well.
Brady will forever be remembered for these and many other clutch moments in his career, and with more time left in the tank, who knows what the future holds.
Feel free to formulate your own top five moments, and discuss your thoughts here.