Tom Brady's role in Bucs' incredible turnaround can't be overstated

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Tom E. Curran
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Curran: Brady's master stroke should silence his doubters for good originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Last year, two days before Super Bowl 54, I sat at a gate in Miami International Airport talking to Alex Guerrero. Tom Brady’s best friend, body coach and business partner was – like me – flying out on Friday night after a week spent in South Florida before the Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl.

Naturally, we talked about where Brady might play in 2020. The Patriots were in the mix but – aside from Robert Kraft publicly keeping his fingers crossed – nothing concrete was done to make Brady feel he was option A.

“He just wants to know that the coach wants him in New England,” Guerrero said.

There was interest elsewhere, he promised. He ticked off about 10 possible landing spots, Tampa Bay among them.

Where Tom Brady now stands in Super Bowl history

“Wherever he goes, it will be like when Peyton Manning went to Denver (in 2013),” Guerrero predicted. “Everything will change. Tom brings a culture with him. He will change the culture wherever he goes.”

Sunday night, the losingest team in NFL history won the Super Bowl. Tom Brady was the game’s MVP.

There’s been bizarro pushback on Brady all season. A movement to delegitimize the obvious but intangible impact he had on how Tampa Bay did everything.  

Brady was just in the right place at the right time. The Bucs had all the pieces, Brady just had to parachute in.

He didn’t make any tackles or blocks against Kansas City on Sunday night. He didn’t run it. He didn’t come up with the Tyreek Hill-muzzling game plan. He didn’t send the Chiefs defenders into a penalty-addled frenzy. He didn’t mind-meld the refs into throwing all those flags. He didn’t pressure and pursue Patrick Mahomes. He had absolutely nothing to do with the injuries to the Chiefs offensive line that turned them into a sieve.

Basically, he just happened to amble onto the scene. And, next thing you knew, a lamentable, downtrodden, loser franchise magically transformed into a goddamn wagon. Who knew?

Honestly, everyone should have. He’s only been doing it for 21 years.

Brady had nothing to do with the Bucs getting their feces together. And he had nothing to do with the Chiefs losing theirs.  

Keep telling yourself that. Any port in a storm. You’ll have a lot of company in the excuse-making department from coast to coast. One thing about Brady that’s been true since 2001 is there’s always a horde anxious to minimize him.

He started his career going 10-0 in the postseason and winning three Super Bowls. System guy. The Patriots got him Randy Moss and Wes Welker. He throws 50 touchdowns and the Patriots go 16-0 and lose in the Super Bowl. He gagged. We could go on. Why bother.

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Here’s the upshot of what 2020 means. Brady doing what he did in Tampa stamps him as the greatest team sports performer in professional sports history. Greatest quarterback’s long since been locked up. Greatest player? You can make the case. Greatest athlete? Come on. No.

Greatest team sports performer ever. Better than Jordan, Gretzky, Lebron, Montana, Russell, Mantle, Ruth, whoever.

As a virtual rookie, he killed the Rams dynasty. He made sure the Colts never had one. He ended the Seahawks' dynastic dreams. He’s now turned back Mahomes and the Chiefs twice in three years doing so for two different teams. Truth be told, when Brady left last March 17, he killed the New England dynasty too.

And that’s the discussion of more immediate relevance here in New England.

The Patriots didn’t want to mangle their cap situation for a quarterback past the age of 40, so they kept trying to go year-to-year on contracts. When Bill Belichick sat with Brady last spring, he told Brady the team couldn’t manage a cap hit of more than $22M.

Meanwhile, Belichick floundered so badly in his half-hearted efforts to find tight ends and wide receivers to surround the soon-to-be-43-year-old that the only appeal the Patriots had by last spring was the nostalgic pull of 20 years.

Now Brady's picking confetti from his hair after throwing 50 touchdown passes and 15 picks in 20 games and quarterbacking the Bucs past teams led by Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Mahomes on the way to a Super Bowl.

And the Patriots are hoping for a shot at Mitch Trubisky.

As a side dish, Patriots fans had to watch Rob Gronkowski win his second Super Bowl in as many seasons of play. Think about it. In 2018, Belichick tried to trade Gronkowski before the season when New England already was short of artillery. He ended up figuring prominently in the Super Bowl win. And now – after taking a year off because the fun had been sapped from playing – Gronk figures prominently in another Super Bowl win.

But the Patriots have cap space! Know who else has cap space? Tampa Bay. Knife turn. The Bucs aren’t going anywhere. Brady will probably get an extension to take him through his 45th year and then he’ll have a full offseason with Tampa to get fully enmeshed.

That’s another fascinating aspect of what Brady did this year. The Bucs offense wasn’t even operating at full potential.

A boatload of strawman arguments were made about Brady getting outsized credit for sublime postseason play. That really didn’t happen. People who knew what they were looking at could see Brady was doing what he’s always done: whatever is necessary.

He was good, no doubt, in finishing drives against the Saints and staking the Bucs to a lead against the Packers. But Tampa wasn’t indefensible and Brady – aside from his surgical first half against the Packers – wasn’t on fire.

Sunday night, Brady had an 80 percent completion percentage and three touchdowns in the first half -- the first time that was accomplished in any half in any Super Bowl. After that, it was just a matter of keeping his hands at 10-and-2 and letting the defense do its work.

Sometimes it’s like that. As it was against the Rams in Super Bowl 53. Other times, his team needs him to go off to even have a shot as he did in SB51 and SB52. Sometimes, even when there’s no chance at all as was the case against Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, he’ll still drag the game to the end.

He’s not programmed to worry about “air yards” or “EPA” above wins and if that’s eye-rollingly trite, tough shit. It’s the way it is and has always been.

The Buccaneers defense didn’t dismantle the Chiefs offense on Sunday night because of Tom Brady. And their defense is the main reason they won the Super Bowl game.

But the main reason they had a Super Bowl season is Tom Brady.