Some of us worried that Tom Brady would forget about us, and all the good times the last 20 years, when he left Foxborough for a place in the sun. None of us thought his memory for other things would go so quickly.
Welcome to old age, Tom. Senior moments, in fact, come knocking for even the fittest and most accomplished among us.
Someone roll one of those Focus Factor commercials, stat!
There was Brady on Thursday night, on the Tampa Bay 41-yard line, poised to strike for his 47th regular-season game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, when he lost track of time and space and all that other rock-solid late-game equilibrium he copyrighted during his two decades along Route 1.
With 38 seconds to go, Brady took a shot downfield with a fourth-and-6 pass targeted for ex-Harvard tight end Cameron Brate. No connection, no dice.
It was first down, Chicago, the ball turned over on downs. Brady was left standing on the field, flashing four fingers at the guys in stripes, clearly as if to say, “Yo, fellas, I got one more shot here, right?”
Nope. Instead, Brady was directed to scoot off with the rest of the Tampa offensive unit, leaving Chicago QB Nick Foles to come in and burn off the clock to seal the 20-19 win for the Bears.
It was Brady’s Rick Perry “Oops!” moment, reminiscent of a November 2011 GOP debate when the Texas governor and wannabe president lost track of the three departments he promised to close once gaining the Oval Office.
Commerce and Education both would go, an emphatic Perry pronounced, and . . . and . . . and . . .
“The third one . . . ,” said a bumbling Perry, his mind and aspirations lost in space, “. . . I can’t . . . Oops!”
In his head, Brady got to three downs and got stuck there. Reality moved on to four.
For the record, in Perry’s case, No. 3 was Energy. And for the record, it was lights out for the governor’s shot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He at least had the humor and humility postgame that night to say he felt fortunate to be wearing boots.
“Because,” he said, “I sure stepped in it out there.”
Brady? He wouldn’t own the gaffe. He’ll likely regret that. Maybe one day he’ll write about in the tome, “TB12: Life’s Lessons Rethought,” available free with a $1,000 purchase of senior vitamins, a walking stick, and a pair of compression socks.
Instead, Brady talked about “being up against the clock” and noted he should have been thinking about moving the ball 6 yards for a first down instead of going big downfield.
“It was bad execution,” he said when asked if he had forgotten that it was fourth down. “I had a great opportunity there. Just didn’t execute.”
His coach, Bruce Arians, provided cover far better than his offensive line provided Brady against the Bears' pass rush, flatly saying his QB knew it was fourth down.
Arians, remember, was openly critical of Brady earlier this season after a bad performance. His cover was obvious: Bury him again in public and forever enjoy the Unemployed Coaches' Club.
Look, it’s never easy for any of us to say we messed up, be it under pressure or not. But if anyone has the cachet to say, “Oops!,” and have the whole world shrug, it’s Brady, with his half-dozen Super Bowl rings and his Hall of Fame bust reserved and dusted each day in the back room in Canton, Ohio. He’s still very good, so it could be a while before he slips on jacket and ring.
Brady’s Buccaneers are 3-2 instead of 4-1, presuming he had put the game on the toe of Ryan Succop for a successful field goal. We’re all of five weeks into the 2020 NFL season, which, if 2020 keeps up its macabre comedy, will deliver far more crushing, bizarre story lines than a beatified 43-year-old quarterback going dead in the head on fourth down in the closing moments late in the first third of the 16-game season.
Humor, as we know, has been in short supply in Foxborough ever since the arrival of Bill Belichick. Even smiling is frowned upon.
Which is why I always laugh a little extra during those quick TV camera cuts to the owners' box, where Robert and Jonathan Kraft are all giggles and smiles, highchairs and high-fives when things are going great on the field for the public trust they call their multibillion-dollar football team.
What, fun and laughter are allowed? Coach Bill’s hair surely would smolder under that hoodie if he knew Bob and Jon were having such a good time in the workplace. He’d have them both hauled, demanding they cut off their suit jacket sleeves to elbow length.
Brady, meanwhile, seems not to have moved out from under that dour, controlling climate, despite his not-so-subtle suggestions that he was eager to shake free from it, free from Belichick and the attitude. Living day to day and play call to play call in that humorless bubble of perfection has to be a drag, no matter the record, the rings, the MVP trophies, the number of duck boat parades.
Brady’s goof Thursday night was as obvious as the ball trickling through Bill Buckner’s legs. He is the only one who truly knows why he couldn’t simply admit the error, dismiss it with a dash of self-deprecating humor (see: Perry’s boots), and then just simply say, in true Foxborough fashion, “We’re on to Green Bay," Game 6 next Sunday.
“Up against the clock,” he said. “I should have been thinking more first down instead of chunk.”
And thinking fourth instead of third. And, hardest of all, letting some of the old Tom go.