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Thursday, January 17, 2013
Dissecting Tom Brady's 41 playoff TDs

By David Fleming
ESPN The Magazine

Tom Brady flem file
Behold the complete and annotated (and massive) list of Tom Brady's 41 playoff TD passes.
Near the end of last season I sat down with Aaron Rodgers for a fascinating and in-depth look at the art of playing quarterback. After elevating the most dynamic and demanding position in sports to an entirely new level, Rodgers was on the verge of winning the 2011 NFL MVP Award. But consistently during our lengthy and wide-ranging conversation, one other quarterback’s name kept coming up.

This was the guy Rodgers studied and wanted to learn from. This was the quarterback Rodgers measured himself and all others by. The rest of us might be in awe of Rodgers, I kept thinking, but he’s still in awe of this guy.

Tom Brady.

I thought of that last week when, almost as a footnote to the New England Patriots’ win over the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round, it was said that Brady had become just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 40 TDs in the postseason, joining Joe Montana and Brett Favre.

Now, I know it’s the Patriots’ Way to never stop or pause for a moment to acknowledge or even celebrate the grandest of individual accomplishments until the season is officially over -- and sometimes, not even then. I mean, Bill Belichick is apparently too busy to bother with shirt sleeves for crying out loud, so do we honestly think he’s gonna stop to acknowledge Brady's admission into the 40 TD Pass Playoff Club, maybe one of the most prestigious and difficult accomplishments in the entire game?

Yeah, I don’t think so.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t.

And so, before actually realizing the kind of epic challenge I was getting myself into (that seems to happen a lot with this column, which I actually kinda like), I thought the best way to commemorate Brady’s 41st playoff TD pass would be to put the feat into context for you by simply listing the stats and details from each one, in order, starting with Super Bowl XXXVI -- in, of all places, New Orleans.

That way we could, if just for a second, stop and stare and admire the incredible legacy Brady has quietly constructed. It would almost be like someone who has worked on 34th Street in New York City for 10 years finally pausing on the sidewalk to look up and go, “Hey, wow, the Empire State Building ... incredible.”

So, here it is: the complete and annotated (and massive) list of Tom Brady’s 41 playoff TD passes.

Behold.

David Patten
Brady put the ball where only Patten could get it.
1. Date: Feb. 3, 2002
Game: Patriots 20 Rams 17, Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans
TD pass: second quarter (0:36); first down; 8 yards to David Patten
Resulting score: 13-3, Patriots
• I know you have this memorized by now, but just two years earlier Brady was the 199th pick in the draft. So, yes, this grand amazing feat all began with a bit of good old-fashioned dumb luck by the Patriots on draft day.
• This was, by the way, a smartly thrown ball put high and into the right corner of the end zone, where only Patten could get to it.
• One of the most sacred traditions in the NFL is that you can never lose your starting job to an injury, which coaches honor 100 percent of time, unless, of course, the backup is better or cheaper. (Just ask the 49ers’ Alex Smith.) Remember, though, it was Bill Belichick who put an end to this silly locker-room myth in 2001, when he kept Brady as his starter even after All-Pro Drew Bledsoe returned from almost dying on the field.
• I hate even bringing up the idea of fate or destiny in something as meaningless as sports or sports records, but it’s kinda hard not to when you look at the start of Brady’s run to the 40-TD Club. To begin with: There’s the bizarre tuck rule that saves New England against Oakland in the snow; Adam Vinatieri’s miraculous kicking throughout; Bledsoe coming off the bench in the AFC title game in Pittsburgh; and Brady so calm he fell asleep in the locker room before his first Super Bowl.
• Truth be told, Brady’s incredible passes on third down on the final drive of this game were 10 times more difficult and important than his one TD throw.
• Which is why he won the MVP Award and gave us the single iconic shot of the past decade of Super Bowls: Brady, hat backwards, standing in a shower of confetti on top of that podium on the Superdome field, hands on his head laughing and shaking his head in joyous disbelief after the skinny kid no one wanted led the Patriots to a world championship in the wake of 9/11. “We are all Patriots,” yelled Bob Kraft.

2. Date: Jan. 10, 2004
Game: Patriots 17 Titans 14, AFC divisional round in Foxborough
TD pass: first quarter (11:05); third down; 41 yards to Bethel Johnson
Resulting score: 7-0, Patriots

3. Date: Jan. 18, 2004
Game: Patriots 24 Colts 14, AFC Championship Game in Foxborough
TD pass: first quarter (8:19); first down; 7 yards to David Givens
Resulting score: 7-0, Patriots
• Brady opens the game, and his postseason battles with Peyton Manning, by directing a 13-play drive.
• Both QBs throw for 237 yards in this game, but Manning throws four picks and the Colts turn it over on their first three possessions.

4. Date: Feb. 1, 2004
Game: Patriots 32 Panthers 29, Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston
TD pass: second quarter (3:10), first down, 5 yards to Deion Branch
Resulting score: 7-0, Patriots
• I have never seen a quarterback lick his hands during games more than Jake Delhomme, but he still fumbled the ball on a sack, setting up this first score, a perfectly executed play-action fake that Brady sold by lowering his body level, which caused the linebackers to bite and opened the back of the end zone for Branch.

5. TD pass: second quarter (0:23); third down; 5 yards to Givens
Resulting score: 14-7, Patriots
• This was built up as a clash between two great defenses. Yes, and Janet Jackson was also promoted as the “normal” one in the family.
• Yet Brady drove the team 78 yards in 49 seconds on this drive by exploiting the deep middle.

Mike Vrabel, Deon Grant
The first -- but not the last -- Brady-to-Vrabel TD combo in a Super Bowl.
6. TD pass: fourth quarter (2:55); second down; 1 yard to Mike Vrabel
Resulting score: 29-22, Patriots
• Vrabel is a linebacker.
• Even though he threw a pick in the end zone late in the game with a chance to close out Carolina, Brady still easily won his second SB MVP and donated the car he was given to an auction to benefit his high school in San Mateo, Calif.
• My own personal highlight from this Super Bowl was sitting in Steve Smith’s hotel room listening as his shoe rep called after he was seen wearing Nikes by accident.
• That’s a lie. My personal highlight from this Super Bowl was the Playboy party, but that Smith thing was definitely second.
• You know who must really hate Brady? John Kasay and Ricky Proehl, that’s who. Kasay became one of the all-time Super Bowl goats after hitting his last kickoff out of bounds, which stopped the clock at 1:08 and gave Brady the ball at the 40. Also, in Super Bowl XXXVI and again in Houston, the Patriots' late-game heroics erased what would have been two Super Bowl-winning TD catches by Proehl.
• Brady hosted “Saturday Night Live” a few months later.

7. Date: Jan. 16, 2005
Game: Patriots 20 Colts 3, AFC divisional round in Foxborough
TD pass: third quarter (1:37); third down; 5 yards to Givens
Resulting score: 13-3, Patriots
• With the game still up in the air, the Pats grind out a 15-play drive -- mostly on the ground with Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon -- that ends with Brady hitting Givens on third-and-goal.
• Brady also scored on a rare QB sneak in the fourth.

8. Date: Jan. 23, 2005
Game: Patriots 41 Steelers 27, AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh
TD pass: first quarter (6:58); first down; 60 yards to Branch
Resulting score: 10-0, Patriots

9. TD pass: second quarter (7:12); second down; 9 yards to Givens
Resulting score: 17-3, Patriots

10. Date: Feb. 6, 2005
Game: Patriots 24 Eagles 21, Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville
TD pass: second quarter (1:16); second down; 4 yards to Givens
Resulting score: 7-7, Patriots
• After his pregame ritual of head-butting teammates, during the coin toss Brady told the Eagles Brian Dawkins he was going to “bore” him during the game. He wasn’t lying.
• This TD came right after Brady almost fumbled the ball away on a shotgun snap.
• The Pats' offensive coordinator was Charlie Weis -- whatever happened to him?

11. TD pass: third quarter (11:09); first down; 2 yards to Vrabel
Resulting score: 14-7, Patriots
• Vrabel, by the way, is a linebacker.
• New England wins its third Lombardi in four years.
• Brady goes the entire postseason without throwing a pick and becomes the only player in history to win three Super Bowls before he turns 28.
• On a side note, I always thought Terrell Owens -- who had a gutsy nine catches for 122 after returning early from a broken leg -- could have won the game’s MVP Award.

12. Date: Jan. 7, 2006
Game: Patriots 28 Jaguars 3, AFC wild card in Foxborough
TD pass: second quarter (12:14); third down; 6 yards to Troy Brown
Resulting score: 7-0, Patriots

13. TD pass: third quarter (7:17); first down; 3 yards to Givens
Resulting score: 14-3, Patriots

Benjamin Watson
The 63-yarder to Watson against the Jags remains Brady's longest in the playoffs.
14. TD pass: third quarter (3:19); third down; 63 yards to Ben Watson
Resulting score: 21-3, Patriots
• Longest postseason TD pass of Brady’s career.
• Brady’s 10th consecutive playoff win puts him one ahead of Bart Starr (nine) on the all-time list.

15. Date: Jan. 14, 2006
Game: Broncos 27 Patriots 13, AFC divisional round in Denver
TD pass: fourth quarter (8:09); first down; 4 yards to Givens
Resulting score: 24-13, Broncos
• Champ Bailey breaks the game open with a pick of Brady in the end zone that he returns 100 yards to set up a Denver TD.
• Yes, the same Champ Bailey.

16. Date: Jan. 7, 2007
Game: Patriots 37 Jets 16, AFC wild card in Foxborough
TD pass: second quarter (0:14); third down; 1 yard to Daniel Graham
Resulting score: 17-10, Patriots

17. TD pass: fourth quarter (5:04); third down; 7 yards to Faulk
Resulting score: 30-16, Patriots

18. Date: Jan. 14, 2007
Game: Patriots 24 Chargers 21, AFC divisional round in San Diego
TD pass: second quarter (0:13); first down; 6 yards to Jabar Gaffney
Resulting score: 14-10, Chargers

19. TD pass: fourth quarter (4:41); second down; 4 yards to Reche Caldwell
Resulting score: 21-21

20. Date: Jan. 21, 2007
Game: Colts 38 Patriots 34, AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis
TD pass: third quarter (1:35); third down; 6 yards to Gaffney
Resulting score: 28-21, Patriots
• The best game in this rivalry ended with Brady getting picked off by Marlin Jackson with 24 seconds to play.

21. Date: Jan. 12, 2008
Game: Patriots 31 Jags 20, AFC divisional round in Foxborough
TD pass: first quarter (5:07); first down; 3 yards to Ben Watson
Resulting score: 7-7

22. TD pass: third quarter (8:55); first down; 6 yards to Wes Welker
Resulting score: 21-14, Patriots

23. TD pass: third quarter (0:55); third down; 9 yards to Watson
Resulting score: 28-17, Patriots
• A near-perfect performance in which Brady missed on just 2 of 28 attempts (92.9 percent) for a career-high passer rating of 141.4.

24. Date: Jan. 20, 2008
Game: Patriots 21 Chargers 12, AFC Championship Game in Foxborough
TD pass: second quarter (3:57); first down; 12 yards to Gaffney
Resulting score: 14-6, Patriots

Tom Brady
Brady iced it late against the Chargers in the '07 AFC Championship Game.
25. TD pass: fourth quarter (12:21); second down; 6 yards to Welker
Resulting score: 21-12, Patriots
• Although he would inexplicably last four more seasons, Norv Turner was essentially finished as a head coach in San Diego when, at the Pats’ 36 and trailing by nine points with roughly nine minutes to play, he punts the ball back to Brady, who converts through the air on third-and-11 and third-and-3 to run out the clock.

26. Date: Feb. 3, 2008
Game: Giants 17 Patriots 14, Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix
TD pass: fourth quarter (2:45); third down; 6 yards to Randy Moss
Resulting score: 14-10, Patriots
• This was Brady’s 11th pass of the drive.
• Thrown to Moss, one of the only wide receivers on this list likely to make the Hall of Fame. It looked like a fade to the back corner of the end zone was called on this play, but the DB fell down and Moss cut inside and Brady sight-adjusted.
• The Giants disrupted Brady up the middle and sacked him five times (with one fumble) in this game, an effective blueprint created by Steve Spagnuolo that opponents still use to this day.
• The late score wasn’t enough to preserve the Patriots’ perfect season.
• Seven months later, the reigning NFL MVP will tear his ACL in Week 1 and miss the entire season.

27. Date: Jan. 10, 2010
Game: Ravens 33 Patriots 14, AFC wild card in Foxborough
TD pass: second quarter (11:33); third down; 6 yards to Julian Edelman
Resulting score: 24-7, Ravens


28. TD pass: third quarter (1:52); second down; 1 yard to Edelman
Resulting score: 27-14, Ravens
• Brady turns the ball over four times in this game and has the lowest QB rating (49.1) of his career as the Pats lose to Joe Flacco, who completes 4 of 10 passes for 34 yards.
• Blown out by the Ravens and five years removed from their last Super Bowl win, the Pats had some wondering if this was the beginning of the end of their dynasty.

Tom Brady, Calvin Pace
The Jets sacked Brady five times.
29. Date: Jan. 16, 2011
Game: Jets 28 Patriots 21, AFC divisional round in Foxborough
TD pass: Third quarter (0:15); first down; 2 yards to Alge Crumpler
Resulting score: 14-11, Jets
• Brady was rattled by five sacks and constant pressure from the Jets.

30. TD pass: fourth quarter (0:30); second down; 13 yards to Branch
Resulting score: 28-21, Jets
• A meaningless postseason TD, unless you took the over (45).

31. Date: Jan. 14, 2012
Game: Patriots 45, Broncos 10, AFC divisional round in Foxborough
TD pass: first quarter (13:13); first down; 7 yards to Welker
Resulting score: 7-0, Patriots

32. TD pass: first quarter (7:17); second down; 10 yards to Rob Gronkowski
Resulting score: 14-0, Patriots

33. TD pass: second quarter (7:49); third down; 12 yards to Gronkowski
Resulting score: 21-7, Patriots

34. TD pass: second quarter (2:06); first down; 61 yards to Branch
Resulting score: 28-7, Patriots

35. TD pass: second quarter (0:10); first down; 19 yards to Gronkowski
Resulting score: 35-7, Patriots

36. TD pass: third quarter (11:53); second down; 17 yards to Aaron Hernandez
Resulting score: 42-7, Patriots
• With this TD, Brady tied an NFL record with six TD passes in one playoff game.
• Forget the Jets or Rex Ryan: This game officially ended TebowMania.
• Sign in the stands at Gillette: “My God is Tom Brady.”

Tom Brady
Gisele rode the ups and downs with her man in Indy.
37. Date: Feb. 5, 2012
Game: Giants 21, Patriots 17, Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis
TD pass: second quarter (0:15); third down; 4 yards to Danny Woodhead
Resulting score: 10-9, Patriots
• Technically this TD was only worth four points because of the safety called on Brady for intentionally grounding on the Pats’ first drive.
• How big was this score? Giselle was seen high-fiving everyone in her suite.
• Give the Pats’ line credit for this one -- Brady had all day to throw.

38. TD pass: third quarter (11:25); second down; 12 yards to Hernandez
Resulting score: 17-9, Patriots
• Brady targeted his TE tandem more often and more effectively than I’ve ever seen in a Super Bowl, and it led to 17 unanswered points for the Pats.
• Afterward, Brady tapped the patch on his jersey the Pats wore to honor Myra Kraft.
• Of course, the pass -- or drop -- we all remember (and the one Brady and Welker can’t seem to forget) is the weirdly placed lob Brady threw to Welker on second-and-11 with four minutes to play that would have likely iced the game. (The Giants had only one timeout left.) Midway through the third quarter, the Giants had started getting pressure on Brady and it affected him on this throw, or drop, depending on who you blame.

39. Date: Jan. 13, 2013
Game: Patriots 41 Texans 28, AFC divisional round in Foxborough
TD pass: second quarter (3:43); first down; 8 yards to Shane Vereen
Resulting score: 17-10, Patriots
• Vereen was uncovered out of the backfield.

40. TD pass: third quarter (1:25); first down; 5 yards to Brandon Lloyd
Resulting score: 31-13, Patriots
• This pass moved Brady into the 40-TD club, along with Montana and Favre.
• It looked like a run play that Brady changed at the last second when the corner lined up soft.

41. TD pass: fourth quarter (13:13); first down; 33 yards to Vereen
Resulting score: 38-13, Patriots
• Of course, Brady can’t compete physically with the wave of young, athletic QBs who seem to be taking over the NFL, but this game highlighted what he still does best: read defenses and use his incredible field vision to anticipate and deliver the ball with timing and accuracy. I mean, Vereen opened his hands on this one as he reached the end zone and the ball just seemed to materialize in his palms from 33 yards away.
• This is only the fifth time Brady has thrown for a TD longer than 20 yards in the postseason. The vast majority of his 41 TDs, in fact, are from within 10 yards and on the left side of the field.
• Oh yeah, the victory also gave Brady the most postseason wins (17) by a quarterback.
• 17? Why the heck didn’t I decide to chart that instead?