On a cold November Sunday night in Denver, Tom Brady stared Von Miller and the Broncos defense in the face knowing that a victory would keep them in prime position for home field advantage in the AFC, while a loss would cripple them in that very same race.
Of course, this season things were different. This was not 2015, a year in which this same scenario invoked a Brock Osweiler-led comeback by the Broncos to win 30-24 in overtime, to eventually win the AFC’s No. 1 seed and Super Bowl 50.
In the 2017 version of this story, special teamer Chris Harper is not muffing kicks for the Patriots. Osweiler has left and returned to Denver after joining the Houston Texans. A one-year stint that ended with a Texans playoff loss to the Patriots in Foxboro last January.
For Osweiler, it was again Brady that virtually ended his season. For Brady, a game in Denver always comes with extra motivation. The Broncos eliminated the Patriots twice in Rocky Mountain AFC Title Games in 2013 and 2015. The same happened in a 2005 AFC divisional playoff bout. That was Brady’s first postseason loss of his career after starting 10-0 in such games.
After a 41-16 victory over the Broncos (3-6) this time around, Brady has left Denver on a five-game losing streak, essentially ending their season. With 266 passing yards and three touchdowns, Brady was still throwing with a 25-point lead with less than seven minutes to play. He looked for Brandin Cooks deep twice. This was personal for Brady. He wanted this.
This is just another corpse of a former AFC contender. Another destroyed rival empire in the wasteland that is a prolonged territorial dominance for the Patriots in the conference.
Brady and Bill Belichick have survived every forceful challenge that has come their way in the AFC in their existence. The Peyton Manning-led Colts. The Manning-led Broncos. The mentally-tough, no-nonsense Baltimore Ravens from 2008-2014. The talented Chargers led by LaDanian Tomlinson. Rex Ryan and the Jets had even come and gone with some success against the New England empire.
A few scars have been dealt in these rivalries. The Patriots have been tripped up by foes multiple times in big games, but they always get the last laugh.
It seems every other year is equipped with such revenge wins for Brady. Even with his second consecutive win in Denver, Brady is still just 4-7 at Invesco Field at Mile High.
Like NBA great Michael Jordan, who routinely fed off bulletin board material to avenge silly quotes by opponents with his play on the court, Brady takes things personally, even if it doesn’t appear so.
Even teammate and friend Julian Edelman is on record recently admitting Brady is “sensitive.” Likewise, Danny Amendola has said Brady has gotten mad when he’s lost in ping pong, and has broken paddles over such losses. He’s as competitive as they come.
So it’s imaginable that a win in Denver might be more special to Brady than a win over the Chargers at home two weeks ago.
Of course, regular season wins over the inferior present-day Broncos teams won’t change past results, or make up for AFC Championship Game losses.
The same rings true for Brady’s clutch comeback win in New York over Eli Manning and the Giants in 2015. His game-winning drive to best his prime Super Bowl nemesis doesn’t change the fact that Eli Manning will most likely always be 2-0 versus him in Super Bowls, but it’s still something.
Brady’s arch nemesis (and also friend off the field, sort of) had always been Eli’s older brother Peyton Manning. Despite beginning his career 6-0 versus the older Manning, Brady will most likely finish his career with a combined 2-5 record against the Manning brothers in championship games. That’s not counting two of Brady’s worst teams that fell to Peyton on the road in AFC Championship Games in 2006 and 2013.
But Brady most likely–although he won’t admit it–takes solace in the fact that he has five rings to the Mannings’ combined four. It’s ironic that in the win on Sunday, Brady became the all-timer leader in road victories with 86 wins, passing Peyton for the mark in the stadium of the last team he played for.
In the NFL, Brady is like the aforementioned Jordan in the NBA. He’s now the undisputed GOAT (greatest of all time). He’s the Wayne Gretzky, the Serena Williams or Steven Spielberg (I’d argue Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese, but that’s for another time) of pro football. Simply put, he’s the best ever.
Since turning 37 years old in 2014, and his future being questioned in a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs that season, Brady has won two Super Bowls and is in the midst of the best four-year stretch of his career, or any quarterback’s career for that matter. His play has improved each season since 2013, which is absurd considering the fall off of every quarterback ever at his age. The same cliff-diving that ESPN First Take’s Max Kellerman has countlessly predicted for him prematurely.
Of course, the time will come when Brady will retire like every other player in the history of this league. But that time is not now. Not after this season, and maybe not even after the next. It will never be when his critics say he’s done, because he hears those things despite the notion that he may be unaware of them.
Brady feeds off being doubted. He lives for conquering his foes. During the DeflateGate saga, when Brady’s private e-mails were leaked in 2015, one message in particular stood above the rest.
“I’ve got another 7 or 8 years, He has 2,” Brady said of Peyton Manning in an e-mail sent to a close friend.
After word got out and Brady was forced to address the e-mail, he played them off of course. But he meant what he said. He likes Manning, but his competitiveness takes over. The same competitiveness that has led him to two Super Bowls wins since DeflateGate, not to mention Spygate.
Brady heard what critics had to say then, and he heard them earlier in the season after another brutal early-season loss to the Chiefs.
But thanks to Brady the Patriots (7-2) are back in business. They’re tied atop the AFC with the Steelers and are the favorite to return to the Super Bowl in February.
The win in Denver began the second half of the season with one of Brady’s age-old victories: the revenge win.
The victory over Osweiler’s Broncos won’t erase the loss to them on Sunday Night Football two years ago that began the downward spiral of the 2015 season. But it can serve as the catalyst for a second half run to Super Bowl LII.
Once again, Brady is in the thick of the NFL MVP race and has the Patriots rolling into November and beyond just like many past winters, with a little help from his competitive edge, which is often satisfied with a little revenge.
New-look Saints make statement in Buffalo
In a weekend that featured great stories such as another explosive outing by the Rams (7-2) and a huge road win over Washington for the Vikings (7-2), it was the Saints (7-2) who made the biggest statement in the NFC with a 47-10 pounding of the Bills in Buffalo.
With seven straight wins, the Saints are no longer quietly winning. This one was defiant and unusual of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees tenure.
The Saints ran 48 times for 298 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. The two-back attack of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara each ran for over 100 yards, with Ingram running for three scores.
At one point the Saints ran the ball 24 straight times, the most in consecutive plays in almost 30 years.
With an amped-up running game and a defense that has allowed just 14.3 points per game during their seven-game winning streak, the Saints are a contender and should be labeled as such.
Their play on the road has dramatically improved in 2017, but they still love it at home. If the Saints can earn the No. 1 or 2 seed in the NFC, they have a realistic shot to make Super Bowl LII in Minnesota on February 4.
Brees is already looked at as one of the 10 or 15 best quarterbacks of all-time. But with just one Super Bowl ring, a second would go a long way in thrusting him much higher on that list.
After years of dealing with a broken defense and running game, Brees now has help. He no longer needs to be an annual 5,000 yard passer for the Saints to win games, and that’s a good thing.