TAMPA — Tom Brady brought in the top gun Monday night in his ongoing dogfight against Father Time.
Tom Cruise watched the Buccaneers and Cowboys play Monday from a luxury suite at Raymond James Stadium. Cruise is 60. He’s planning to shoot a movie in space next year. He was last seen rocketing off a Norwegian cliff aboard a motorcycle into a BASE jump.
Sadly, not even Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell could awaken Brady out of a season-long 9G flat spin.
“Talk to me, Gronk!”
Brady and the Buccaneers were splashed by Dak “5 TDs” Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys 31-14.
This Brady Super Bowl run became an impossible mission. The Buccaneers needed a few good men on both sides of the ball, especially when it came to the offensive line and secondary. Tampa Bay was out of sync all season. And Brady was spun off his axis.
Dallas’ defensive front left Brady in a daze of thunder during the final game of Super Wild Card Weekend. The NFL’s all-time-everything passing leader was flustered, frustrated, and flummoxed.
Sure, Tampa Bay won the NFC South.
But that’s only because the University of Georgia chose to stay in the SEC.
Brady’s 22nd NFL season as a starting quarterback was a paradox. His 490 completions and 733 attempts led the league and were career highs. His 4,694 yards passing was third in the NFL, behind only Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
Yet, as his former coach once warned: “Stats are for losers.”
This was clearly Brady’s worst career performance in terms of perception and outcome. He finished under .500 for the first time since he was a back-up JV quarterback. Brady was unable to mix a potent offensive cocktail, despite the presence of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on the roster. His 25 TDs were his second fewest in a season since 2003. Brady’s Buccaneers averaged just 18.4 points per game. Fewer than Washington, Chicago, and, yikes, even New England. His average of 9.4 yards per completion was the lowest of his career.
Dink and dunk. Meet stink and stunk.
Monday night delivered a culmination of all that was wrong with Brady all season.
A true Hollywood ending – in the spirit of “Titanic.”
The only way this could be any worse is if my editor makes me see “80 For Brady.”
Only the most twisted Bradyphobes or delusional Belichick apologists could use this season to tarnish Brady’s permanent record.
Who ruminates on Bobby Orr’s stats with the Blackhawks? Or Kansas City’s Joe Montana losing his final career game to the Dolphins in the Wild Card round? Or Larry Bird ending his NBA run with 12 points in a Game 7 loss at Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals?
Only those whose own lives are steeped in failure make such exits their focus.
Brady still has nothing left to prove to anyone — but himself. That is the scary part.
Brady’s eyes were wide shut Monday even though he threw the ball 66 times. He had no fewer than four balls tipped near the line of scrimmage. He lobbed a dead duck in the end zone on a second-and-goal from the 5 in the second quarter.
The ball flew right into the danger zone – and into the hands of Dallas’ Jayron Kearse.
It was Brady’s first red zone interception since 2019 when he played for New England. A 14-play, 6:37 drive resulted in nothing but angst. Brady would finish with 351 yards passing, 35 completions and a pair of TD passes. So much. Yet so little.
Afterward, Brady congratulated members of the Cowboys at midfield and then trotted off the field, waving his lid to the sparse but appreciative crowd.
Gods do not answer letters. But GOATs tip their caps.
“Kind of typical how we played all year — inefficient in the passing game, not very good in the run game, so, it’s hard to beat good teams like that,” Brady said in the after credits.
It was risky business for Brady to play this season. Battle lines were drawn when Brady’s ex-wife let it be known that she was not pleased with his decision to unretire. Among the casualties of a season that saw Tampa Bay finish an NFL-worst 4-12-1 against the spread was Brady’s 13-year marriage, which went the way of the crypto markets.
We’ve been told the union of Tom and Gisele was finished once Tom opted to play this season. Those of us who have been married for 33 years to divorce attorneys can tell you that marriage is a partnership. When ultimatums begin, the marriage is finished. No matter the terms.
Brady is the freest of free agents. He’s unencumbered by marital obligations or the all-mighty power of a binding NFL contract. For Brady, this freedom could be rooted in regret or relief. We have no idea. Neither does anyone else. A decision on his next stop could rest as much on the wishes of his children in South Florida and New York, as any other factor.
Brady wasn’t thinking much beyond Tuesday on Monday night.
“I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep,” Brady replied when asked about his future plans.
Depending on where you look, there were either real or hypothetical betting odds on Brady playing for no less than a dozen different teams next season.
We’ve made our case for him coming back to New England here previously. Some teams being discussed – the Raiders, Dolphins, 49ers, and Buccaneers – make much more sense for Brady than others – the Jets, Colts, Ravens, Commanders, and Texans.
The freaking Jets?
Most are willing to show Brady the money.
Brady must decide if he – like Cruise – is going to deliver another sequel this year.
A “TB12 — Mission Impossible 24” in 2023.
If Brady can handle the truth, he’ll make Monday’s curtain call his last.
Bill Speros (@RealOBF) can be reached at [email protected]