FOXBOROUGH — They spent the week trading compliments and sharing testimonials, a mutual admiration party that didn’t just include the sentiments of principal characters Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but their coaches Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy, too. The buildup to the rare clash of quarterback titans was both predictable and deserved, a delicious level of anticipation befitting two of the best QBs of their generation, pitting the most accomplished one of his time (Brady) against the most talented (Rodgers), a perfect Sunday night coda to another fall day full of football.
For sure, this was a matchup to be savored, to be appreciated, to be noted for posterity precisely because it happens so infrequently for two veterans on opposite sides of the NFL’s conference structure. And even if the reality of Sunday night’s game between the Patriots and Packers didn’t quite live up to that advance billing — not until the defense bailed the Patriots offense out yet again with a crucial fourth-quarter forced fumble and recovery did this game finally tilt toward New England’s eventual 31-17 victory — Brady did walk off the field leaving one similarly crucial message in his wake.
Sure, these matchups may be great for hype and history. But this is my house. And I will do whatever it takes to defend it.
Never mind that I’ve watched the Packers tie the game at 17 with a touchdown drive to open the second half. Never mind that my ensuing drive stalls at the Green Bay 1-yard line, that my four tries to punch the ball in include a reversal of Cordarrelle Patterson’s apparent TD plunge. Never mind that my defense’s immediate three-and-out answer still doesn’t ignite my offense, that I’m left at the wrong end of another third-down play so frustrated I’m slamming the football to the turf.
Never mind that Green Bay’s ongoing penchant for big mistakes in big moments bails me out again, a roughing-the-kicker penalty giving me a 15-yards-and-a-first-down gift that I still somehow manage to squander, my third-down pass this time heading into the scary unknown of no-receiver-to-be-found land. Never mind that the fourth quarter is starting to slip away, and anyone in this packed house knows how dangerous it is to let Rodgers hang around too long.
Never mind any of that, because when the defense comes through for me again, a Lawrence Guy forced fumble and a Stephon Gilmore recovery giving me the ball back again, this time I’ll make it count. I’ll ignite a double-pass play, Julian Edelman to James White, and even run out in front as lead blocker (even if I admit after the game I have no idea what the rules of the game allow me to do, so I wisely do nothing) that will set up White’s go ahead 1-yard TD. And then, I’ll throw one more touchdown to a wide-open Josh Gordon, a 55-yard strike in stride that will salt this one away.
Make it six wins in a row now for Brady and his Patriots, all early season angst erased.
“It’s a long way from 1-2 to 7-2,” Brady would say afterward. “The defense played spectacular — 17 points against that offense is great. That’s a tough offense to defend. [Aaron] can fit the ball in a lot of tight spots. Our defense made them work hard. It seemed like they had to work for every yard.”
“Aaron made a couple of throws there to [Marquez Valdes-Scantling, three catches, 101 yards] that were great,” Belichick said. “I don’t know how coverage could have been any better. Those are the plays you have to live with when you’re playing the Packers.
“He’s just so hard to get. He has such presence in the pocket.”
In the end, however, it was Brady’s records we were talking about again, this time becoming the first player in NFL history to eclipse 80,000 total yards in passing, receiving, and rushing combined. “He’s had an incredible career, been the gold standard at quarterback for the better part of two decades,” Rodgers said. “He’s a great player.”
Brady didn’t manage to lumber the three extra yards he needed coming into the game to reach 1,000 for his career (would giving him a few of those QB goal line sneaks been so hard coach?), but he didn’t seem to mind so much either. Not when yet another prime time night went his way, in his house.
On this night, Brady was happy to share a slice of his field with the recently crowned Red Sox, taking time for a selfie with Sox manager Alex Cora, more than willing to drink in some of the magic that fueled last week’s World Series win and hope he can make it last through the Super Bowl.
“What the Red Sox did this year was incredible,” Brady said. “All the teams in this Boston area, certainly we’re here to win, all the organizations are committed to winning. It’s great to see. It’s fun to be a part of ours. I love playing here, and I love supporting those other teams, too.”
“They set the bar high for all the rest of us,” echoed Belichick. “But that’s a good thing.”
Who knows if Brady will ever win another Super Bowl. Maybe his sixth ring will indeed come this year, another championship trophy for a ridiculously blinged-out city. And who knows if Rodgers ever lands that elusive second championship ring, earning the kind of validation so few of his quarterbacking contemporaries have earned but all of them covet.
Hey, who knows that they don’t end up trying to make either of those possibilities true at the other’s expense, meeting again in Atlanta this February? Had the Packers been able to pull out a difficult road win Sunday, that might be the expectation now. But Brady had something to say about it, delivering yet again on a line he can say more definitively than anyone of his generation — not in my house.