- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Say this for Tom Brady: He's not afraid to beat himself up after a bad performance, admitting after the AFC Championship Game, "I sucked pretty bad today."
If he really wanted to be honest, Brady would've added, "Actually, I've been an average postseason quarterback for a few years."
That's right: Tom Brady, average.
The football icon who won his first 10 postseason games, including three Super Bowls, has been downright ordinary since that magical, star-kissed start to his career. Since then, he's 6-5, with 24 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions -- and that includes a six-touchdown game recently against the Denver Broncos.
In six of those games, Brady's passer rating was below 80. Do you know how many sub-80 playoff games Joe Montana had in his career? Six -- and that was over 23 games.
Obviously, Brady set an unbelievably high standard by winning the Super Bowl in three of his first four seasons, but he has slipped into the "mere mortal" category. In the real world, a 24-16 touchdown-interception ratio doesn't get a quarterback anywhere near a Pro Bowl, let alone legendary status.
Cool Hand Tom has turned cold.
Most figured he cemented his legacy seven years ago, when he dissected the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX at the tender age of 27. But maybe, just maybe, Brady needs to beat the New York Giants on Sunday to protect his legacy from a shadow.
Obviously, Brady was bothered by his two-interception performance last week against the Baltimore Ravens, because after the game he promised owner Robert Kraft that he'd rebound with a strong Super Bowl. Naturally, Brady downplayed that upon arriving in Indianapolis on Sunday.
"Well, I think it all comes down to preparation, and then obviously going out there and playing with confidence," he told reporters, not about to let any of the amateur psychologists inside his head.
But let's be real: It's fair to wonder about Brady's, well, clutch-ness. He's experienced some serious hiccups in recent postseasons, committing huge turnovers in critical moments.
• 2005 divisional playoff at Denver: Down by four with a minute left in the third quarter, Brady drove the Patriots to a potential go-ahead score, but he was intercepted in the end zone by Champ Bailey. A 100-yard return set up an easy touchdown, finishing the Patriots.
• 2006 divisional playoff at San Diego: Brady threw away the game -- or so it appeared -- with a late interception, trailing by eight points. He was picked off by Marlon McCree at the Chargers' 31, but McCree got careless and fumbled it back to the Patriots -- the gift of a lifetime. Brady capitalized, and the Patriots went on to win the game.
• 2006 championship game at Indianapolis: With less than a minute to play, Brady -- down four points -- was intercepted by the Colts' Marlin Jackson.
All told, Brady has thrown an interception in four straight postseason games. Ironically, his last interception-free playoff game was the Super Bowl XLII loss, but he was clearly rattled by the Giants' ferocious pass rush. Yes, The Great Brady can be unnerved. In the Week 9 loss to the Giants, he actually flinched on a third-quarter pass play, ducking from a pass-rusher when no pass-rusher was there.
They had him seeing ghosts.
"I think it starts with hitting him, even when you don't actually get sacks, just keeping people around him so he can't step up," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Monday. "I think he gets a little frustrated when he has to go to his second or third receivers. You can kind of confuse him sometimes with our coverage. I think there are a lot of things that can get him rattled, but it just seems like not too many people are able to do that."
Some of Brady's postseason ordinariness can be traced to the team as a whole. The Patriots rely on him more than ever to compensate for their defensive deficiencies.
"In the early 2000 years, they had a pretty good defense," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They had a very well-balanced team, but the defense got old. Now it's all on Brady. There's a lot of pressure on him and sometimes it gets to him."
So Brady is human, after all. But for a few years there, he had everybody believing he was invincible. No one is invincible, but you expect better than average from Tom Brady.
If you take a closer look, Tom Brady's not as great as you might think.