One and done.
As excited as the Patriot Nation was for the return of their beloved hero, it only took about half a quarter of playoff football to bring their hopes and dreams to an abrupt halt.
The final score read 33-14, but the game was over well before it ever got going.
It was the Ravens' game to win and the Patriots' game to lose.
For one of the first times in his career, Brady began to hear the boos as his faithful fanbase quickly turned to disgust after witnessing their defense's inability to prevent and their offense's inability to produce.
It was a rare moment and one that Patriots fans won't soon forget.
In the wake of the Patriots' defeat, the Ravens will head to Indianapolis to face the reigning league MVP, Peyton Manning, and a Colts squad that has been undefeated so long as Manning has remained on the field.
The same Ravens team that was already beaten by the Colts in Baltimore earlier this season.
But thinking about the Ravens makes me think about their next opponent, the Colts.
Thinking about the Colts makes me think about Peyton Manning.
And thinking about Peyton Manning makes me think about...Tom Brady.
How can the reigning league MVP who has helped engineer an NFL-record seven fourth-quarter comebacks (clutch-quarterbacking personified) while remaining undefeated, remind me of a quarterback who posted a 49.1 quarterback rating at home while getting blown out by a sixth-seeded playoff team?
Because just as I have defended Peyton Manning from the public's false perception of reality, Tom Brady too is not the "choke artist" he is soon to be labeled.
He's actually coming off the second-best season of his Hall of Fame career, despite the fact that he has yet to be recognized for so doing.
A 10-6 record in the regular season followed by a "one-and-done" outing in the wild-card round of the playoffs is not enough to take away from the performance of Brady as an individual.
Individualism in New England, of course, often appears to be a subject looked upon as taboo.
But as much as such thinking might not be too popular amongst those who embrace "the Patriot way," it nevertheless will portray a more accurate reflection of reality than is bound to be perceived.
Despite missing almost a full season of football while returning to play banged up at times, Tom Brady managed to produce at a rate unfamiliar to the majority of his past track record.
Tom Brady (2009)
371-of-565 (65.7) for 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
96.2 quarterback rating.
Brady recorded the second-best seasonal performances of his career in almost every significant passing category.
His 65.7 completion percentage was the second best of his career. His 4,398 passing yards were second best of his career. His 28 touchdown passes tied for the second most he's ever had in a single season, and his 96.2 quarterback rating ranked as the second-highest of his career.
More impressive, however, has been how Brady has played in the pocket.
While that might seem hard to believe after watching today's game against Baltimore, I'm talking about what will account for over 94 percent of his season, not simply its conclusion.
The same Tom Brady, who had been sacked an average of 29 times per season, managed to be taken down only 16 times in 2009 (a career low). A figure even better than the 21 sacks he took during the 2007 season, when he was aided by some of the finest pass protection any quarterback has had in recent memory.
And the same Tom Brady, who averaged four to five lost fumbles per season prior to this year, only lost two in 2009.
If you've watched the Patriots' games this year, you'd notice that Brady did not have nearly the same amount of time in the pocket as was given to him in 2007, yet he managed to handle the pressure better than he has during his entire career.
Perhaps that Bernard Pollard hit in 2008 taught him a thing or two about the risks of staying in the pocket too long.
Yet, despite all of the improved performances Brady displayed this season, his team posted a 10-6 regular season record (low by their standards) and went 0-1 in the postseason for the first time in Brady's career.
Combine that with the fact that 2009 has seemingly been "the year of the quarterback" as a number of other players at the position managed to perform at a higher level than Brady (often times while being surrounded with less talent) and what we see is a lack of appreciation for what Brady has been able to do.
But as I've said many times before, lack of appreciation doesn't necessarily equate into an accurate reflection of reality.
Welcome, Tom Brady, to the world of Peyton Manning.
While I enjoyed seeing Brady continue his postseason struggles...
Going 74-of-123 for 629 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions for a quarterback rating of 66.7 during his past three postseason games.
I couldn't help but feel as though he reminded me of someone I know.
Strong performance in the regular season, helping your team win games they would otherwise lose only to have your season come to an abrupt halt in the playoffs.
Yep, that strikes me very much as being a modern case of Peyton Manning circa 2003.
But why 2003?
After all, Manning has had a number of tragic postseason defeats so why cherry-pick 2003?
Simply because the circumstances seemed eerily similar.
Allow me if you will...
2009 Patriots Defense
Allowed 17.8 PPG (fifth)
Allowed 320.2 YPG (11th)
2003 Colts Defense
Allowed 21.0 PPG (20th)
Allowed 299.3 YPG (11th)
The rankings might differ a great deal in terms of each team's PPG allowed, but the end result appears similar in both points and yards allowed per game from both quarterbacks' defenses in each given season.
But the similarities don't end there; take a look at what each quarterback was getting in terms of rushing support.
2009 Patriots Rushing Offense
466 carries for 1,921 yards (4.1 YPC) and 19 touchdowns.
120.1 YPG (12th)
2003 Colts Rushing Offense
453 carries for 1,695 yards (3.7 YPC) and 16 touchdowns.
105.9 YPG (19th)
True, Brady may have been aided by a slightly better defense and running game in 2009 than Manning had in 2003, but the end results still appear close.
But Manning (unlike Brady) went on to win that year's MVP award during a season where he had far less passing competition than Brady had in 2009.
Peyton Manning (2003)
379-of-566 (67.0) for 4,267 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
99.0 quarterback rating.
Manning who statistically performed at a slightly higher level, did so without the same level of quality targets to throw to.
He had Marvin Harrison, who caught 94 passes for 1,272 yards and 10 touchdowns, but no other targets who were proven productive (like Brady had in Moss and Welker this season).
In 2003, Reggie Wayne caught 68 passes for 838 yards and seven touchdowns, which was production well above what he had averaged in prior years.
Nevertheless, the production by Manning in 2003 is comparable to what Brady has done in 2009.
Manning's 2003 postseason was a productive one that came to a end when his Colts lost to Brady's Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship game.
Manning's postseason as a whole was impressive.
Peyton Manning (2003 Postseason)
67-of-103 (65.0) for 918 yards, nine touchdowns, and four interceptions.
106.4 quarterback rating (well above his regular season averages).
But much like Brady, his season came to a conclusion upon a horrendous postseason performance.
In the interest of fairness, the Patriots were stealing signals back then (and had tape from when they defeated Indianapolis earlier that season); but the amount of impact that had on that year's AFC Championship game might prove to be difficult to quantify.
Could you imagine what the Ravens' defense would have done to the Patriots had they stolen their signals back in Week Four?
I'm not justifying illegal behavior; I'm just making a point.
But back to 2003.
Manning went 23-of-47 for 237 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions to post a 35.5 quarterback rating against New England in the 2003 AFC Championship game.
Much like Brady, the Colts' season ended despite elite performance at the quarterback position for the great majority of the season.
People said that Peyton Manning was a "choke artist," but he wasn't.
People will also say that Tom Brady is now a "choke artist" (especially given his recent inability to perform in the playoffs), but he isn't.
Players can have bad games; it happens.
It is not so much that they don't deserve to be held responsible. It's simply a matter of putting their performance into context with the rest of their impressive season.
Tom Brady has already beaten the Baltimore Ravens this year.
As a matter of fact, he helped beat them during a time when they were undefeated, so the date on the calendar doesn't hold much weight from my perspective.
Had the Patriots lost 33-14 in Week Four but won 27-21 today, my feelings regarding Brady's performance wouldn't differ.
It was not as though the Ravens weren't trying just as hard to beat the Patriots in Week Four, and to even imply that they weren't giving their Week Four matchup 100 percent would be absurd.
But the general public puts so much stock into the heroics of the postseason that they tend to over-glorify those who are successful and over-criticize those who are not.
The playoffs are important, very important.
But the reality is that they consist of a small percentage of what makes up any player's career.
If a player like Brady can play at an elite level for over 90 percent of the season, you shouldn't look to throw the blame on his shoulders the moment your season comes to an end.
It takes a team to win and a team to lose.
Individual players can play at a winning level during games they win and lose, so the final outcome can often prove to be quite circumstantial.
If they play a bad game and it costs their team a chance to become champions, look to blame those who had let the team down on a regular basis (win or lose) before you try to take shots at the guy who got you there in the first place.
I hate Tom Brady, can't say there's much I like about him.
But he's proven to be a damn fine quarterback, and with as much as I'm sure to enjoy the criticism he's going to receive...he doesn't deserve it.
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