By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The new Tom Brady documentary series has been surprisingly good. While the prospect of rehashing a bunch of story lines we’ve already heard a million times wasn’t the most alluring, the production and focus of each individual episode has been interesting and compelling. In some cases, the series has unearthed new information and material.
Certainly, that was the case with the latest episode, which debuted this week on ESPN+. This one focused on Brady and the Patriots after the loss in Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, through Brady’s season-ending injury in 2008, through Brady’s personal life changes with having kids and getting married, entering in to what Brady deemed “Patriots 2.0,” and culminating with yet another Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
That game was a wild one, as all Patriots Super Bowls have tended to be, and it’s long been remembered for Wes Welker’s critical fourth-quarter drop as it has for anything else.
That incompletion has long been the source of a never-ending debate among Patriots fans, with one camp firmly entrenched in the belief that it was a bad pass, and the other camp believing the drop was 100 percent on Welker.
The reality is, the throw was far from perfect, as it sailed to Welker’s outside shoulder as he ran up the left seam. But that pass merely required Welker to make a catch that NFL receivers make countless times every week — and a catch that Welker himself had made innumerable times in his career.
It was, simply, an unfortunate moment in the career of Welker and in Patriots history. (Had Welker caught the pass, the Patriots would have had the ball at the Giants’ 20-yard line, leading by two points, with a running clock and just one timeout remaining for the Giants. In a worst-case scenario, the Patriots would have lined up for a field goal to take a five-point lead with under two minutes left. But one more first down after the theoretical Welker catch could have allowed them to run out the clock. Alternatively, a touchdown and PAT would have all but sealed a win, too.)
And interestingly enough, Brady hasn’t used this documentary series — for which he’s an executive producer — as a celebration of all of his triumphs. Instead, he’s opted to dive deep into the lower points of his career as well. And this play was no exception, as both he and Welker opened up about what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and how they both felt about it.
Here’s some of what Brady and Welker said in the episode:
Welker: So whenever you’re running a seam, it’s all about speed. I had him [the defender] and I knew I was good.
Brady: Wes was running hard because he knew he was kind of uncovered. I let the ball go and I was trying to keep him away from the safety in the middle of the field.
Welker: The ball was in the air, I was just like, ‘Oh, s—, Tom!’ But I was like, ‘All right, I can still make this play.’
Brady: I just had to spin him around and make it a tough catch on him. Obviously wish I would’ve just stuck it on him.
Welker: I thought about flipping my head around the other way, but knowing how important the play was, I was like, ‘I can’t take my eyes off this ball.’
Brady: We probably complete that 99 out of a hundred.
Welker: Over and over, just … easy. And … that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Brady: That was a huge play in the game, but at the same time, there was a play to be made on third down, too. And I didn’t do that one, either.
Clearly, both Brady and Welker accept their share of blame for the miscue, which makes sense. As Brady has made sure to mention while breaking the NFL record for completions and passing yards this year, it takes two people to complete a pass. On this one, Brady wishes he was a little better, Welker wishes he made a better play, and both still feel the sting of that ball hitting the turf.
Later, Welker summarized his feelings on the play in somewhat heart-breaking fashion.
“Finally we get to the moment that I’ve been preparing for, where I’ve made these plays in critical situations over and over and over again. And to not come through? Like … [shakes head] I was just like, ‘Why?'” Welker said. “I’d rather not have any of the other [catches] and just have that one.”
Welker, who is the Patriots’ all-time leading pass catcher with 672 receptions, later reflected on how the one play in Super Bowl XLVI impacted his legacy.
“Just funny that we get remembered by the one,” he said. “It’s just something that I’ve gotta move on from.”
Brady said there were a lot of “what-ifs” in that game, but the [bleeping] Giants ended up on the positive end of too many.
“I stayed in the locker room for probably an hour after that game without taking my pads off,” Brady said. “I was really lamenting that game. I was really battling that one quickly, because, I mean, there were so many plays in that game that if any one of those changed, then we win the Super Bowl. We had the momentum, we had the rhythm, we had everything. That was our game to win. And we just let it slip away.”
Though Brady has won four Super Bowls after that Giants loss, the pain is still fresh in his memory.
“That’s probably the loneliest, lowest moment you’re gonna have. You know, literally when the clock ends, that, um, you know that … f—, man, we … we lost again,” he said. “It’s a long walk to the locker room, you know? You’re gonna walk off the field, and you’re gonna have to suck it up and go deal with the loss, go deal with the ramifications of losing the Super Bowl again.”
The documentary also examines what went into Gisele Bundchen responding to fans’ taunts after the game, when she yelled, “My husband cannot [bleeping] throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.”
Bundchen said that she had been trying to calm her nerves during the game by drinking some wine with Bianca Wilfork, which may have contributed to the postgame commentary. Brady said that he didn’t get much sleep at all that night, and while awake in bed, his wife informed him that she may have snapped for a second while in the public eye. His reaction? “You can’t say that!”
Gisele said she was just sticking up for Brady.
“I knew how hurt he was going to be, and you don’t want someone to say that about your husband,” Bundchen said. “That’s a no … no situation. Don’t do that.”
Bundchen said it “broke my heart” when the comment was interpreted as being a dig at Welker. Fortunately for all involved, Welker didn’t take it personal.
“I know where her heart is, and I know who she is. So I almost agreed with her at the time,” Welker said. “Like I was just, I was more mad at myself.”
THE HAIL MARY THAT NEARLY WAS
While the Welker drop is the No. 1 most remembered play from that game, the final snap nearly led to an absolutely insane finish. With the ball at the New England 49-yard line, Brady took a snap with 5 seconds left on the clock and heaved a Hail Mary into the end zone.
“Four guys run at the goalposts, and I just gotta hold it as long as I can until the pass rush gets there and then I just gotta launch it,” Brady said. “I held it, kind of worked to the right, worked back to the left, and just as the rush was closing in, I just launched it.”
The ball ended up landing smack dab in the collection of bodies in the end zone, ultimately getting tipped up and giving a diving Rob Gronkowski a chance to make a game-winning catch. Alas, the ball dropped to the turf before he could catch it, and the Giants won the game.
“I could just see the ball as it’s drifting down, and I didn’t even see what happened, other than I saw their entire sideline rush the field,” Brady said.
Welker regretted not being a step or two closer to that action.
“Gosh, if I was just like, two or three yards closer, I would’ve been right there for that,” Welker said.
THE FINAL WORD
As mentioned earlier, Welker is the all-time leader in receptions in Patriots franchise history. He also ranks third all time in receiving yards, behind only Stanley Morgan and Rob Gronkowski. Considering he did that in just six years — one of which was played without Brady — it’s rather incredible. He’s eighth in franchise history in touchdown receptions and fifth in punt return yards, too.
For an undrafted, undersized player, Welker was in many ways the perfect Patriot. Alas, he didn’t win a Super Bowl during his tenure from 2007-12, and in New England, that matters perhaps more than anywhere else.
Despite that, Brady used the end of this episode to properly and succinctly sum up just how excellent Welker was.
“There was nobody who could define what being a great teammate was, what doing the right thing was like Wes,” Brady gushed. “You know, Wes had the most amazing career for the Patriots. But we didn’t win the Super Bowls at those times. To me, that doesn’t take away from what his amazing career was and what his contributions were. If I’m starting a team to go to battle with, Wes Welker is in that starting lineup.”