The final days of Tom Brady’s Patriot life are remembered mostly for how depressing it all was, for the way a dour-faced quarterback trudged down the hallways of Gillette Stadium one last time in the wake of a playoff loss to Tennessee in January 2020, the end of a long, drawn-out exit filled with rancor and frustration.
While Brady was barely able to acknowledge the coach with whom he’d won six Super Bowls, Bill Belichick was no better, practically forced into saying a nice word about Brady the morning after their last game together.
Looking back, it was truly difficult to imagine Brady looking any more miserable than he did that cold, wet January night.
The current version of Brady has taken his misery to new lows, looking every bit like a man who stayed around a year too long.
Thin and drawn, hollow and angry — did you see the profane sideline tirade hurled at his offensive teammates in Sunday’s loss to the banged-up Steelers? — Brady projects the image of someone rethinking the infamous unretirement decision that brought him back this season, his third since leaving New England.
Schadenfreude this is not; I actually find it sad to watch, with Brady hurting his reputation, potentially losing his marriage, all for the sake of a 23rd NFL season.
(Warning: Video contains offensive language)
Tom Brady with some words to his offensive line. pic.twitter.com/qBqjD7vfKg— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 16, 2022
A Tampa Bay coda that started out so triumphantly, with Brady winning a Belichick-less Super Bowl his first year down South, has gone south in a different way in the two years since. This past weekend felt like rock bottom, with Brady skipping team meetings Saturday to attend Robert Kraft’s lavish New York City wedding, then yelling at his teammates during the loss to Pittsburgh.
Add that to the still-unexplained 11-day absence during training camp (looking forward to the next Gotham Chopra documentary to get some clarity on that one) and Brady gives every appearance of a man with one foot in the game and one foot out the door.
He didn’t help himself by coming back on protector/friend/interviewer Jim Gray’s SiriusXM podcast and comparing his return to football to military deployment.
“I almost look at a football season like you’re going away on deployment for the military,” Brady said. “And it’s like, ‘Man, here I go again.’
“The reality is you can really only be authentic to yourself, right? Whatever you may say — ‘Ah, man, I want to, you know, make sure I spend a little more time doing this during the season’ — the reality is, when it comes down to it, your competitiveness takes over, and as much as you want to have this playful balance with the work balance, you’re going to end up doing exactly what you’ve always done, which is why you are who you are.”
Yikes. Football may be a huge commitment, may demand time away from family, may be the most physically brutal of all our professional sports. But it’s not the same as military service, with men and women literally putting their lives on the line for our country.
I get it; Brady’s point was not so much about being away, but about the person you become while you’re away. The same one you’ve always been. Translation: I thought I could find work/life balance, only to realize that while I’m working, there is not going to be any balance.
That level of single-mindedness is no doubt at the heart of Brady’s reported marital problems with Gisele Bündchen, who is said to have been frustrated with Brady’s unwillingness to retire for years now.
I’ve never believed reporters or fans are in position to tell a player when to retire (outside, perhaps, of serious injury concerns), particularly when it’s obvious that, even at age 45, they still have the ability to play at a high level. I actually lauded Brady’s decision to reverse course.
But after all Brady has accomplished, after it’s become obvious how much his family prefers he not play, this seems like a fair second-guess.
The stats aren’t great, not by Brady’s standards. He hadn’t started a season 3-3 since 2012. His eight touchdown passes in six games are paltry compared with this time last year, when he had 17, or the year before that, when he had 14. According to the AP, Brady’s 3.2 percent touchdown rate while attempting to pass is a career low, and the team’s 20.2 points per game are far down from last season’s 30.1.
All this for a man who in his first two Tampa Bay seasons, playoffs included, threw an astounding 96 touchdown passes.
Yet he still has two 300-yard passing games and is fifth in the NFL with 1,652 yards. It’s not that he can’t play — it’s just that he no longer looks like he’s even enjoying it.
After winning his seventh Super Bowl, Brady exited the playoffs in last year’s divisional round, and now he’s struggling to keep his Buccaneers afloat as a legitimate championship contender. His offense is struggling to score touchdowns, his offensive line and receivers can’t stay healthy, and his security blankets have moved on — miss you Rob Gronkowski, get help Antonio Brown.
Brady’s the one still here, but he looks like he’d rather be elsewhere. And that’s sad.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.