FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As it pertains to his day job as the Patriots quarterback, there’s great irony in the title of Tom Brady’s upcoming six-part documentary about himself, which is soon to be launched on Facebook.
“Tom vs. Time.”
Brady, at age 40 and with aspirations to play a few more years, seems bent on proving to the world he will defeat time just as he’s defeated most of the NFL teams he has faced in his remarkable career. This despite the fact that time is undefeated against virtually every one of the greatest athletes of all time.
And yet there was Brady in the AFC divisional playoff round Saturday night in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium defying Father Time again, dominating the Titans in a 35-14 New England victory that sends the Patriots to next Sunday’s AFC Championship at home against the winner of Sunday’s Steelers-Jaguars game.
The AFC Championship will be the Patriots’ seventh consecutive trip to the conference title game. Their mission to defend their Super Bowl title and win a third Lombardi Trophy in four Super Bowls marches on.
This thanks directly to Brady, who completed 21-of-31 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns — in the first half. He finished 35-for-53 for 337 yards and three touchdown passes — the NFL-record 10th three-touchdown-pass postseason performance of his brilliant career.
The Patriots fell behind 7-0 on a 15-yard Marcus Mariota scoring pass to Corey Davis with 1:14 remaining in the first quarter. It was after that Titans touchdown (Davis’ first NFL score) climaxed a 95-yard Tennessee drive, when Brady took over the game, leading New England to 35 unanswered points.
Brady’s 5-yard flip-toss to James White tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter
His 4-yard pass to Chris Hogan with 1:52 remaining the first half gave the Patriots a 21-7 lead.
In between those two touchdown passes, White scored on a 6-yard run in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead.
Given his body of work across 17 remarkable NFL seasons that have included five Super Bowl titles, multiple MVP trophies and video game statistics on the back of his football card, you would be inclined to say Brady doesn’t have a damn thing to prove to anyone anymore.
Nevertheless, in the enchanted world of Patriots Nation entitlement, where anything less than a Super Bowl appearance elicits rampant panic the temple might be about to tumble down, that’s not necessarily the case.
Particularly after that ESPN.com article was published last week insinuating, among other things, Brady was behind strong-arming coach Bill Belichick and owner, Robert Kraft into trading away his supposed heir apparent, Jimmy Garoppolo, earlier this season because he felt threatened by him.
Make no mistake: Brady has been as good as ever this season, entering Saturday night’s AFC divisional game against the Titans having thrown for a league-high 4,577 yards, completing 66.3 percent of his passes with 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions and a gaudy 102.8 passer rating.
But Brady’s recent numbers entering the Titans game were cause for alarm. In New England’s final five regular season games, his passer rating was a pedestrian 81.6 and ranked 17th in NFL in that span, his average of 6.95 yards per pass attempt ranked 15th and he had six touchdown passes to go along with five interceptions.
Was that the result of Brady missing some of his top targets to injuries — tight end Rob Gronkowski and Hogan (both of whom were in the lineup Saturday night)?
Was it the result of the Patriots opting to rely more on the running game, which produced 190 or more yards in three of the last six games?
Or was it the result of Brady simply slumping toward the end of another long regular season?
Whatever it was, the eyes of Patriots Nation were fixed on Brady on Saturday night — many expecting him to take out his frustrations from the late-season malaise and the unwanted attention of reported internal strife on the Titans’ defense.
And that’s exactly what he did.