Tom Brady is more than just the highlight tapes we see from him on a regular basis. While it is easy to focus on the six Super Bowls (and counting) and throwing 517 touchdowns (and counting) to over 70 different targets (and counting), over a span of 19 years (again…and counting), it’s doing the little things well that makes Tom Brady the quarterback he is. In recent years, his attention to details has gotten a bit more recognition as he has solidified his GOAT status and people pick his games apart to minute details. However, he’s had this ability going all the way back to his first year as the Patriots quarterback.
Need proof? Look back to his first signature win. During the signature drive of the Snow Bowl, sandwiched in between the ‘Tuck Rule’ play and Adam Vinatieri’s game-tying kick (two of the most famous plays in Patriots history), lies a play that, while most people will not remember, could have served as an early indication into the greatness that was ahead for TB12 if we knew what was to come. How easy is this play to forget about? Here’s how it reads in the game log on ProFootballReference:
1:11 4th | 3rd & 10 | OAK 29 | Tom Brady up the middle for 1 yard (tackle by Grady Jackson and Charles Woodson) | OAK 13 NE 10
Still don’t remember? Here’s the video:
Still don’t understand why this play matters so much? Well here’s what came next:
0:32 4th | 4th & 9 | OAK 28 | Adam Vinatieri 45 yard field goal good | OAK 13 NE 13
The play that set up the greatest kick in NFL history was an early indication of the poise, situational awareness, and football IQ that make Tom Brady a special player, even if we didn’t realize it at the time. What makes this play stand out? How does a one-yard run launch the greatest dynasty in NFL history? Let’s break down Brady’s five options on the play and see why he made the right choice, and why it’s so important that he did.
1. Throw the ball away: With everybody covered down field, at first thought the obvious choice is to throw the ball way, stop the clock (the Patriots had no timeouts left at this point), and bring out the field goal unit. Looking at the situation further though, this presents a few issues. First, Brady is in the pocket, and pretty well contained by the Raiders. That, combined with limited mobility due to the field conditions, would have made it tricky to get out of the pocket for a legal toss to avoid intentional grounding. He could have tried to throw the ball out near a receiver, but a number of factors made that a risky procedure (more on that next). The closest option was tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who stayed in to block on the play. Even throwing the ball at his feet would have been tough since Charles Woodson, who blitzed on the play, put himself right in the lane and in position to deflect the ball into the air (or worse).
2. Force a throw downfield: Remember that at this point, Tom Brady was far from the TB12 we know now. He was in his first season as a starting quarterback, playing in his first playoff game. Knowing how hard the pending kick would be, it wouldn’t be out of character to see a young quarterback try to make something happen and force a throw in that situation. Unfortunately, there’s no All-22 footage available for this play, so we have to make some educated guesses about what is happening downfield. First off, the announcers tell us there is blanket coverage. That shouldn’t have been hard for the Raiders, who dropped 6 players back into coverage while the Patriots only sent three receivers downfield, with everybody else staying in to block.
Any throw down the field would have been into double coverage, which combined with the wind gave any pass a Hail-Mary type chance of success, while an interception would have ended the game. At the time, it was easy not to put all of this in context, but a decision like this was an early indicator as to what set Tom Brady apart from the other young QBs in the league.
3. Take a sack: Brady almost gets sacked at the apex of his dropback by Raiders defensive end Tony Bryant (number 94 at the three second mark in the video above). Feeling the pressure in this situation, a lot of quarterbacks would surrender and take the sack. Brady steps up and finishes the play though, a decision that saves the game. Given the conditions, the Patriots were in borderline field goal range to begin with, losing even five yards may have forced them to go for it on 4th down.
4. Scramble: Even with the Raiders tough contain, given the numbers the Patriots had at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield Brady could have tried to roll out of the pocket and run. Remember though, the Patriots had no timeouts. even though there was a minute left scrambles can turn into longer plays and the Pats still had to get the field goal unit out. The field conditions factor in as well. On a snowy field, running conditions are going to be better between the hashes, where more of the action happens, then on the outside. There’s no way to know what the footing would be for Brady once he stepped out of the pocket.
5. Fall forward: The correct decision, and the one Brady ends up making. Once Brady gets away from Bryant and realizes there is no throw to be made, he breaks straight up the middle of the field, and goes down as soon as he meets resistance. In doing this, he accomplishes a few things. First, he doesn’t take a lot of time off the clock, and ensures Adam Vinatieri and the field goal unit have plenty of time to set up. Second, he keeps the ball centered on the field, so Vinatieri doesn’t have to kick from an angle. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he actually picks up one yard. What makes this yard so important? Take a look at the ball going over the goalpost on Vinatieri’s kick…
Everything Brady does during this play, every decision and movement he makes, end up impacting the end result of the game. Was all of this going through his head as the play was going on? We’ll never know. What is important though, is that at the end of the day he made the right decision when it mattered most, and the Patriots won the game because of it. Little did we know at the time that this seemingly insignificant, one-yard run, would foreshadow the greatest career in NFL history. When you put it in historical context though, it’s easy to see why this play holds significance in the make-up of the rise of the GOAT, Tom Brady.