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Brady Ends Season With a Whimper

Jan 10, 2010 – 7:06 PM
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Dan Graziano

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Tom BradyFOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There was the Week 1 triumph, if we can all remember back that far, when Tom Brady rallied his Patriots to an impossible victory over the Buffalo Bills in the final minutes of a frantic fourth quarter. That was September, and that Monday night thriller stamped Brady as "Back."

After missing the 2008 season with a knee injury, the Patriots' future Hall of Fame quarterback had returned in a way that made everybody think it could be 2007 all over again.

It couldn't be that, of course, and everybody knew that if they really thought about it. But the way Brady's season ended -- 154 yards, three interceptions and a 49.2 QB rating in a 33-14 home playoff loss to the Ravens -- well, something about that doesn't seem right. It's the first playoff game Brady has ever lost at home, and it brings to a distasteful conclusion a season that Brady obviously feels never got into a groove.

"Every year presents challenges and this one had its own set," Brady said. "I think all of us, the mental toughness that we need to have to overcome whatever comes up, I think that's going to be something we all need to improve on next year. We've always found ways to compete through January and we'd love to get back to that winning way next season."

There is still a league-wide reverence for Brady. He's one of those guys everybody likes and respects so much that even his conquerors don't gloat. A sampling of the Ravens' thoughts on Brady postgame Sunday:

Joe Flacco, who actually played worse than Brady but beat him: "There are a lot of quarterbacks who grew up liking him. Tom was that guy throughout high school, kind of when he emerged. Tom's been that guy for a little while now, so obviously I've always liked what he's done."

Ed Reed, who intercepted him: "Domonique [Foxworth] made a great read and tipped the ball up. Honestly, I was hoping he would tip it, because that's the only way I would pick Brady off and he knew it. I'm sure he's shooting himself in the foot."

Terrell Suggs, who sacked him: "We got him a little bit. The main focus was to get him off his spot. We didn't want him comfortable. We wanted him to think we were blitzing when we weren't and weren't blitzing when we were. We just didn't want him comfortable because he is one of the greatest in the game."

And he is, of course, that. There's another milestone every week with this guy, and even in ugly defeat Sunday he managed to become the sixth quarterback in NFL history to reach 4,000 career postseason passing yards. The others are Joe Montana, Brett Favre, John Elway, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Couple of guys you may have heard of.

But for Brady, this 2009-10 season never felt right. There were injuries to his shoulder and his hand and maybe his ribs and all kinds of nicks and bruises that quite often seemed to affect him in ways that we're not used to seeing anything affect him. Brady still refuses to talk about the injuries, but it's obvious when he talks that he's been dealing with some unusual stuff.

"You know, I think all those...I was able to play 16 games," Brady said. "That's something I love to do because that's the only way a quarterback can display toughness, is to be out there. I want the team to be able to rely on me and count on me. I just think injuries are a bunch of BS. If you can play, you play. If you can't play, you don't play. But when you're out there playing, you've got to play at the level the team expects you to play."

For Brady this year, that may have been more important than ever. There were issues -- physical and otherwise -- with Randy Moss. The receiving corps overall was thinner this year, and never thinner than it was Sunday with ol' reliable Wes Welker watching from a skybox. And the defense, quite obviously, wasn't the same as it's been in years past.

"There are some things that we didn't do well over the course of the year -- mental toughness and leadership and discipline and commitment and all those things that we displayed at times and certainly didn't display at other times," Brady said. "I think that's something we all reflect on and, individually, we have to make more of a commitment to each other. I think, for the guys that are going to be here next year -- the 2010 version of this team -- it's going to be something we can learn from this year."

Brady certainly will be a part of the 2010 team. He'll probably be healthier, since he won't be recovering from major knee surgery this off-season and likely can condition the way he always has in the past. We may well see a better Tom Brady in 2010 -- somebody more like the 2007 version than the 2009 version. All we know now is that 2009 is over, and that it didn't go the way Brady or his team wanted it to go.

"It's disappointing for all of us, there's no doubt about it," Brady said. "But part of it is mental toughness and moving forward and saying, 'This year didn't turn out the way we wanted it to and next year we're going to make it a hell of a lot better.'"

See you next season, Tom.

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