JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tom Brady is not going to beat Father Time.
Sunday in Jacksonville he couldn’t even beat Mother Nature.
Worse, for the first time in his 19-year NFL career, he couldn’t beat the Jaguars.
Against a combination of stifling heat and suffocating defense, Brady was no match for either, on the wrong end of a 31-20 loss that sends the Patriots back to Foxboro with a 1-1 record and, perhaps more startlingly, leaving Brady on the wrong end of a Jaguars decision for the first time in nine career tries. Time hasn’t caught the 41-year-old just yet, but after a resounding loss, and in the face of a superior performance by a quarterbacking counterpart 15 years his junior, it sure picked up a few strides Sunday.
It was a day that came out of opposite land, from the moment the Patriots unexpectedly took the ball after winning the toss (“that’s what we wanted to do,” was coach Bill Belichick’s detailed explanation) to the one that saw Blake Bortles on the winning side of the post-game quarterback handshake. What an odd reversal of fortune from a clash we saw only a few months ago back in Foxborough, when Brady’s magic and a home crowd were too much for the young, inexperienced Jaguars to handle, when a fourth-quarter comeback earned the Patriots the Super Bowl berth the Jaguars dared to believe could be theirs.
Instead, this game cast Brady as the old man withering under a 107-degree heat index, playing opposite the younger, fresher Bortles refusing to melt when the stakes burned their hottest.
“I actually don’t think [the heat] was that bad,” Brady insisted afterward. “At least I didn’t feel it. It was definitely warm, warmer than what we’ve had, but it was a lot like training camp this year. It was more about execution. They executed really well, and we didn’t. I think it was really that simple. And if we want the outcome to change, we’ve got to do things a lot differently.
“It’s a long year, and I think you have a bad day against a good team, that’s a recipe for losing, and we certainly had a bad day. We have to learn from losing. These things don’t just magically happen. We’ve got to have more urgency to do things right more often over the course of practice, games, and a matter of going out and executing. It was us. The first few drives it was us, then you’re behind, then playing a situation against a great team on the road that plays well when they’re ahead and played really well.”
From those first plays of the sweat-soaked afternoon, when the Patriots squandered a seven-play possession with a missed 54-yard field goal, to the brief flash of comeback hope in the late stages of the exhausting day, when the Pats cut their deficit to 24-13 and had just picked off Bortles only to have Brady get strip-sacked on the next possession, the offense never hit its stride.
“Obviously, we have a lot to improve on,” receiver Chris Hogan said. “We’re ready to go forward and prove we’re better than this. I know what this team is capable of. We didn’t make enough plays early on. We had a lot of chances in the second half, but we didn’t capitalize.”
Down 14-0 at the end of a quarter and 21-3 at halftime, it all seemed so un-Patriot-like, so un-Brady-like. There were the Jaguars picking up their own fumble on an early scoring drive, the very sort of bounce that usually goes New England’s way. There they were again, bridging halftime with a touchdown drive to close the second quarter and a field goal to open the third, the old double-score move that’s been a Belichick staple. And there they were across the fourth quarter, standing up to the Patriots comeback attempt, hopping on Bortles’s back and riding it out to the victorious finish line.
“I felt like he did what he knew he could do on the field, even in the AFC championship game, being able to scramble and move around,” Patriots’ cornerback Devin McCourty said of Bortles. “Today he did it in big moments, too. It wasn’t a surprise for us, we knew he was capable of it. A day like today, where it’s hot, we know defensively that’s the last thing we want to do. I don’t know what the play count was, but it felt like 10-plus play drives, all throughout the game. That’s just tough. You put yourself in a hole like that, defensively not getting off the field, against a good football team, it’s going to be a long day.
“When he had guys open, he threw the ball, delivered the ball, and they got good guys with the catch and run. And when we did a good job of covering, he did a good job picking up a yard or two yards past the marker, which killed us in a lot of situations.”
Isn’t that the way opposing defenders usually talk about Brady? At times that old guy flashed the way we’re used to — there he was, rumbling 10 yards for a first down late in the third quarter, and there he was capping that drive by hitting a streaking Hogan with a 7-yard laser of a touchdown pass — but the balance of these football scales went to Bortles, whose 377 yards and four touchdowns far outweighed, and outplayed, Brady’s 234 and 2.
And so did the Jaguars finally join the rest of the AFC in getting at least one victory against a Brady-led Patriots team, a holdout they thought for sure was going to come to an end last January in New England but finally ended Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville. These stakes weren’t nearly so high — every Jaguar would trade this Sunday’s win for last January’s loss — but they do serve as reminder of what New England’s football life can be like outside the confines of the overmatched AFC East. Tom versus the division has been an unfair fight for decades, cardboard quarterback after cardboard quarterback going down via Patriot punches.
But Tom versus Time is his own barometer of success, a personal countdown against the only force seemingly powerful enough to stop the all-world quarterback. Time alone didn’t beat Tom Sunday. The Jaguars, and Bortles, gave it plenty of help.