Tom Brady was born on August 3, 1977 in San Mateo, an affluent California city of more than 90,000 residents located 30 minutes south of San Francisco. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Tom Sr. and Galynn, were big sports fans. They raised their four children to share their passion. Toms three older sistersMaureen, Julie, and Nancywere all athletic. He followed in their footsteps.
Tom was crazy about the 49ers. During his childhodd, his parents took him to plenty of game at Candlestick Park. One of his earliest childhood memories was the 1981 NFC Championship Game between the Niners and Dallas Cowboys. The three-year-old cried for the entire first half because his mom and dad refused to buy him an oversized foam #1 hand.
In the second half, as the drama increased and the energy began to build, Tom began paying attention to the action on the field. He did not understand everything that was happening, but he knew his favorite player, Joe Montana, was up to something special. When Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone to pull off an incredible comeback, the stadium exploded. That play sent San Francisco to its first Super Bowl—and permanently shifted the balance of power in pro football. It also got Tom thinking it would be pretty cool to be a pro quarterback some day.
The early years of Toms sports career did not hold much promise of attaining such a lofty goal. He was not particularly big or strong or coordinated. In fact, Tom was undistinguished even among the other boys on his block. What he had going for him was a competitive nature and an innate understanding of how to improve.
Tom would find the fastest kid around and challenge him to a foot race. Not gifted with much natural speed, he was blown away time and again. Yet Tom never gave up, analyzing his performance after each loss and thinking of things he could do to get better. Finally, he began beating the other boys. Looking back, he remembers feeling like the tortoise who triumphed over the hare.
.Tom's blend of intelligence and a never-say-die attitude served him well in youth sports. He flourished at positions where those qualities mattered most, most notably as a baseball catcher. He could hit, run, throw, and handle pitchers as well as anyone around. Though a football career still occupied his thoughts, he did not play in an organized league until his freshman year at Junipero Serra High School, an all-boys Catholic school in San Mateo that had produced its fair share of superstar athletes, including Lynn Swann and Barry Bonds.
Tom made the JV as a backup quarterback for the Padres, and then ascended to the first-string role after an injury felled the starter. By his junior year, he was starring on the varsity for Serra in two sports, football and baseball. Known for his incredible work ethic, Tom was a coachs dream. Dissatisfied with the football squad s training regimen, he devised his own. Included was a jump rope routine that quickly became a regular part of team workouts. Over the summers, only the most dedicated teammates joined Tom in his torturous training program.
By his senior season, Tom was seeing the fruits of his hard work. He gained national attention in 1994 as a quarterback, including All-America recognition by both Blue Chip Illustrated and Prep Football Report. He ended his prep career with 3,702 yards passing and 31 touchdowns. Tom was also honored as an All-State and All-Far West performer.
He was no slouch on the baseball diamond, either. In the 1995 draft, the Montreal Expos picked him in the 18th round.
By that time, Tom had decided his future lay in football. It was a smart choice. Two of the players drafted ahead of him by the Expos—Michael Barrett and Brian Schneider—would eventually become the teams catching tandem.
Tom was a sought-after football prospect who had his choice of schools from coast to coast. Though many colleges closer to home were interested in him, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Michigan.
ON THE RISE
Tom arrived on campus in Ann Arbor in 1995. He had no real shot at playing time. The program was under extreme pressure to produce a conference champion. It had been two years since the Wolverines last went to the Rose Bowl, and coach Gary Moeller was fired before the season following a drunken incident. His replacement, defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr, faced high expectations and a murderous schedule.
Carr red-shirted Tom and went with the combination of freshman Scott Dreisbach and sophomore Brian Griese at quarterback. Though Michigan finished the regular season at 9-3, the teamnever developed much of a rhythm. The year ended with a 22-20 loss to Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.
Tom spent the 1996 season as the Wolverines number-three quarterback. He saw mop-up duty in just a couple of games but made great strides in other ways. He developed a firm grasp of the teams playbook and got to practice with the first-stringers, which helped his timing and bolstered his confidence. Michigan, meanwhile, began to reassert itself as a Big Ten powerhouse. Its defense, led by linebacker Jared Irons and cornerback Charles Woodson, did solid work. The Wolverine offense was piloted by Dreisbach, who beat out Griese for the starting job in the preseason.
Disappointing losses to Northwestern and Penn State cast a shadow over an otherwise good season and made many Michigan fans wonder whether Dreisbach was the right man to lead the team. When Carr played Griese against Auburn in the Outback Bowland the Wolverines won 41-14the quarterback job was once again up for grabs.
Tom played third fiddle once again in 1997. He pouted when Griese won the starting job in camp and briefly considered transferring to Cal, where hed have a better chance to play. But with Michigan dominating its opponents, Tom got snaps in three of the first four games. Though he yearned for a bigger role on the team, Tom grew to view Ann Arbor as an okay place to be. The campus was in the throes of a national title run, and he realized that there were worse things than being a backup on a championship-caliber team. He also heeded advice from Carr, who told him to concentrate on improving his game.
Unfortunately, Toms year ended early when he underwent an emergency appendectomy in October. During his recovery, he made up his mind to stop brooding and become the starting QB at Michigan. Tom watched from the sidelines as Griese led the Wolverines to a share of the national title with a 21-16 win over Washington State in the Rose Bowl. He hoped to bring the team back to the big game himself one day.
With Griese graduated, Tom was among the candidates for the starting quarterback job for the 1998 campaign. His main competition was Dreisbach and freshman Drew Henson. After a strong camp, Tom was anointed the starter by Carr.
That was the good news. But things quickly went badly for the Wolverines and Tom. They lost a road game to Notre Dame, and then were beaten by Syracuse at home. Unwilling to heap all the blame on his quarterback, Carr decided to stick with Tom. Finally the season started to turn around. Tom's teammates gained confidence in his playmaking ability, the offensive line gelled, and running back Anthony Thomas started to rack up big yards. The improved rushing attack opened up the field for Tom, who picked apart Indiana and Penn State to even Michigans record at 2-2.
Tom saved his best for the Wolverines biggest rival. Against Ohio State, he completed 31 of 56 attempts for 375 yards and a touchdown, and set school records for completions, attempts, and yardage. It wasn't enough, however, as Michigan fell 31-16.
The loss to the the Buckeyes proved to be Michigan's only defeat in its last 11 games. In the Citrus Bowl, Tom lifted the Wolverines to a 45-31 come-from-behind wion over Arkansas. An Academic All-Big Ten selection, he finished the year with 2,636 yards and 15 touchdowns. Only Jim Harbaugh had thrown for more yardage in a season for Michigan.
Even after his solid campaignand the fact he was voted one of Michigans team captainsTom was not a lock to start in 1999. The reason was Henson. The sophomore was considered to be a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Among those who agreed were the New York Yankees, who drafted him as a third baseman in June of 1998. Henson played a few minor-league games that year before heading off to Ann Arbor. In 1999, he flourished in Single-A, slugging 13 homers in 69 games. He returned to Michigan in August, eager to supplant Tom as the Wolverines first-string passer.
The quarterback battle intensified as the opener against Notre Dame approached. Carr, unable to make up his mind, announced that both Tom and Henson would see significant time under center. Tom wasn't happy about splitting time, his coachs indecisiveness, or being snubbed, but he kept his mouth shut and trusted things to work out. He had learned in 1997 that the smartest way to handle disappointment was to keep his head clear and be ready to make plays when called upon.
In the first quarter of the Notre Dame game, Tom spearheaded a pair of drives that resulted in Michigan field goals. In the second quarter, Henson led the team to a third field goal. The Fighting Irish, however, were scoring touchdowns against the Wolverine defense. At halftime, it was clear to Carr that he had to pick a quarterback and go with him the rest of the way. He chose Tom, who erased a 14-point deficit and led the team to a stirring 26-22 win. He finished the day hitting on 17 of 24 passes for 197 yards.
Though he was still sharing the job with Henson, Tom continued to establish himself as the teams true starter. He threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue, then lit up Michigan State with 285 yards and two more scores. Against Illinois, he piled up 307 yards in another two-touchdown performance. That finally convinced Carr to end his rotating quarterback system. With Tom at the helm, Michigan closed out the regular season with four straight wins to secure an Orange Bowl bid.
Tom ended his Michigan career with a flourish in Miami. He torched Alabama in a 35-34 overtime victory, completing 34 of 46 attempts for 369 yards and four touchdowns. His final pass as a collegian, a 25-yarder to Shawn Thompson, won the game for the Wolverines. The final numbers on Tom's senior year—2,586 yards passing, 20 touchdowns, and just six interceptions—highlighted his ability to read defenses and hit receivers in stride.
Opinions on the pro prospects for Tom were mixed. Scouts didn't question his attitude. He was fearless, hard-working, and willing to learn. They also gave him high marks for the accuracy of his arm. The big concern was Tom's durability. Though he stood 6-4, he weighed only 205 pounds. In addition, Tom didn't run well and couldn't throw deep with much effectiveness. Most pegged him as a career backupsomeone who could fulfill a support role, but certainly not a player worthy of a high pick.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was one of the few who saw a little more upside when he looked at the Michigan quarterback. With Drew Bledsoe ensconced at starter, and veteran John Friesz slated for back-up duty, Tom seemed worth a gamble. He would join former Kansas State star Michael Bishop on the bench, and Belichick hoped that one of the two would step into the second-string job by 2001. The Pats selected Tom with their sixth-round pick.
Tom was grateful that
someone had taken him. When the draft started, he had envisioned himself
going in the first few rounds. As team after team passed him over, he
grew increasingly frustrated. According to his parents, he grabbed a baseball
bat, stomped out of their home, and did a little backyard landscaping
to let off some steam.
At night, Tom would practice his footwork in his apartment. Hardly a moment went by that he was not preparing in some way for the day he would get to play. Although the league viewed him as a fringe type, he was sure he could get the job done in a starting role. His mission was to make believers out of everyone in pro football.
On the field, the Patriots were awful in 2000. Tom watched all but one game from the bench. His lone appearance came in a 34-9 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Lions, one of 11 losses for New England. He completed one pass for six yards.
As training camp broke in 2001, there was little enthusiasm in New England. Despite a lot of new facesincluding corner Terrell Buckley, linebackers Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer, halfback Antowain Smith and wideout David Pattenit promised to be another gruesome year. The Pats needed impact players, and none of these veterans qualified. A pair of rookie linemendefensive tackle Richard Seymour and guard Matt Lightadded depth in the trenches, but only Seymour seemed to have the potential to be a major contributor. As had been the case in years past, the team would go as far as Bledsoe could take them.
Although no headlines
were roaring his name, Tom was one of the teams lone bright spots
during the preseason. He was beefier and faster than in his rookie seasonenough
so that Belichick decided to release Bishop and go with Tom as the backup.
Far worse than the teams winless start was the news that Bledsoe had sheared a blood vessel in his chest. Not only was he badly injured, he could have died. For better or worse, Tom was now the starter, until Bledsoe was cleared to play again.
In Week 3, the defense came through against Peyton Manning and the Colts, causing several key turnovers and holding Indianapolis to a single touchdown. Tom played a solid game, and New England got the win, 23-13. The following week, however, he could not move the ball against the Dolphins and the Patriots fell in Miami, 30-10.
MAKING HIS MARK
With the team mired in the cellar at 1-3 and Bledsoes recovery going more slowly than anticipated, New England fans were ready to write off the season. Safety Lawyer Milloy was not. After the Miami game, he told Tom that he needed to be a more dynamic leader. Tom had done it in college—now it was time to do it here.
The following week, Tom brought the Pats back from a 10-point deficit late in the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers. Two scoring drives sent the game into overtime, and kicker Adam Vinatieri split the uprights for a 29-26 victory. Feeling more confident, Tom then beat the Colts again. He threw for three touchdowns, including a 91-yarder to Pattenthe longest play from scrimmage in franchise history.
A week later, New England dropped to 3-4 with a loss to the Broncos. In a matchup of former Michigan quarterbacks, Brian Griese prevailed 31-20. Tom felt like the goat afterward. The Denver defense did a number on him, intercepting four passes on the day. But Tom took some positive lessons from the game and applied them like a veteran in his next two starts, wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills.
When the heavily favored Rams visited Foxboro Stadium the following week, the Patriots held their own thanks in part to Tom, who did a masterful job of mixing the run and the pass to keep the St. Louis defense off-balance. A second-quarter fumble by Smith proved to be the turning point, however, as the Rams won 24-17. No one in the New England locker room felt they had been outclassed. Despite a 5-5 record, the team was starting to believe it could play with anyone in the league.
The Patriots blew out the New Orleans Saints in their next game, as Tom tossed four TD passes. Next, in a key game against the Jets, he rallied the Pats from 13 points down to score a 17-16 victory. Toms timing could not have been better—Bledsoe was healthy again and could have played against New York. With the victory, a potential quarterback controversy was averted, and Belichick was able to keep Tom in the starting role without too much second-guessing. His 6-3 mark in the nine games that Bledsoe had missed spoke for itself.
Although Tom felt good about Belichicks vote of confidence, he was saddened when it chilled his relationship with Bledsoe. The veteran had been a great help while he was on the mend, but now Bledose believed he should regain his starting job. There is an unwritten rule in the NFL that says a starter does not lose his position to an injury, only to a better player. Obviously, Bledsoe saw himself as the superior player.
Doing his best to
ignore the off-field turmoil, Tom led New England to victories over the
Cleveland Browns and then the Bills again to set up a crucial showdown
with Miami. At stake was an opening-round bye in the playoffs and home-field
advantage in either team's first postseason contest. Tom played smart
and guided the Patriots to a 20-13 win. A week later, New England crushed
the Carolina Panthers to wrap up first place in the AFC East. After the
game, Tom learned that he and Milloy had been picked for the Pro Bowl.
Despite playing in Foxboro, the Patriots were the underdog against Oakland for their first playoff game. The Raiders played like the favorite in a snowy first half and went into the locker room up 7-0. The New England defense stiffened after intermission, limiting the Raiders to a pair of field goals. But Tom, playing tentatively, could not get the offense on track.
Down by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Patriots finally put together a big drive, which Tom finished off with a dive into the end zone. The score was now 13-10. With the season on the line, the Patriots got the ball back for one last drive. Tom maneuvered the team through the snowflakes across midfield. The game looked to be over when he was sacked, lost control of the ball, and the Raiders recovered. But referee Walt Coleman saw things differently. After consulting the replay, he ruled the that the fumble was an incomplete pass. Colemans call followed the letter of the law.
Moments later, Vinatieri booted the tying field goal to send the game into overtime. After the Patriots won the coin toss, Tom completed eight straight passes to set up the game-winning kick for a controversial 16-13 triumph.
The Patriots next traveled to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Tom sprained an ankle in the second quarter and could not finish the game. Bledsoe stepped in and showed no signs of rust. He connected with Patten on a touchdown just before halftime and then safeguarded a slim lead the rest of the way to give New England a 24-17 win. Believe it or notand most people didn'tthe Patriots were going to the big game.
On paper, Super Bowl XXXVI appeared to be a monumental mismatch. Few doubted the high-flying Rams would win. The most interesting question seemed to be how long the Patriots could stay close. Compared to Kurt Warner and his receiving corps, Tom and his pass catchers looked like high schoolers. Throw in do-it-all superstar Marshall Faulk and there seemed to be no way New England could survive. It certainly didn't help that Toms ankle was still painful and swollen.
In the days leading up to the game, Belichick refused to reveal his starter. New England fans were grateful to Tom for rescuing the season, but some felt that it was time for Bledsoe to reassume command of the team. The Patriot players disagreed. When Belichick announced that Tom would start, there were smiles all around. The Pats wanted to go with the guy who got them there.
If anyone in the New England locker room was concerned about Toms nerves, their fears were probably allayed when he was spotted on the trainers table before the game ... taking a nap.
The Patriots devised a game plan around the few advantages they had. New England didn't make many mistakes, so the team assumed it wouldn't give away points to St. Louis. More important, the Pats were a more physical team. By tackling hard and making the Rams offensive stars pay with their bodies on every play, the Patriots hoped to disrupt their opponent's timing and wear them out.
That proved to be the key to one of the greatest upsets in football history. From the opening kickoff, the Pats punished Warner, Faulk, Isaac Bruce and the other St. Louis receivers. By halftime, Faulk was bruised and battered, the wideouts were hearing footsteps, and Warner was nursing an injured thumb. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the Rams looked vulnerable.
The Patriots came out for the second half with a surprising 14-3 lead. Vinatieri added a third-quarter field goal to make the score 17-3, but the Rams came charging back. Warner ran one in from two yards out, then passed to Ricky Proehl for another touchdown to tie the game with a minute and a half left.
Thats when Belichick put the game in Toms hands.
Few in the Superdome
believed Tom would attempt to move the Patriots into scoring position.
After all, this wasn't Joe Montana. Or was it? Starting from his own 17
with no timeouts, Tom moved the offense 53 yards in seven plays. Two short
passes to J.R. Redmond got the Pats a first down on the 30. An 11-yarder
to Redmond gave new England another first down, on the 41, with 41 ticks
After an incompletion to stop the clock, Tom found Troy Brown on a crossing pattern for 23 yards. A quick six-yarder to Jermaine Wiggins brought the ball into field goal range at the St. Louis 30-yard-line. Tom stopped the clock with a spike with seven seconds remaining.
Tom trotted off the field and watched wide-eyed as Vinatieri split the uprights to win the game, 20-17. Toms final numbers were workmanlike—16 for 27 for 145 yards and a touchdown. He was named the games MVP.
Toms life was a whirlwind after the Super Bowl—parties, interviews, and celebrity golf tournaments. That made preparing for the 2002 season even more difficult. The Patriots returned much the same squad from the year before. The most notable change came on offense at tight end where Christian Fauria and Cam Cleeland were signed to give Tom more optionsin the red zone. Another welcome addition was speedy receiver Deion Branch.
Early in the campaign, Tom had no problem getting everyone involved in the offense. The Patriots won their first three games, lighting up the scoreboard at nearly 40 points a contest.
But New England ultimately showed itself to be a flawed team. The running game was inconsistent, which enabled opponents to drop more defenders into pass coverage. After starting 3-0, the Patriots lost their next four in a row, then struggled the rest of the way to stay above .500. All too often the club found itself playing catch-up, able to move the ball only when it went to the hurry-up offense. Though Tom usually flourished in these situations, he had only so many comebacks stored in his right arm. And there were times, as well, when he was New Englands biggest problem. Tom was criticized for lacking fire at various points during the season, and some questioned his health when the accuracy of his throws dipped. To his credit, he took the hits from the media and fans in stride, and never concocted excuses for his uneven performance.
For all the questions raised about Tom, his numbers were still impressive—3,763 yards passing, 28 touchdowns and a better than 60 percent completiong rate. On the final Sunday of the regular season, he engineered a stunning rally at home against the Dolphins, leading the Patriots to a 27-24 overtime victory, which kept New Englands slim playoff hopes alive. But Tom and teammates wound up on the outside looking in when the Browns and Jets both won, too.
As Tom learned in 2002, life as a Pro Bowl quarterback and Super Bowl MVP is challenging in ways he never imagined. The demands on his time—whether he was receiving an ESPY Award or serving as a judge in the Miss USA pageant—never seemed to end. Focusing on what he deemed most important was extremely difficult. Tom found ways to stay grounded and keep his personal life out of the newspapers. He had no misconceptions about what people in New England wanted from him. When the Patriots slumped, Tom realized that fans and reporters sometimes had selectively short memories.
Tom spent the offseson recovering from a separated shoulder he had suffered in the season's final game. Tom opted not to have surgery, and the team kept the injury quiet.
The 2003 edition of the Patriots posed a lot of questions, particularly on defense. Gone was Milloy, replaced by Rodney Harrison, a veteran picked up off the junk pile after a long career in San Diego. Other key newcomers included Ted Washington and Rosevelt Colvin. On offense, Tom was supported by a squad that featured no major stars, relying instead on the likes of Smith, Brown and Branch.
The Pats opened the year against the Bills. The game was a catastrophe—Buffalo scored a 31-0 shutout, and Colvin suffered a season-ending hip injury. The press wondered whether Tom was up to the challenge of saving what looked to be a lost season. Most around the league believed that Belichick had lost the faith of his players.
One week later, it was a different story. Tom led the Patriots into Philadelphia and shredded the Eagle defense in a 31-10 win. An impressive 23-16 victory over the Jets the following Sunday was followed by a close loss in Washington to the Redskins, leaving New England at 2-2.
With injuries were beginning to erode Tom’s offensive line, he was beginning to feel his shoulder ache again. Every hit he took made the pain a little worse. Several times during the year his name showed up among the probables on the injured list.
The injury bug bit New England all season long, as 42 players started in 22 spots. Somehow, however, the Pats mixed youth and experience and managed to win their final 15 games. Tom was magnificent, pulling off overtime road wins in Miami and Houston, and doing whatever it took to get the job done. New England’s defense pitched three shutouts in November and December, including a 31-0 pasting of Buffalo. Tom finished the year with 3,620 yards and 23 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions.
The team continued to perform at a high level in the postseason. First, the Patriots edged the Titans, 17-14. Then they beat the Colts in the AFC Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl. In both games, Tom had all the time he needed in the pocket. The games were close and exciting, but this time there were no controversial calls.
New England faced Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Panthers threw everything they had at Tom in a ferociously played first half. The Patriot defense, meanwhile, was doing a number on the Panthers, thanks to Mike Vrabel. The veteran linebacker forced a fumble that led to New England’s first touchdown—a short pass to Branch from Tom, who earlier had kept the drive alive with a 12-yard scramble.
After a long TD pass from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith knotted the score, Tom threw another TD, this time to David Givens. A field goal by John Kasay made it 14-10 going into halftime.
The Patriots maintained a measured amount of control over the game until the fourth quarter, when the Panthers scored on an 85-yard bomb to take a 22-21 lead. The Carolina TD marked the first time since November that New England trailed in a game.
Tom responded with 67-yard scoring drive, the key play being a clutch reception by Brown. On second-and-goal from the one, Belichick inserted two defensive stars on offense. Vrabel lined up at tight end and Richard Seymour entered the game as a blocking back. Tom faked the run and tossed to Vrabel to put New England ahead with less than three minutes left. On their successful two-point conversion, Tom pretended to drop the snap, freezing the defense while Kevin Faulk snuck across the goal line.
Ever-resilient, Carolina tied the game just over a minute left on a Delhomme pass to Rickey Proehl. Coach John Fox took some heat later for calling a timeout, which ultimately gave Tom and company one last shot at a regulation victory.
When Kasay’s kickoff went out of bounds, Tom took charge. Starting on his own 40, he calmly completed four of five passes to put Vinatieri within field goal range. The man who had iced the game two years earlier nailed a 41-yarder with four seconds left to win it, 32-29.
With a pair of Super Bowl rings and two MVP awards, Tom was a bona fide superstar. While other quarterbacks around the league put up flashier numbers, he had gained the full respect of opposing players and coaches. And among fans, particularly women, he was viewed as a matinee idol. Again, Tom balanced his offseason between the demands of celebrity and the challenge of defending his second NFL title.
The Pats entered 2004 as the AFC favorites to go to the Super Bowl. Their most significant addition was All-Pro running back Corey Dillon, who gave the club its most devastating running threat in years. The rest of the roster remained almost completely unchanged, an amazing feat given football's normal free agent feeding frenzy.
In the season opener against the Colts, the Patriots picked up right where they had left off against the Panthers. New England slowed down Manning and the high-powered Indy offense just enough, while Tom had a field day with the ball in his hands. In the Pats' 27-24 victory, he threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
After a pair of easy victories at Arizona and Buffalo, the Patriots won their record 19th in a row, 24-10 over the Dolphins. In a contest dominated by defense, Tom managed the game beautifully. He passed for only 76 yards, but two of his nine completions went for scores. New England then improved to 6-0 with wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Jets. Two days after beating New York, however, Dillon hurt his foot in practice and was forced to the bench. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Patriots were readying themselves for their toughest test of the season, at 5-1 Pittsburgh. Without their top rusher, the Pats lost the contest and their 21-game winning streak.
The Patriots regrouped to go 14-2. Aside from an uncharacteristic fourth quarter meltdown in Miami—Tom was picked off twice in the final two minutes of the game—New England was perfect. The team's strong finish was testimony to the brilliance of Belichick and his coaching staff. The Pats suffered a rash of injuries, including the loss of Law for the season. Seymour, their best defensive lineman, also went down. But the resourceful Pats adjusted. With his secondary thin on bodies, Belichick turned to Brown, his top receiver, and asked him to play both ways. The veteran relished the opportunity. In his handful of games as a nickle back, he was rarely out of position and even intercepted two passes.
The regular season was another success for Tom. He hit on more than 60 percent of his passes for 3,692 yards and 28 touchdowns. Even more impressive was his proficiency throwing the deep ball. Once accused of having a weak arm, Tom completed 52 passes of more than 20 yards and 10 of more than 40 yards.
After a first-round bye, the Patriots hosted the Colts in a Divisional battle. With Manning coming off a record season, the New England defense had its hands full. But the Pats again designed a perfect scheme to stop the Indy quarterback, putting the clamps on Edgerrin James and mixing up their looks in the secondary.
With New England clinging to a 6-3 lead to start the third quarter, Tom got the offense on track. He engineered a pair of lengthy touchdown drives that extended the score to 20-3. That's how the contest ended.
Up next for the Pats was a rematch with the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. New England was installed as the favorite, even though the contest was being played at Heinz Field. The New England defense set the tone early, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger on his first pass attempt. Tom and his mates converted the turnover into a field goal, and they never looked back. Tom was rock solid once again, passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns, including a long strike to Branch.
The two would hook up 11 more times in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Eagles. The media hype before the game focused on Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens, who vowed to play despite suffering a broken leg several months earlier. The Pro Bowler made good on his promise and looked surprisingly strong. In a ho-hum contest, however, it was New England's steady defense, a handful of bad decisions by Donovan McNabb and another heady performance by Tom that spelled the difference.
With the contest knotted at 14-14 heading into the fourth quarter, Tom orchestrated two scoring drives that gave New England a 10-point margin. Philly found the end zone with just under two minutes remaining. But thanks to some questionable clock management, the Eagles left themselves with prescious little time to set up a shot at the game-tying field goal.
When Harrison picked off McNabb for the third time of the night, the Pats sealed their third Super Bowl title in four years. Branch earned MVP honors, which was just fine by Tom, who again came up big (22 of 33 for 236 yards and two scores). His only mistake was a second quarter fumble that was recovered by the Eagles.
Tom and the Patriots found themselves defending a Super Bowl championship for a third time in 2005. They would do so without coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, gone to Notre Dame and Cleveland, respectively. The defense also took a step backward after Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke, Ted Johnson retired and Ty Law was released in a salary cap move.
Nevertheless, the season began on a high note, as New England beat the Raiders, 30–20. Tom had a big game, passing for more than 300 yards. After a loss to the Panthers, Tom topped 300 yards again, this time against Pittsburgh. Tom completed his final 12 passes to rally the Pats from a 13-10 deficit to a 23–20 win. Unfortunately, putting two good weeks together proved a challenge for New England. The team did not record back-to-back wins until late November.
A perfect December boosted New England to a 10–6 record, good enough for the division title and another trip to the playoffs. Considering that injuries had led to 45 different starters during the year, winning the AFC East was quite an accomplishment. No division champ had ever had as many starters hurt.
Tom was one of the few Patriots who remained healthy, and his numbers showed it. Against the Jets in the season’s second-to-last game, in fact, he became the second NE quarterback ever to surpass 4,000 yards when connected with Branch on a 22-yard play.
In the opening round of the playoffs, the Patriots stomped Jacksonville, 28–3. Tom managed the game beautifully, throwing for three TDs against the Jags, including a 63-yarder to Ben Watson that iced the game in the third quarter. It was a different story a week later, however, as New England stumbled against the Broncos. The Pats committed five turnovers—two on intercepted passes—and Denver converted them to 24 points. The Patriots actually had the lead late in the first half, but the Broncos turned the tide with 10 quick third-quarter points enroute to a 27-13 victory. It was Tom’s first postseason defeat after nine straight victories.
The 2006 season posed some questions for New England's passing game. Givens was gone and Branch was a holdout, which eventually precipitated his trade to the Seahawks. Tom and the Patriots shook off these losses and won six of their first seven. The lone defeant came at Gillette Stadium against Broncos.
New England’s first major test came against the Colts. The game seesawed back and forth until Indy seized control in the second half. Tom could not get his team after intermission, and the Pats fell 27–20. A week later, New England suffered another loss, this time to the Jets. It had been 57 games since the team had last dropped two in a row. The NFL record was 60.
Tom and his teammates righted the ship with a 35–0 pasting of the Green Bay Packers. New England went on to win six of its last seven games to finish at 12–4. Along with the San Diego Chargers, the Pats were the team to beat heading into the playoffs. Tom had another stellar season, passsing for 3,529 yards and 24 TDs.
The Patriots opened the playoffs against the Jets and cruied to a 37–16 victory. Tom threw a pair of touchdown passes in the game. A week later, the Pats edged the Chargers, 24–21. It was not a pretty game. New England could not get its running attack going, and Tom threw three interceptions. But the game turned when the Chargers fumbled while bringing back their third INT. The Patriots recovered, and moments later Tom found Reche Caldwell in the end zone to make the score 21–19. Faulk then took a direct snap and barreled into the end zone for the two-point conversion that tied the score. When New England got the ball back, Tom connected with Caldwell again for a long gain that set up the game-winning field goal.
New England's momentum continued in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. The Pats scored two defensive touchdowns in the first half, and Dillon ran for a score to build a 21–6 lead. The Colts, however, controlled the second half. They moved ahead with a minute left in the fourth quarter, and then kicked off to the Patriots. Tom had more than enough time on the clock to engineer a scoring drive, but this time he didn't deliver. His first interception of the game squelched New England's hopes, and the Pats lost 38–34.
During the off-season, owner Bob Kraft made improving the receiving corps the number-one priority for the Patriots. Donte Stallworth was signed as a free agent, Wes Welker was acquired from the Dolphins for draft picks, and the coup de grace was a draft-day deal with the Raiders for Randy Moss. Suddenly, Tom had the NFL’s finest set of receivers.
Hardly one to squander such a blessing, Tom revved up the New England passing game. In the 2007 opener against the Jets, he connected with Welker, Watson and Moss for touchdowns in a 38–14 blowout. After the game, a controversy erupted when the Pats were accused of illegally spying on the New York sideline. The league came down hard on the team and Belichick, fining them a combined $750,000 and stripping New England of at least one draft pick.
The Patriots beat the Chargers a week later by the same score, with Brady and Moss hooking up for a pair of TDs. The Brady-Moss pairing, in particular, sent shivers up the spines of NFL defensive coordinators. A perfectly thrown ball to Moss was literally unstoppable, and one off the mark was still catchable.
The Patriots kept rolling, scoring 38 for the third straight game against the hapless Bills. The Cincinnati Bengals were the next victims, falling 34–13 in a Monday Night game. The Pats then beat the Browns 34–17 the following Sunday. Talk began of an unbeaten season in New England.
Next came the Cowboys in Dallas. In front of the largest TV audience in more than a decade, Tom outgunned Tony Romo, throwing five TD passes in a 48-27 shootout. The following week, Tom torched the Dolphins with six scoring passes in a 49-28 blowout. It got even uglier against Washington, as New England rolled to a 52–7 win over the Redskins. Tom passed for his 28th touchdown of the year early in the contest, tying the career high he had set in 2002 and again in 2004.
That set up the game of the century, against the defending Super Bowl champion Colts, who were also unbeaten at this point. The TV audience eclipsed that of the earlier New England-Dallas contest to become the most-watched Sunday game since the NFL began keeping records. With the Pats trailing by 10 points in the second half, Tom connected with Welker to make it a three-point deficit, and then hit Faulk in the end zone on the next New England possession to give his team the lead. The defense stripped Manning on the following possession to seal a 24–20 victory. The Pats improved to 9–0.
Any thoughts of a letdown in Week 10 were erased when Tom picked apart the Buffalo defense in the first half to take a 35–7 lead. The final score was 56–10. In the process, Tom became the all-time franchise leader in touchdown passes, passing Steve Grogan, who had 182.
Six weeks later, on the last Sunday of the regular season, Tom broke Manning's single-season mark with his 50th scoring strike. The TD pass—a perfectly thrown bomb to Moss—also helped the Pats secure a 16-0 record.
That final win, 38-35 over the York Giants, was a microcosm of the weekly battles New England faced over the campaign’s second half. Teams slowed down games against the Pats, trying to limit the opportunities for Tom and the offense to make big plays. New England was test on several occasions, but passed every one of them.
It was more of the same for the Patriots to start the playoffs. In a workmanlike performance, they dispatched Jacksonville, 31-20. After the Jags scored on the first drive of the game, New England took over, mixing the run and pass effectively. Tom hit on 22 of 33 attempts for 278 yards and two touchdowns.
Next up was San Diego in the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers, fresh off their suprsing win over the Colts, played the Patriots even for most of the contest. Tom struggled at time, throwing several uncharacteristic interceptions. The difference was defense in the red zone. New England socred touchdowns, while San Diego kicked field goals. The Pats won 21-12.
The news afterward centered on Tom. He had sprained his right ankle against the Chargers, and pictures of him wearing a soft cast surfaced. Tom pledged he would be ready for the Super Bowl.
To complete their perfect season, the Pats would have to beat the Giants for a second time. New York entered the game brimming with confidence and kicked a field goal on its opening drive to take a 3-0 lead.
When New England got the ball, the Giants made it clear that Tom had a bullseye on his back. New York pressured him from the get-go. Because of his gimpy ankle, throwing the deep ball was the biggest challenge for Tom. The Giants made sure he had little room to step up in the pocket.
Still, the Pats were able to move the ball. Tom led his teammates on a time-consuming drive of their own in the first quarter, which was capped by a short touchdown run by Maroney. The half ended with New England up 7-3.
The Giants, however, felt they had the advantage. New York continued to batter Tom in the second half. He always seemed to have a defender in his face. On the day, the Giants sacked him five times and hurried him a dozen others.
Despite the pounding he absorbed, Tom hung in there. He gave the Patriots a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter. The go-ahead drive was vintage Tom. He used Welker and Faulk underneath the coverage, and then hit Moss with a six-yaqrd scoring strike. Unfortunately, Tom left too much time on the clock for Eli Manning. The New York quarterback made like his New England counterpart, marching his team 83 yards in two minutes to paydirt. The Giants held on for a 17-14 victory.
The loss was a bitter pill for the entire Patriot franchise to swallow. Tom was gracious in defeat, but clearly disappointed. He had wanted perfection as badly as anyone in the organization. For Tom, thoughts of a spotless 2008 campaign ended as quickly as they began. On the year's opening Sunday, he took a hit on his left knee and was helped off the field. A short time later, it was reported that the injury would require season-ending surgery. One of the NFL's most durable quarterbacks, Tom's streak of 128 starts was done. Many people felt the same way about New England's chances of returing to the Super Bowl. They were right. Matt Cassel did a nice job filling in for Tom, but the Patriots clearly needed their leader. Despite posting an 11-5 record, New England missed the playoffs.
Tom returned to the field in 2009 and led the Patriots back to the playoffs. His best day came in October in a stunning 59-0 blowout of the Titans. Tennessee had no answer for Tom. He threw for 380 yards and six touchdowns. Too often, however, the Pats relied almost completely on the passing game. Without a solid running attack to balance the offense, New England was one-dimensional—and it showed. While the Patriots won the AFC East, they weren’t built for postseason success. The team hosted the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs and fell behind 24-0 in the first quarter. Baltimore cruised to a 33-14 victory.
The Patriots looked to turn things around in 2010. BenJarvus Green-Ellis became the feature back and topped the 1,000-yard plateau, which took some of the pressure off Tom. He responded with a superb season, tossing 36 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Unfortunately, New England suffered on defense without having a game-changing star. Linebacker Jerod Mayo finaly lived up to his potential, and rookie Devin McCourty picked off seven passes. But the Patriots had no pass-rusher who made a difference from week to week.
After steamrolling through the regular season at 14-2, New England hosted the hated Jets in the second round of the playoffs. The New York defense battered Tom all day long. Even though the Pats outgained the Jets, they couldn’t convert in the red zone. New York took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, and then put the game out of reach with a pair of scores in the final 15 minutes. For the second year in a row, New England lost on its home field in the playoffs.
The Patriots truned to the free-agent market in 2011 to improve their defense. They signed Andre Carter and Mark Anderson to bracket the defensive line. Each recorded 10 sacks, giving New England its best pass rush in several years.
The offense remained relatively unchanged on paper, though Tom began attacking opposing defenses in a different way. Welker was still his favorites target, catching 122 passes for nealy 1,600 yards. But Rob Gronkowski emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous tight ends. In fact, he set a new NFL mark with 17 touchdown receptions. Tom also used Aaron Hernandez more often. The second-year tight end had 79 receptions and seven TDs.
There was better distribution in the running game as well. Danny Woodhead and rookie Stevan Ridley shared the load with Green-Ellis, which made the Patriots more difficult to defense, especially near the goal line. New England finished the season at 13-3, and Tom passed for more than 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. He began the year by torching the Dolphins for 517 yards and four scores. He ended it with four games of at least 300 yards through the air. HIs 105.6 passer rating was the third-best mark in the league.
Even if he never wins another Super Bowl, Tom’s place in history is all but assured. There is no doubt that this sixth-round pick ranks among the great ones.
TOM THE PLAYER
Tom is not your typical NFL rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story. Unlike other young quarterbacks who have caught lightning in a bottle for a few big games, he came by his success honestly. He does all the things a starting back needs to do, from preparation to practice to execution. He knows the offense as well as the coaches do, and he reads defenses with the best of them.
Those are also the qualities that earn the respect of teammatesas witnessed by the reaction of the New England players when Belichick announced him Tom as the Super Bowl starter. He was more than a nice story in 2001; he proved himself to be a leader.
In addition to the all-important intangibles, Tom also has NFL-caliber passing skills. He may never crank it down the field like Dan Marino, but he is a consistent and highly accurate passer. He hits his receivers when they are open, and when he makes a mistake, he learns from it. That has opened the eyes of defenders and earned their respect, which is something Toms smart enough to build on.
He is also taking full advantage of the weapons management has provided him. Now that the Pats are fully loaded at the receiving postions, Tom seems to have raised his game to a new level. The truth is he was actually always this good.
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