BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever take snaps in the NFL, and his postseason resume speaks for itself. He earned his reputation as a clutch performer with three Super Bowls early in his career, and he currently stands one win shy of the postseason record for starting quarterbacks. Simply put, there’s no other quarterback the Patriots would rather have under center in the playoffs, whether it be this year, last year or next year.
Nevertheless, with the stunning postseason loss to the Jets from two seasons ago a major topic this week, it’s important to remember that Tom Brady lost that game. For the Patriots to avoid a similar upset this weekend against the Houston Texans, it’s up to Brady to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
You’ll recall that in 2010, Brady ridiculously threw just four interceptions all season long. Yet in that first quarter against the Jets, his screen pass sailed over the head of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and into the arms of Jets linebacker David Harris. It was the first interception Brady had thrown in 330 pass attempts and his first in three calendar months, so it threw Brady off for the rest of the night.
Rather than getting rid of the ball quickly and taking chances by trying to fit passes into small windows, Brady held the ball in the pocket far too long. It eventually led to Shaun Ellis eating Brady alive so many times that the Patriots couldn’t help but sign the guy to a contract after the season, as Brady was sacked five times on the night.
While one man can’t single-handedly lose a playoff football game (except for Jake Delhomme), it was Brady’s struggles that killed the Patriots that night. Yes, then-rookie Aaron Hernandez ran a couple of bad routes on third down, but a normal Brady still would have overcome setbacks such as that one. The team that averaged a league-leading 32.4 points per game was held to just 14 points until the final minute of the game, when a garbage time touchdown made the final score and stat pages look a little bit better. Prior to that touchdown drive, though, Brady was just 24-for-38 for 249 yards with one touchdown and the interception.
It was good but not nearly good enough for a team dependent on a high-powered offense to win games. If the Patriots hope to avoid a repeat occurrence this year against the Texans, Brady is going to have to keep his composure and turn in an excellent performance.
When the Jets beat the Patriots, it was the 32-year-old Ellis (two sacks) and the large-but-not-explosive Sione Pouha (one sack) doing much of the damage (corner Drew Coleman and linebacker Calvin Pace also had a sack apiece, but those came on well-executed blitzes). Suffice it to say, J.J. Watt is a bit more of a pass-rushing threat than any of those guys, and Antonio Smith and Whitney Mercilus are no strangers to getting to the quarterback.
Any extra time in the pocket will spell trouble for Brady. While he technically was only sacked once against the Texans last month, he was hit hard and often (the Texans registered six QB hits). It was only his quick release that allowed him to avoid taking sacks, and it was as big a reason as any that Brady threw for four touchdowns in the rout.
(While the interception to Harris was the real game-changer for Brady, one could argue that Brady’s choice of headwear — pictured to the right — was equally responsible for the performance. Such claims have gone unconfirmed for two years, so you’ll have to draw your own conclusions.)
So while the Patriots should once again emerge victorious this weekend over Houston, the 2010 Jets loss remains the reminder of how quickly and easily an explosive offense can be stopped in its tracks. The interception to Harris didn’t cost the Patriots on the scoreboard, but they lost their quarterback — specifically, what makes their quarterback so great — for the rest of the game. Houston’s best chance of winning on Sunday is to try its darndest to make that happen again.
Brady playing so poorly remains an unlikely scenario, but we saw two years ago that it’s very possible.