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Kelley: My Two Favorite Tom Brady Plays of All-Time

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FILE - New England Patriots' Tom Brady raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl winner with New England and Tampa Bay, announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 exactly one year after first saying his playing days were over. He leaves the NFL with more wins, yards passing and touchdowns than any other quarterback. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Tom Brady played for the New England Patriots for 20 years. He played in 285 regular season games and another 41 in the postseason. The totals from those 326 games included 11,614 pass attempts and 706 rushes. Brady helped lead the Patriots to 17 AFC East titles, nine AFC Championships, and six Super Bowl wins. Picking the best play from such a resume is nearly an impossible task. However, that’s not the purpose of this exercise.

Long before I covered the New England Patriots I was a fan. This predates Tom Brady by quite a bit as well. Steve Grogan, Stanley Morgan, and John Hannah were among my first favorite players. When Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win in the 2001 season, I was writing about the Boston Red Sox.

At this stage in my life and career, I root for the Patriots to do well, but the reasons have changed. Last season I watched every Patriots game three times, with certain plays and portions of games much more. When people saw me out walking my dog on Monday morning and said, “That Pats game was brutal yesterday,” I often responded, “Yes, I’m heading home to watch it again.” From a selfish standpoint, spending so much of my week watching unenjoyable football (2023 New England offense) is no fun.

Also Read – The All-Patriots Team of the Tom Brady Era

By contrast, the Tom Brady Era in New England was a lot of fun for fans and media alike. Narrowing down favorite championships, or players, or anything else is extremely difficult when choosing from such a deep well of riches. I considered making a Top 12 list for my favorite Tom Brady plays of all-time. This was in keeping with the “Twelve Days of Tom Brady” theme. But when listing out my personal favorites, and there were many, two remained in a tier of their own.

Tom Brady’s career in New England spanned 20 years. However, my two favorite Tom Brady plays from that time occurred just 15 days apart.

2001 AFC Divisional Round vs. the Oakland Raiders

The “Snow Bowl” is one of the most famous plays in New England Patriots franchise history. Episode 2 of “The Dynasty” was largely devoted to this game. The game is most famous for “The Tuck Rule” play. The game is often referred to as the “Tuck Rule Game” outside of New England. That play saw Tom Brady lose the football as he brought the ball back toward his body after originally starting a throwing motion. It was ruled a fumble on the field, though the call was overturned on replay. Had the original call stood, the game would have been lost. The 2001 New England Patriots season would have been over. The Super Bowl 36 upset of the St. Louis Rams never would have happened.

But that was not my favorite play from that game. My favorite play happened two drives earlier.

New England trailed 13-3 with 12:29 to play in the fourth quarter. The Patriots began the drive at their 33-yard line. Due to the weather conditions, and the Raiders defense, time was running out on hopes for a fourth-quarter comeback. The field conditions were awful and New England was showing no signs of life on offense. Keep in mind, the Brady-Belichick combination had yet to win a playoff game together at this point. The sense that they’d find a way to win did not exist yet.

Brady proceeded to complete nine consecutive passes on the drive. He connected with Jermaine Wiggins (four times), Dave Patten (three times), Kevin Faulk, and Troy Brown. New England moved the ball deep into Oakland territory. On the tenth play of the drive, the Patriots faced a second-and-goal from the six-yard line.

Touchdown Run

Tom Brady was never known for his speed. His 40-yard dash time at the 2000 NFL Scouting Combine was a less-than-graceful 5.17 seconds. Brady took the second down snap from shotgun formation. He backpeddled to nearly the 15-yard line. Looking for an open receiver, Brady moved in the pocket and pump-faked several times. As he approached the seven-yard line he decided to run. Brady plowed straight ahead, and dove head-first into the end zone for New England’s first touchdown.

Brady got up quickly, ran, and spiked the ball. This sent him back to the ground. He performed an accidental somersault/logroll as he landed after the spike. It was the move of a spazz, not an NFL superstar. I loved it.

Click Here to Watch Tom Brady’s TD Run on YouTube

The play signified a lot of what was to love about Brady for New England fans. Based on the weather, the score, and the team’s performance, there was not much hope when the drive began. Brady kept hope alive. Fourth-quarter comebacks and clutch performances became the norm for No. 12, but not yet. He calmly led his team downfield, completing all nine pass attempts. With no open receivers on the tenth play, Brady took it himself.

Tom Brady was not fast but he was smart. He saw an opening and took advantage of it. Brady beat defenders to the opening on the snowy field. Brady was also tough, diving head-first into the end zone. He’d do whatever was needed to put points on the board.

The spike was the cherry on top. Brady scoring on the run was awesome. The spike made it perfect. This was not a superstar that cared about looking cool. This looked like a little kid as excited as all the Patriots fans filling the stadium. He lost his balance on the spike, wiped out, and got up to start headbutting everyone in sight. He was just a regular guy, making huge plays and having a blast on the biggest stage of his career to date.

Super Bowl 36 vs. the St. Louis Rams

Fifteen days after defeating the Raiders, the New England Patriots entered Super Bowl 36 as the third-largest underdog in the history of the game. The St. Louis Rams were deemed the “Greatest Show on Turf” and favored to win their second title in three years. The 2001 Rams were even more dominant than their squad who had won Super Bowl 34. Leading up to the game, there was uncertainty about who would be New England’s starting quarterback. Bill Belichick opted for Tom Brady, who was injured in the AFC Championship win against Pittsburgh, over Drew Bledsoe.

The Patriots took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter when Ty Law returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown. The lead went up to 14-3 with 31 seconds left in the first half. Tom Brady connected with David Patten for an 8-yard touchdown pass to extend the New England lead and make an upset a real possibility.

Adam Vinatieri kicked a third-quarter field goal. The Patriots held a 17-3 advantage after three quarters. New England’s defense was playing unbelievably, with the offense doing enough to keep them ahead.

The St. Louis offense came to life in the fourth quarter. Kurt Warner rushed for one touchdown and threw another to Ricky Proehl. With 1:37 remaining the score was tied 17-17. New England got the ball back at their 17-yard line. Legendary broadcaster John Madden suggested the Patriots should take the tie and take their chances in overtime. St. Louis held all the momentum. The only thing the Patriots could do at this stage was make a mistake that could cost them the game in regulation. Bill Belichick did not take Madden’s advice.

Setting Up Adam Vinatieri

New England opted to see if they could get into field goal range instead of being happy heading into overtime. Brady connected with J.R. Redmond (three times), Troy Brown, and Jermaine Wiggins. There were two incomplete passes mised in there as well. The Wiggins reception brought the Patriots to the St. Louis 30-yard line. They were in range for Adam Vinatieri to end it with a field goal, but first, they had to stop the clock.

Brady called for the spike. He got under center and spiked the ball with his right hand. The ball bounced off the turf, stopping the clock. Brady reached up with his left hand and the ball landed into his extended arm. It was effortless. Tom Brady was playing in the Super Bowl, had just led a potential game-winning drive as time expired, and it looked like his heartbeat had not even accelerated. The calm with which he caught the ricochet after spiking the ball was so cool. It was the opposite of his reaction to scoring on the touchdown run against the Raiders, but the time for celebrating had not yet arrived.

Click Here to Watch Tom Brady Spike the Ball in Super Bowl 36 (59:00)

Adam Vinatieri would hit the field goal. The New England Patriots won Super Bowl 36. Tom Brady was named Super Bowl MVP. For a New England Patriots fan, it was the greatest game in franchise history up to that point, or for many remains as such. Brady completed 16 passes, including five on the game-winning drive. He threw a touchdown pass. But my favorite Tom Brady play of the game was the way he spiked the football and effortlessly reached out to grab it without a hint of nerves. It looked like magic and let everyone know there was no moment too big for Tom Brady. It was a preview of all the greatness yet to come.

The Embodiment of Brady

So after reviewing 20 years of highlights for the greatest football player to ever live, my favorite plays were those two. They happened within 15 days of each other more than 22 years ago.

Tom Brady threw for 104,614 yards and 737 touchdowns, including the postseason, during his NFL career. But my two favorite plays came on a six-yard run and an incomplete pass on a spike. Both plays helped the New England Patriots win huge games. They showed off so much of what made Brady great. It wasn’t his speed or arm strength or other traits that would have seen him selected long before Round 6 of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Those plays showcased intelligence and determination, enthusiasm and calm, “everyman” and magician. In two somewhat unremarkable plays, so much of what made Brady remarkable was on display. And this all happened when he was still a first-year starter trying to help his team win games and stick around as an NFL starter.

There is no doubt that Tom Brady would go on to have more impressive plays during his career. My two favorite plays don’t even include a complete pass. But for all they meant, for how they made me feel at the time, and what they represented, those are my favorite Tom Brady plays of all-time.

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