At 36 years old, Tom Brady is a three-time Super Bowl champion, a two-time NFL MVP, has been named to nine Pro Bowls, and has all the individual accolades to be a likely Hall of Famer.
But what the quarterback doesn’t have, as he sits on the high side of 35, is an elusive fourth Super Bowl ring that would put him in company with just two other quarterbacks in NFL history: Terry Bradshaw and Brady’s childhood idol, Joe Montana.
“The difference at this point in my career is just there is only one thing that matters when you start the season,” Brady said Monday during his final weekly appearance of the season on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” program. “Sometimes when you’re younger, the personal accolades mean a little bit more; guys work really hard to get significant contracts and so forth.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have both of those things over the years to the point where now there’s only one goal, and that’s to win a championship, and we just fell short.”
With their 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game, it has now been almost a full decade since Brady and the Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. This is the fifth time since that day that the Patriots have made it to the NFL’s “Final Four.”
None of those appearances may have been less expected than this year’s, after all of the receiver questions entering the season and ending the year with four starting defensive players and two star offensive players on injured reserve.
“There’s a lot to be gained by seasons like this,” Brady said. “You see players that have really emerged and become dependable players for our team, there’s a lot of things to be gained from it. But at the same time, I think we’ve established a certain level of play that we’re not satisfied unless we are the last team standing.”
Even after finishing the season much better than most anticipated, ending it short of winning it all is still tough on Brady.
“Coach always talks about the abrupt end to the season because you put as much [as] you can into every week, and like we did last week, we put a lot into the game,” said Brady. “We put a lot into thinking about all the reasons why we’re going to win, and then when you lose, there’s no fall-back.”
In dissecting the loss to the Broncos, one play stuck in Brady’s mind: a missed deep pass to a wide-open Julian Edelman in the first quarter that could have given the Patriots a 7-3 lead.
“That’s one that I think about, that could certainly impact the outcome of the game from my standpoint,” Brady said. “I need to hit that throw. That’s a throw that I am capable of making and I make nine out of 10 times, and I just didn’t make it yesterday.
“When you get in games like this, where the margin of errors is slim, you’ve got to make those plays, and I didn’t make it. Sometimes it’s not turnovers that affect games, sometimes it’s missed opportunities, and I missed that opportunity.”
Super Bowl XLVIII will feature the Broncos taking on the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, but don’t expect Brady to be able to break down that game play-by-play. He doesn’t even plan to watch.
“I don’t have much of a rooting interest, truthfully,” he said. “Those games are hard to watch. I don’t really see myself sitting down to enjoy a football game or watch it.
“Truthfully I could care less about watching the game.”
Heading into another offseason without a championship ring means this was another unsuccessful season in the eyes of the man who only wants to win one more.
“It’s a very competitive league,” said Brady. “To start the year, there are 32 teams that have hope and we’re one of those teams that always has hope. We played well over the course of the season to give ourselves a chance to play in two weeks, but we didn’t play well enough yesterday. In that sense, it is an unsuccessful season.
“We’ve played in three AFC Championships in a row, and the goal will be to get to another one, and then you’ve got to try and close the deal.
“Yesterday it would have taken a great effort by our team to win, and we just came up short.”