It was his second interception of the fourth quarter and the final dagger in the heart of the Patriots 2012 campaign. After walking into Foxborough as heavy favorites, the Patriots finish their eighth consecutive season without winning a world championship.
"Yeah, well, I think being in the situation in the playoffs, it's always an opportunity lost when you lose because we feel like we have a pretty good team...We just didn't play well." -Tom Brady, postgame press conference
He's right you know? Only it's deeper than that.
The Patriots are a good football team, and Tom Brady is an unbelievable quarterback.
The team didn't play well. Tom Brady didn't play well.
So their season is over, plain and simple.
Despite lighting up the NFL for yet another productive regular season, Brady "couldn't get it done" during "the only time of the year that matters."
Yeah, it's been a while.
Considering that the "three Super Bowl wins in four years" argument was used ad nauseum to justify Brady's status as an elite, clutch performer, do we now have to look upon the last decade of his career as a carbon-copy of Peyton Manning's, the same man whom Brady supporters once tore down for sporting the very resume Brady has come to inherit?
A first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback becomes a regular-season statistical juggernaut, a multiple-time MVP award winner, lighting up the Denver Broncos in the postseason but then seeming to struggle in both "one-and-done" home playoff losses and championship game defeats. -Ryan Michael, February 6th, 2012
What's happened to the NFL?
Look back to last year's postseason:
- Tim Tebow defeated Ben Roethlisberger.
- Alex Smith defeated Drew Brees.
- Eli Manning defeated both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
And the trend that has continued this year:
- Colin Kaepernick defeated both Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
- Joe Flacco defeated both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
"Stats are for losers. Final scores' for winners."—Bill Belichick
Follow the postseason timeline since the Patriots won their last championship:
- 2005: Jake Plummer defeats Tom Brady (27-13 loss to the Broncos).
- 2006: Peyton Manning defeats Tom Brady (38-34 loss to the Colts).
- 2007: Eli Manning defeats Tom Brady (17-14 loss to the Giants).
- 2008: Missed entire season due to injury.
- 2009: Joe Flacco defeats Tom Brady (33-14 loss to the Ravens).
- 2010: Mark Sanchez defeats Tom Brady (28-21 loss to the Jets).
- 2011: Eli Manning defeats Tom Brady again (21-17 loss to the Giants).
- 2012: Joe Flacco defeats Tom Brady again (28-13 loss to the Ravens).
Losing to Peyton Manning is understandable but over the past half-decade, Mark Sanchez, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco appear to be Brady's greatest tormentors.
He's been out-performed in his home stadium by Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco (twice).
When the season has been on the line, Brady has continued to prove time and time again that he will not walk away the winner.
Whether he's playing against a future Hall of Fame quarterback, an average quarterback or a quarterback not likely to even be starting in 2013, Brady has proven for almost a decade straight now that he will not be the one hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of February.
Yet if the three Super Bowls he won was the primary reason for analysts and fans to have adored him in the first place and if a failure to win championships is the reason we have publicly crucified the elder of the Manning brothers, is eight years now enough to apply the same logic to Brady?
To ignore the value of Bill Belichick's Spygate program is to believe that the future Hall of Fame head coach was stupid enough to risk unprecedented punishment in an effort to obtain a "competitive edge" that would have no impact upon winning games.
Extreme arguments to defend Spygate are nonsensical.
"Do you think that stealing signals turned a terrible team into a dynasty?" -Idiot
I believe that stealing signals helped put a very good team "over the top" enough to win three Super Bowls by three points a piece. I believe that stealing signals could have been the difference between being known as another version of the 2000's Philadelphia Eagles and becoming a dynasty.
Establishing a "winning tradition" by illegal means served to help motivate talented free agents to come to New England.
Talented players joined a team that was already talented; but a combination of bad luck and a lack of additional "competitive advantage" may have been the difference between the Patriots winning more championship and—you guessed it—looking more like the 2000s Philadelphia Eagles (close but no cigar) than the Patriots of the early 2000's during the incredibly successful Spygate era.
Maybe it's that. Maybe there's more to it.
Maybe the Patriots began to emulate Peyton Manning's former Indianapolis Colts.
As quality defensive players aged and retired, the organization continued to put more and more on Brady's shoulders. If they were to have any chance at winning enough games to compete for a playoff spot, they knew Brady had to finally step up and be productive.
In 2001, 2003 and 2004, Brady was efficient but not incredibly productive.
The Patriots passing-offense ranked 22nd in 2001, ninth in 2003 and 11th in 2004.
Yet their scoring defense ranked sixth in 2001, first in 2003 and second in 2004.
"Team support" made it so that Brady didn't have to carry his teams to the championships they won. He was allowed to play the role of a Colin Kaepernick and "manage" his way to victories.
When team support fell by the wayside, Brady has to play the role of a Peyton Manning; so he needed to finally produce on the football field in order to have a chance at winning.
His skills developed, his work ethic improved and his football I.Q. continued to grow.
Still—zero rings to show for all of his dominance.
Can their be any denying how unbelievable Brady has been over the past eight years?
So how can a quarterback once touted for his ability to perform in the clutch go almost an entire decade without winning a championship while losing to inferior quarterbacks time after time in the postseason?
Alleged "expert analysts" excused Brady's lack of production in championship years by emphasizing the value of his unquantifiable intangibles—as if the latter was more valuable than the aforementioned.
Now the roles are reversed: Brady is a statistical juggernaut who simply cannot outperform inferior quarterbacks when his team's season is on the line.
Either Tom Brady is mysteriously regressing or we all severely over-valued what makes a great quarterback in the first place.
Perhaps carrying a less than spectacular team on your shoulders, dominating the regular season and winning league MVP awards are more reflective of great quarterbacking than Joe Flacco'ing your way to potential championship rings.
As Joe Flacco walked off of the field leaving Peyton Manning and Tom Brady losers in their own home stadiums in back-to-back weeks, the reality that is the flawed NFL playoff system began to ring clearly.
A flawed television ratings-driven "one and done" playoff system rewards four-game hot streaks over sustained excellence. It allows better teams to be eliminated for failing to perform on the "wrong date of the calendar" and forces superior quarterbacks to sit home on Super Bowl Sunday.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees—their efforts in 2012 resulted in nothing.
That is, if you embrace the idiotic philosophy of "Super Bowl or bust" and "the only thing that matters is winning championships."
Colin Kaepernick or Joe Flacco will walk out of New Orleans as a Super Bowl champion.
Equalling the amount of championships won by Peyton Manning, Steve Young and Brett Favre.
Exceeding the number of championships won by Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton and Dan Fouts.
Tom Brady's fourth-quarter "interception fest" may have actually done his legacy a favor.
Follow me now.
Had he advanced to Super Bowl XLVII and won, the media would have lauded him for his championship glory.
The hallowed "four rings" argument would be used to justify Brady's place ahead of Joe Montana.
But let's be real people—Tom Brady is better than Joe Montana.
Brady has produced on the football field during incredible MVP seasons that Montana couldn't deliver while throwing to Jerry Rice.
Ending another incredibly productive season with a big fat "L" at the conclusion of Act III now forces practical people to re-evaluate the importance of totality over the "date of the calendar'ism."
Why has Brady been so much better during seasons he hasn't been able to deliver "results"?
Answer: Because the NFL and its flawed playoff system value "hot streaking" over production and performance in totality.
Because nonsensical quarterback evaluation emphasizes calendar dates and intangibles over actual production over an extended period of time.
Joe Flacco > Tom Brady and Peyton Manning?
No, no, no, no, no.
The metamorphization of Brady's career stands as a poignant swan song, one last hurrah to help substantiate the latter half of his playing years as being superior to his first.
Playoff failure needed to happen and it needed to happen to Tom Brady.
The media darling has finally become his championship days' antithesis.
And I respect his legacy as being one of the greatest in NFL history because of it.
Ryan Michael is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report. Any questions, comments or professional inquiries can be directed to his email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/theryanmichael