By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Here’s the thing with Tom Brady: For as long he’s been running roughshod over the rest of the NFL, he’s always had critics and detractors who have worked hard — very, very hard — to discredit any and all of his accomplishments. Whether it’s the meaningless “system QB” tag, or the “dink and dunk” insults, or the Tuck Rule digs, or countless other critiques, it hasn’t really mattered. Brady’s just continued to produce.

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And so on Saturday, when Brady absolutely carved up the Lions, the dismissals were predictable and immediate. In this case, the absurd first-half performance (348 passing yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, perfect 158.3 passer rating) was passed off as largely meaningless because the Lions’ defense is atrocious and because the Lions were without their interim head coach and four of their defensive coaches.

Of course, those two aspects are certainly pertinent to framing Brady’s playoff-clinching performance on Saturday. No doubt about it.

At the same time, they’re not entirely relevant. And that’s for three big reasons.

You want to hear those reasons? I’m glad you came.

1. 43-Year-Old Quarterbacks Cannot Do This. They Cannot. They Have Not Ever. They Will Not Ever.

Tom Brady (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve heard it 7,659,913 times since about 2014: Brady is old but also good. I know.

But it absolutely cannot get lost that prior to this season, zero 43-year-old quarterbacks have ever been good enough to start an NFL game. Forget winning or thriving or succeeding; no 43-year-old has ever been good enough to start.

In fact, only four people have ever taken snaps at QB in their age 43 seasons: George Blanda, Doug Flutie, Vinny Testaverde, and Warren Moon — though Moon’s lone appearance in 1999 came before his 43rd birthday.

Those four guys combined to throw for 539 yards with 7 TDs and 5 INTs in 27 appearances. Brady had 348 yards and four touchdowns in one half of one game.

That performance has Brady’s 2020 season totals looking like this:

375-for-569 (65.8%)
4,234 yards, 7.4 Y/A
36 TDs, 11 INTs
101.0 passer rating

It’s his highest single-season touchdown total since 2015, when he threw 36, and he still has another game next weekend to add to the numbers.

It should probably register more that he’s doing what he’s doing at his age, but people tend to zone out when Brady’s age is brought up for the 7,659,914th time. Understandable. But still.

It’s all absurd.

2. He Did It All In One Half Of Football.

Tom Brady (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Tom Brady faced a bad defense on Saturday. Sure. He’s not the only person to face a bad defense, though. It happens every week.

Rarely does a quarterback have a 348-yard, four-touchdown first half. In fact, it hasn’t been done since … Brady did it against the Titans in 2009.

It’s OK to admit that cramming what would be an impressive performance for an entire game into a crisp 30-minute showing is a feat in and of itself.

That Titans game rocked, by the way. One of the most visually stunning games in Patriots history, thanks to an unexpected October snowfall. Just look at it.

Tom Brady, Wes Welker, BenJarvus Green-Ellis from Patriots-Titans in 2009. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Beautiful.

2.5. If Anyone Does The Blaine Gabbert Comparison, Just Know They’re A Bozo

Tom Brady (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Brady’s day was done at halftime, and Blaine Gabbert entered the game to immediately throw a touchdown to Rob Gronkowsi. Later, he threw a touchdown to Mike Evans. He finished the game going 9-for-15 for 143 yards with two touchdowns and no picks, which for Blaine Gabbert is like winning six Super Bowls.

Some will use Gabbert’s success to downplay what Brady did. You should:

A) Know that these people are practicing buffoonery. You need not pay them any mind.

B) Point out the massive windows that Gabbert had for his two touchdowns.

Blaine Gabbert’s window on Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

Blaine Gabbert’s window on Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

Blaine Gabbert’s window on Mike Evans’ touchdown (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

Blaine Gabbert’s window on Mike Evans’ touchdown (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

The souls of the Lions players had already been sucked out of their bodies by the time Gabbert entered the game. Any comparison of the first half to the second half is a fool’s game.

Now granted, I just paid the bozos some mind. But I’m here to leave no doubt. (I nevertheless refuse to count it as a real reason. I am a serious journalist at work here, OK? OK.)

3. The Throws. Watch The Damn Throws.

Tom Brady throws a touchdown to Mike Evans. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The stats are fun, and the facts and figures and all of that are great. But sometimes you’ve just got to use your eyes and understand when you’re witnessing perfection.

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And multiple times on Saturday, “perfect” was the only word to describe what just happened.

Take Brady’s first touchdown pass. The throw traveled 32 yards in the air. Had it traveled one inch less, it would have been broken up. Had it traveled six inches more, it would have been out of Gronkowski’s reach. But it traveled 32 yards, and it was … perfect.

Look at the window in still form. It does not exist — unless you’re Brady and Gronkowski:

Rob Gronkowski catches a touchdown over Tracy Walker. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski catches a touchdown over Tracy Walker. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

The Lions may be terrible, but that defense was perfect. The pass was simply better.

On Brady’s second touchdown pass, Mike Evans did create a little bit of separation at the end of his route, thus giving Brady more of a margin for error with his pass. But Brady didn’t need it. This one traveled about 37 yards in the air, and it was right on the money for the over-the-shoulder touchdown grab.

All four touchdowns were tight window throws. The third one did require an all-world effort on the receiving end from Chris Godwin, but it was still a bullet of a pass thrown away from two defenders, a pass that only Brady’s receiver could catch.

And the fourth was — like most passes from Brady to Antonio Brown these days — absolutely forced to Brown in the back of the end zone. Brown wasn’t really open at all, but Brady was intent on giving his guy a touchdown. Thanks to a precise snipe over one defender and away from another, he did just that:

That throw needs to live in GIF form, people.

Tom Brady touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Good gravy.

And those were just the touchdowns. You don’t go 22-for-28 for 384 yards without some other beauties in the middle of the football field.

Arguably Brady’s most impressive display of athleticism on this day came on a fourth-and-4 late in the second quarter. The Bucs led 27-0 at the time, but Bruce Arians wanted to go for it at the Detroit 38-yard line. Linebacker Reggie Ragland ripped through the line untouched and had a clean look to sack Brady and force a turnover on downs.

But Brady — his eyes pasted down the field — managed to nonchalantly sidestep the rushing linebacker and escape to his right before delivering a dart to Brown for 15 yards and a fresh set of downs.

Tom Brady escapes pressure, delivers a 15-yard pass to convert a fourth-and-4. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

For any quarterback, that’s a very nice play to convert a fourth down. For a 43-year-old statue who can’t move and whose arm strength is shot and is all washed up, it’s doubly so.

Some throws didn’t quite require pinpoint missiles, but one that stood out in the arm strength department came midway through the second quarter. On a second-and-3 from his own 16-yard line, Brady decided to hurl a rocket through traffic to Tanner Hudson.

Tom Brady to Tanner Hudson for 20 yards. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Not to harp on it too much, but do you remember what Peyton Manning’s arm looked like in his final season (9 TDs, 17 INTs), at age 39? How about Brett Favre, at age 41 in 2010 (11 TDs, 19 INTs)? Dan Marino at age 38 (12 TDs, 17 INTs) in 1999?

This is not normal, people. It’s remarkable.

We should probably take note of this 47-yard bomb to Godwin, too.

Tom Brady to Chris Godwin for 47 yards (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

And also this touchdown to Godwin, which didn’t count because the left guard meandered downfield a few yards. (Brady threw the touchdown to Brown two plays later.)

Brady touchdown to Godwin, nullified by penalty. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

He’s good, folks.

Nobody on the planet is saying that a great performance against a Lions team with no defensive coaches is the most significant performance in sports history.

But this physical performance and unmitigated obliteration from Brady at the end of a season as a 43-year-old? You’d be a fool to do anything but respect it.

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Tom Brady (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.