FOXBOROUGH — The wide-eyed kid quarterback who put his hands to his head in disbelief after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl way back in February 2002 is long gone, replaced by a grizzled all-time great whose mastery of the position and competitive drive never get old.
It’s hard to believe the same guy who led the 2001 Patriots to a historic victory in Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams was the one who made history on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium.
No NFL record with his name on it better defines the essence of Tom Brady more than the one he established Sunday for most wins by a quarterback. Since the moment he got his opportunity in 2001, Brady has found a way to win at the most high-pressure and high-profile position in North American sports.
The Patriots’ 26-10 victory over the Rams was the 201st time Brady has quarterbacked the Patriots to victory, including the postseason. He is 201-61 in his career. No other NFL quarterback has ever reached a record of 140 games above .500. You can argue whether wins should be ascribed to quarterbacks like baseball pitchers, but as long as they are all other quarterback stats are for losers. Brady is the consummate winner.
If you needed any reminder of how grateful the Foxborough Faithful should be to the scorekeeper in the sky for Brady’s prolonged brilliance it was on display at Gillette Stadium as more than 40 of Brady’s former teammates from the ’01 team returned to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of that team.
While his ex-teammates were basking in the glow of history, the 39-year-old Brady was out on the field still making it for the 10-2 Patriots.
“Quite frankly, it’s unreal,” said Patriots receiver and Brady confidant Julian Edelman. “It just shows you that is what separates him from the other guys. You look at all the other greats, I mean when they’re at this age they don’t look like him, not even close.”
While this was a day to revel in history and memories, it wasn’t a game that deserved any space in the memory banks.
The stark dichotomy between a quarterback with 201 wins and a rookie QB searching for his first NFL win robbed this contest of any competitiveness. Rams quarterback and 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff was 7 years old when Brady directed the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI, transforming from Cinderella signal-caller to legend-in-the-making.
This victory for Brady over the Rams lacked any of the drama and suspense of that one. No final-drive heroics required. It was rudimentary.
The halftime ceremony for the ’01 team featuring a David Ortiz-like profane peroration from Troy Brown was more eventful than the game, which the Patriots led, 17-0, at halftime.
The Rams were hapless and hopeless against Brady and Co., their offense a far cry from the “Greatest Show on Turf” days of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk.
All the plastic surgeons in LA couldn’t make the Rams’ offense look decent.
LA was outgained, 230-25, in the first half and registered one first down. The Rams couldn’t get beyond their own 36 until the second half and finished the game 1 for 12 on third down.
This wasn’t surprising; the Rams came in ranked last in the league in points per game and second to last in total offense.
Beating Brady is difficult enough. It’s impossible to do it with an impotent offense and a feckless coach, Jeff Fisher, who can’t remember where he put his challenge flag or who the opponents’ running backs are.
Win No. 202 for Brady isn’t going to come this easily.
Sunday concluded a three-game stretch in which the Patriots faced the San Francisco 49ers, a team that has now lost 11 straight games, the New York Jets, and a Rams team that lost for the seventh time in eight games.
It’s back to Big Boy football next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Brady’s record day didn’t portend great things for the Patriots’ Gronk-less offense, which had to settle for four field goals and was 4 of 16 on third down.
Brady was a modest 33 of 46 for 269 yards. He threw a touchdown pass to Chris Hogan that made it 14-0 with 13:04 in the first half, following a Malcolm Butler interception on the final play of the first quarter.
That might be why Brady, ever the perfectionist, was not really expansive in discussing the wins milestone.
“I’m grateful for all of my teammates and my coaches and for my family and friends,” said Brady. “There has been a lot of football over the years. It’s always been about winning, and I’ve been very fortunate to be on a lot of great teams. I just feel very grateful.”
What spoke louder about the record than Brady was the respect and reverence shown to him by Rams players after the game.
While defenses want to knock Brady into the turf during games, they treat him like a head of state after them, paying their respects.
“Yeah, I grew up watching him,” said Rams safety T.J. McDonald, son of former 49ers safety Tim McDonald. “He is a fan of my pops. [Brady] is an old man now, so for him to still be doing what he’s doing it’s something special. You’ve got to take your hat off to him. I’ve got nothing but respect for him.”
It was fitting that Brady got this win against the Rams. A lot has changed since the first time he beat them. What hasn’t changed is his attitude.
“We’re in a locker room with a walking legend,” said Butler. “He has the most wins in quarterback history in the NFL, but he still comes to work like he hasn’t accomplished anything. I look up to that.”
What has made Brady the all-time winningest quarterback in NFL history is not basking in past accomplishments, but rather understanding that the most important win is the next one.