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Ode to the Patriots' Tom Brady

It was strength New England QB showed in face of incredible punishment by DeMarcus/Von Broncos in 2015 AFC Championship that explained his greatness.
Credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, rear, sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, in Foxborough, Mass.

DENVER — Until the 2015-season AFC Championship Game, I always felt the New England Patriots’ dynasty was more Belichick than Brady.

I had two strong pieces of evidence.

One, in 2008, when Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury midway through the first quarter of the season-opening game, the Patriots posted an 11-5 record with Matt Cassel.

And, two, in 2016, when the Patriots started 3-1 without the Deflategate-suspended Brady and with the inexperienced Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.

It was Bill Belichick’s coaching, more than Tom Brady’s quarterbacking, that explained the Patriots Way.

At least that’s how I felt until January 24, 2016 in the AFC Championship Game at what was then called Sports Authority Field at Mile High where the Broncos held on for a 20-18 win.

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In rare defeat, Brady displayed the courage and physical toughness of a champion. Brady got pulverized that day by Broncos edge rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and interior defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File
Tom Brady is sacked by Von Miller during the second half of the NFL football AFC Championship game in Denver on Jan. 24, 2016.

Ware recorded an astounding 7 “quarterback hits” that day. Brady was the quarterback who got hit all 7 times. Miller hit him another 4 times and brought him down for 2.5 sacks. Jackson hit him three times; Wolfe twice and Vance Walker, in what would be the second-to-last game of his NFL career, knocked Brady once.

When he wasn’t hit, Brady was under constant duress as his arch-nemesis, Peyton Manning, had one more good first half left in him, throwing two early touchdown passes to Owen Daniels to keep the Broncos ahead all day.

Brady only completed 48.6 percent of his passes that day (27 of 56) and threw two interceptions. Yet on fourth-and-10 from midfield and the Broncos up 20-12 with 1:34 remaining, Brady lofted a deep, high-arching pass that dropped perfectly between two Broncos defensive backs and into the over-the-shoulder arms of Rob Gronkowski for a 40-yard gain.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Tom Brady is tackled by Von Miller during the first half of the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016.

There is nothing quite like the moment when the sound of 77,112 fanatical, fourth-down screams turns suddenly to groans.

And then, on fourth-and-goal from the 4 with 17 seconds remaining, Brady threw a touchdown pass, again to Gronkowski to bring the Patriots within a 2-point conversion of sending the  AFC Championship into overtime.

The Pats didn’t convert – Ware crushed Brady for an eighth time and his no-time-to-think pass to Julian Edelman was knocked around and intercepted.

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But I have never before or since seen a quarterback take so much punishment and still heroically lead his team to the brink of victory.

Credit: AP Photo/Joe Mahoney
Tom Brady is hit by Von Miller on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, in Denver.

There was actually one prior game that started to sway my greater appreciation for Brady. That was in late-November 2013, in Foxboro on a Sunday night in passing-impossible frigid, gusty conditions.

The Broncos were up 24-0 at halftime thanks to Knowshon Moreno’s rushing and Miller’s 60-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Manning set every NFL single-season passing record that still stand that year but he can only manage ducks that night in those ferocious windy conditions. Brady stepped up and gunned the ball through the teeth of the gusts for 263 yards passing and three touchdowns after halftime to lead the Patriots to a 34-31 overtime win.

I didn’t realize Brady’s arm was that strong until that night when he rallied from way back for victory. It was in defeat a little more than two years later in Denver that I witnessed the steely heart of a champion.

Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Patrick Chukwurah lands on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady after Brady threw a pass during the fourth quarter of New England's 17-7 loss at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006.

Here it is four years later and Brady is still going, only now he’s gone – from New England, not the NFL. Belichick nailed it with his open farewell testimony to his quarterback of the past 20 years.

“Tom was not just a player who bought into our program,’’ Belichick wrote. “He was one of its original creators. Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone-setter and a bar raiser.”

Belichick was .700 (14-6) without Brady. Which is admirable until you realize he was .774 (219-64) with Brady. And that was just the regular season. With the exception of 2007, when Belichick and Brady went for history and finished 16-0, the B&B duo was about winning the Super Bowl. Not playing in Super Bowls. Winning them.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Champ Bailey, right, intercepts a pass in the endzone intended for New England's Troy Brown during the third quarter in Denver in this Jan. 14, 2006 file photo. Bailey returned the interception 100 yards to the one-yard line to setup a Denver touchdown.

“He won championships in three of his first four years on the field and in three of his final six seasons with us, while competing for championships in most every season in between,’’ Belichick said modestly – for in every Brady on-field season the Patriots posted a winning record. Not most, every.

We’ll now find out if the Patriots Way was more about Belichick than Brady. Although not really because it will be unfair to compare Brady at 43, 44 and 45 with a new team and a new offensive system than his 20-year prime with the Patriots.

Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts after failing to complete the two-point conversion during fourth quarter NFL action against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., in this Oct. 27, 2002 photo.

I still think the Patriots will go at least 10-6 this year, providing there is a season. They do still have Belichick.

Funny, but Brady was only 8-9 lifetime against the Broncos – 7-6 in the regular season and 1-3 in the playoffs. Don’t tell him about this, Broncos Country. Otherwise, watch, he’ll sign with the Chargers.

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