Editor’s note: This story originally published on Jan. 1, 2020.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — On Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS), New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will play in his 41st career playoff game, which is one of many eye-popping totals he’s produced over his 20-year career.
One of the things that makes this season different for Brady is that he enters the playoffs coming off one of his poorest individual performances in a Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. So the Patriots are hoping for a strong bounce-back game from him with their season on the line.
When coach Bill Belichick was reflecting on Brady’s career as part of Brady’s inclusion on the NFL 100 All-Time Team, this was a point he highlighted.
“I think that’s one of the real trademarks of Tom’s career,” Belichick said. “There have been a couple games along the way where it hasn’t been his best, but the next game has always come back and been an outstanding game.”
Brady has had plenty of outstanding playoff games (30-10) and reaching a fourth straight Super Bowl figures to require some of his old magic, but he notably won his sixth championship ring last season with a performance against the Los Angeles Rams that didn’t crack this list. That’s why ranking his best performances often sparks debate on what should be prioritized — level of competition, statistics, clutch play, etc.
It also provides a road map for a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane.
10. Feb. 4, 2018: Super Bowl LII: Eagles 41, Patriots 33 — Brady was strip-sacked while attempting to lead a final drive to possibly win the game, which led to disappointment, but he was brilliant throughout: 28-of-48 for 505 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. One of the plays he’d like to have back was an incompletion when he was open as the intended receiver, which hurt even more after the Eagles converted a similar play for a touchdown.
9. Feb. 6, 2005: Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21 — Brady finished 23-of-33 for 236 yards with two touchdowns (one to linebacker-turned-tight-end Mike Vrabel) as the Patriots’ defense ultimately held off the Eagles when it counted. Brady’s favorite target was receiver Deion Branch, who had 11 receptions for 133 yards to earn MVP honors.
8. Jan. 21, 2018: AFC Championship Game: Patriots 24, Jaguars 20 — This wasn’t Brady’s best effort from start to finish, but he was magical in the fourth quarter in rallying the team from a 10-point deficit. Brady finished 26-of-38 for 290 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, a performance that was even more impressive considering he played with 12 stitches on his right hand as a result of a significant cut suffered five days prior at practice.
7. Jan. 20, 2019: AFC Championship Game: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31, OT — Converting three different third-and-10 plays on the winning touchdown drive in overtime was the definition of clutch, as Brady finished 30-of-46 for 348 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. One of the picks, from the Chiefs’ 1-yard line, could have been costly, but Brady’s mental toughness to put it behind him was a significant layer of his epic effort. That this game was played in Arrowhead Stadium, in front of a raucous Chiefs crowd, adds to why it was so impressive.
6. Feb. 3, 2002: Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17 — From a bottom-line stats perspective, this game is closer to the bottom of the list (16-of-27 for 145 yards, one TD, no INTs), but it gets a bump from a clutch standpoint. While analyst John Madden was telling the TV audience the Patriots should take a knee and play for overtime, Brady — then in his second NFL season and his first as a starter — helped lead the Patriots to the winning field goal at the final gun. This is also a good spot to highlight something Belichick said in his NFL 100 All-Time Team segment with Brady: In Super Bowl LIII against the Rams, Brady’s 29-yard connection with Gronkowski to set up the lone touchdown was viewed by Belichick as one of the best throws of Brady’s career.
5. Feb. 1, 2015: Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 — It took Malcolm Butler‘s goal-line interception to seal the victory, but Brady was remarkable in the fourth quarter to help the Patriots storm back from a 10-point deficit. He was 37-of-50 for 328 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions, and earned MVP honors. Then he gave the truck he won as MVP to Butler.
4. Jan. 22, 2017: AFC Championship Game: Patriots 36, Steelers 17 — The Steelers’ zone defense was no match for Brady, who was 32-of-42 for 384 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady masterfully manipulated the D before the snap, and his accuracy was pinpoint on almost every throw. Chris Hogan (nine catches, 180 yards, two TDs) and Julian Edelman (eight catches, 118 yards, TD) were the top targets. This wasn’t the first time Brady delivered a dagger to the Steelers, as Belichick said on the NFL 100 All-Time Team segment that he viewed Brady’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch in the AFC title game Jan. 23, 2004, as one of the best throws of his career.
3. Feb. 1, 2004: Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29 — A game that was scoreless with inside of four minutes left in the second quarter became a shootout the rest of the way, with Brady finishing 32-of-48 for 354 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. Similar to his first Super Bowl, it required a winning drive in the final minute, with this one aided by a Carolina kickoff that went out of bounds and allowed the Patriots to start the drive on their 40.
2. Jan. 10, 2015: Divisional round: Patriots 35, Ravens 31 — Brady was 33-of-50 for 367 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, and he led a furious second-half comeback from 14 points down aided by an unusual tactic in which the Patriots declared eligible receivers ineligible. Brady added a 4-yard touchdown run that he capped off with an emphatic spike, and then his fire transferred to the postgame interview room when he countered criticism from Ravens coach John Harbaugh by telling him to study the rulebook.
1. Feb. 5, 2017: Super Bowl LI: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 — Trailing 28-3 in the third quarter, in part because Brady threw a pick-six, the Patriots needed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to pull this one off. Brady was sensational in the second half and overtime, ultimately finishing 43-of-62 for 466 yards, with two touchdowns and the one interception. He was sacked five times, which reflected his toughness in taking a pounding and not relenting. Making the victory even more emotional was the presence of his mother, Galynn, who was attending her first game of the season because she had been battling breast cancer.