Tom Brady is a polarizing figure in today’s NFL. His talent is simply undeniable; so much so that many fans, including a substantial chunk outside of the Patriots’ fan base, consider him the greatest to ever play the game. Others, however, focus on a much more negative light, tying a moderate portion of his success to cheating, most notably this past summer’s absurd ‘Deflategate’ scandal. But regardless of how you perceive Brady, one thing is for sure: his NFL career is nothing short of incredible.
Every Patriots fan knows the story of when Brady was finally drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, 199th overall. As the story goes, Brady walked up to Patriots team owner Robert Kraft before the team’s first training camp practice, and said to him: “Mr Kraft, my name is Tom Brady, and I’m the best decision this team has ever made.” This was obviously a very cocky thing to say, especially considering that Brady was nearly cut by the Patriots during that first training camp. After all, Drew Bledsoe was the star quarterback and face of the Patriots franchise, and it seemed that there would never be a chance for Brady to start for New England.
By the start of the 2001 season, Brady had worked his way up the depth chart to second string behind Bledsoe. Still, Brady was virtually guaranteed to never see the field unless Bledsoe was injured. Late in the team’s Week 2 game against the Jets, that’s exactly what happened. Bledsoe took a monstrous hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and suffered a severe chest injury, forcing him out of action for several weeks. Of course, he never again regained the Patriots starting quarterback job.
After Brady won his first NFL start the following week against Peyton Manning and the Colts, he only took off from there. Brady posted an 11-3 record in his 14 starts, leading the Patriots to the playoffs and earning his first Pro Bowl nod. In the playoffs, he led the Patriots on a 10-point comeback win against the Raiders, shocked the 14-2 Steelers at home, then led an improbable 2-minute drive to beat the heavily-favored Rams in the Super Bowl.
His 2002 season was not too shabby statistically, although he only threw for 18 touchdowns, but the Patriots went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. To this day, it is the only season with Brady under center in which the Patriots did not win double-digit games or make the playoffs. But he rebounded well in each of the next two seasons, winning the Super Bowl in each. In that 2003, the Patriots were written off after only two weeks, including an embarrassing 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills. But Brady was able to rebound, and he did not lose a game for the rest of the season – the Patriots even beat the Bills 31-0 in the final regular season game for revenge. Once again, Brady needed a big Super Bowl drive to beat the Carolina Panthers, and he delivered, setting Adam Vinatieri up for another Super Bowl-winning field goal. 2004 also ended in a Super Bowl victory, although no Vinatieri field goal was needed. Rodney Harrison intercepted Donovan McNabb to seal the Patriots 24-21 win and 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years.
Unfortunately for Brady, his 9-0 playoff record wouldn’t last. The 2005 Patriots were beaten in the divisional round of the playoffs by the Broncos, and in 2006, Brady took an awful Patriots team all the way to the AFC Championship Game, where he was beaten by Manning for the first time in the playoffs. Brady had beaten Manning both prior times, in 2003 and 2004.
The next season, in 2007, the Patriots took the league by storm, when they would pressure wash the competition right off the field. A loaded offense which had added Wes Welker and Randy Moss was nearly unstoppable. Brady broke Manning’s single-season touchdown passes record with 50, 23 of which went to Moss – also a single season record, and their 589 total points became a new NFL record. Brady also won his first MVP award. The team finished 16-0 in the regular season, although their perfect season hopes were dashed in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants. The next season, Brady’s season ended early in the first game, as a dirty hit by Bernard Pollard resulted in a torn ACL, ending his season.
Brady rebounded fairly well in the 2009 season, leading the Patriots to a 10-6 record even while his knee was still healing. They were beaten in the Wild Card round, however, by the Baltimore Ravens. In 2010, a new Patriots offense featuring rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez led to an energized Brady, who threw for 36 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, winning his second MVP award, as well as posting a 14-2 record. Yet once again, the Patriots’ Super Bowl hopes were prematurely dashed by the New York Jets. The following season, Brady once again led the Patriots back to the Super Bowl, only to lose again to the Giants.
In 2012 and 2013, the Patriots made the AFC Championship Game, but lost both times. In each season, the team suffered significant late-season injuries, to cornerback Aqib Talib in 2012, and to Gronkowski in 2013. It seemed like Brady would never get back to the Super Bowl.
Last season, Brady was written off by most of the main media outlets after only four weeks. The team’s 2-2 record was unacceptable, and rookie Jimmy Garoppolo was being touted as the new starter. Brady responded by setting the league on fire, only losing one game for the remainder of the season, and leading a comeback victory against the Ravens in the divisional round, before throttling the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. Of course, the Deflategate scandal broke out shortly thereafter, attempting to disrupt the team before their Super Bowl match-up against the Seattle Seahawks.
In the Super Bowl, Brady was faced with a daunting task. Down 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, Brady had to lead two touchdown drives against arguably the best defense ever, and did so without skipping a beat. While it took Malcolm Butler’s improbable, Super Bowl-winning interception to seal the game, Brady had willed the Patriots back to victory, winning his fourth Super Bowl and, in the eyes of many, cementing his legacy as the greatest of all time. All this success for Brady started back on draft night in 2000, when the Patriots took a chance on a scrawny kid from Michigan with the 199th overall pick.