FOXBORO — He stands behind center tonight in the AFC Championship game here at Gillette Stadium with his legacy and future hanging in the balance.
The quarterback, like no other time in his career, must produce in order to legitimize his stature and that of his football team.
And the pressure is on.
For the first time in this battle of fierce conference rivals, that heat does not fall on Joe Flacco.
Tonight, it falls on the broad shoulders of one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
Baltimore’s Flacco? He’s riding a string of QB ratings that aren’t too shabby: 115.4, 61.1, 97.1, 125.6 and 116.2.
Last week’s thriller over one living legend, Peyton Manning, cemented a contract offer from the Ravens that should total out over $100 million with at least $50-60 million guaranteed.
The kid, well the 28-year-old, is playing tonight with house money.
Now Brady is a guy with plenty in his bank. Three quick Super Bowl titles — and a 10-0 playoff start — assured that.
But since that playoff-opening win following the 2005 regular season to make it a perfect 10, Brady is a rather McNabb-ian 7-6 in the playoffs with zero titles.
And coming off a sparkling 115.0 rating last week vs. Houston, one has to scratch his/her head and wonder the last time Tom Brady put two good ones together in the postseason.
Your answer, by the way, would be Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville against Philly, back in February of 2005 — hence the Donovan McNabb reference.
At this point in time, do we have to re-assess Brady’s standing as the greatest money quarterback to play the game? Is his legacy in question?
“ I don’t really think about any of that, I’m just trying to win a football game this week,” said Brady. “I think we’re very short-term focused and playing against a great football team that obviously deserves the right to be here. We know how challenging of a team they are, both schematically and personnel-wise. All of our focus is on this week.”
Certainly, the guy remains right there at the top of the list in the regular season.
Take any year, save for 2008 where he missed all but one half of a game with a knee injury. You can make a case for Brady as the NFL MVP, from 2006 up until now.
He carried that ‘06 team to the AFC title game with some of the worst starting receivers the NFL has ever seen — Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel among them.
The playoff inconsistency since has been staggering.
Since the 2006 season, Brady has dominated the first 16 games like no other, throwing 211 TD passes and just 45 picks. Over his last 13 playoff starts — again in which he is 7-6 — Brady has 27 TD passes and 17 interceptions.
If you don’t think this postseason swoon is getting to the big fella, you are mistaken. Forget the processed press conference drivel, just take a peek as his body language on the field -— hether good play or bad.
You have to wonder if Tom Brady is pressing.
Tonight, he plays the same opponent that the Patriots should have lost to, in the same game. He was thoroughly outplayed by the less than immortal Flacco, with Brady throwing for just 239 yards and no TDs, with a pair of picks.
Obviously, the defenses get better during the playoffs. Right now, the likes of the Bills and Dolphins — whom Brady mercilessly torches game in and game out during the regular season — are out on the golf course.
“It is hard to win the Super Bowl, no question. We have made it there, since I’ve been here, five times. It is hard to get to this point; it is hard to get to the AFC Championship game,” Brady reiterated this week. “You need a lot of things to go your way over the course of the year. I think we are fortunate to be in this game and have this opportunity.”
To close the deal, you need high-powered quarterback play in this league, and Brady has not delivered that since 2005 on a consistent basis.
Luckily for Pats fans, this point drives him, as opposed to him wallowing in the inconsistency.
“Whoever is on the field has to perform at a high level. This is the biggest game of our year,” said Brady. “There are really no excuses at this point and there’s nothing beyond this week that’s guaranteed so we have to go out there and earn it.”
Brady's roller-coaster playoff run After opening 10-0 in the playoffs to begin his career, Tom Brady has fallen to a rather middle-of-the-pack 7-6 in his last 13. The inconsistencies in his QB rating match the win-loss performance. 2005 Score Brady's rating Pats 28, Jags 3 116.4 Broncos 27, Pats 13 74.0 2006 Pats 37, Jets 16 101.6 Pats 24, Chargers 21 57.6 Colts 38, Pats 34 79.5 2007 Pats 31, Jags 20 141.4 Pats 21, Chargers 12 66.4 Giants 17, Pats 14 82.5 2009 Ravens 33, Pats 14 49.1 2010 Jets 28, Pats 21 89.0 2011 Pats 45, Broncos 10 137.6 Pats 23, Ravens 20 57.6 Giants 21, Pats 17 91.1 2012 Pats 41, Texans 28 115.0 Pats-Ravens ???