This time he couldn’t save them because this time he was too often on his back or on the run or looking for men who were more closely guarded than Barack Obama.
As the Patriots [team stats] began to win game after game in a season that would end the same sad way it did a year ago, the talk became of a suddenly voracious young defense, forgetting that defense was playing game after game with double-digit leads by halftime.
There was talk of the improved running game, the one that produced over 1,900 yards, forgetting many of those yards were the result of fear of Tom Brady [stats]’s arm.
There was, of course, talk that In Bill We Trust, when the truth was In Tom We Must Trust Most. The truth of the matter was the same yesterday as it was in September. The Patriots were going as far as Tom Brady could carrycoach handbags , and that turned out to be one game into the playoffs, a 28-21 loss to the Jets that was not as close as that.
All season long Brady was the definition of accuracy. He not only put throw after throw in spots where no one but his receivers could catch them, but threw 339 consecutive passes without an interception. That streak and the Patriots season both ended yesterday. The two are not unrelated.
It ended not because Brady was god-awful, because he was far from that. It ended because he was not god-like.
It ended because for one of the few times this year his offensive line betrayed him, allowing five sacks and enough hits on him that Brady became what all quarterbacks become when they become a piñata — a little hesitant, a little hurried, a little less than what his team needed him to be, a little less than Tom Terrific.
That’s what Brady needed to be against the resurgent and surly New York Jets [team stats], who are now headed to the AFC title game for the second straight season. It’s what he needed to be all year and most of the time he was, and so the Patriots went 14-2. Yesterday he wasn’t terrific; he was just Tom, and so they went home.
Undone by the hated Jets, true, but mostly undone by the fact Brady could not stake his shaky defense to a two-touchdown lead this time. Undone by the fact his receivers were all too often surrounded so tightly by Jets they looked like they were trying to escape the Blue Angels.
On many occasions, Brady had ample time to find the open man but no one was, and so he got sacked or hit or threw the ball away or launched it into coverage too tight to expect anything good to come of it.
Yet even on a day when he was hit too often and his rookie tight ends disappeared and his wide receivers seldom escaped the Jets’ coach outlet storescrutiny, Brady still nearly brought them back when he was down 21-11, marching them deep into Jets territory after a 41-yard Julian Edelman punt return. But on second-and-10 at the Jets 18 everything came apart in a way that fit the day: Brady was uncharacteristically inaccurate with a throw that went behind an open Danny Woodhead and fell incomplete. It was a symbol of the game and, really, of the season because it happened so infrequently all year and all too often yesterday.
The most accurate thrower, in the most critical moments, wasn’t accurate because, well, because he’s human — and these Patriots could not win if he was.
As long as Brady was otherworldly, they appeared to be, too, but when he was not, they were what they were yesterday: pedestrian and beaten down by a superior defense and a superior offensive line. Happened three times. They lost all three.