Well, that didn't take long. No sooner had New England's record 21-game win streak come to an end, no sooner had the defending Super Bowl champs played a poor game on the road against a quality opponent to lose for the first time in more than a year, that the pundits jumped all over the Patriots and "golden boy" quarterback Tom Brady.
It's no secret that the "pundits" despise Tom Brady. We know this because no quarterback in the history of football had to do more before the "pundits" begrudgingly admitted that he's pretty good.
They despise his brilliant clutch play – four last-second scoring drives in six career playoff games – because they can't put a finger on it. They routinely mock him as a "game manager," as if it's something to be ashamed of. They can't get over the fact that a seemingly unathletic sixth-round draft pick with no pedigree like Peyton Manning – no street cred like Michael Vick – has emerged as the best player in football. And, of course, they're baffled by the fact that no quarterback since Johnny Unitas – another unheralded, late-round draft pick who defied the "pundits" – has had a more successful start to their NFL career.
So when the Patriots finally lost, these "pundits" pounced on Brady like starving hyenas tearing away at a rotting carcass in the African savannah. We suggest instead that they eat their own words.
"At least we won't have to hear all that Tom Montana stuff for a while," wrote Skip Bayless this week on ESPN.com's Page2. "Brady isn't Montana – or Manning or Culpepper. This was Brady at his worst, trying to force throws downfield, watching an interception returned for the 21-3 TD. Brady was asked to do way more than this former sixth-round pick is capable of. Tom 'Montana' got exposed."
This was Brady at his worst? Hey, the Cold, Hard Football Facts answer only to the irrefutable reality of raw numbers, and Brady played poorly against Pittsburgh. But if this is Brady at his worst (25 for 43, 271 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 72.9 passer rating) then he must be better than even we thought.
The comparison to Daunte Culpepper, meanwhile, is comical. The very same day that Brady got "exposed" in a 34-20 loss at 6-1 Pittsburgh, the Vikings lost 34-13 at home to the 5-2 New York Giants. Culpepper posted this line: 24 for 41, 231 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 62.1 passer rating. Seems to us that Culpepper got exposed, too, Skip Gutless.
The belief that Brady is no Manning, meanwhile, forces deep, rumbling rounds of hearty laughter from the rotund belly of the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Using the logic of Skip Brainless, we don't have to go back too far to see when this fraud was exposed. Just eight games ago, in the AFC title game, NFL co-MVP Manning committed one of the single biggest choke jobs in the history of football: 23 for 47, 1 TD, 4 INTs, 35.5 passer rating.
If Brady was "exposed" on Sunday, then Manning was stripped, whipped and castrated in the AFC title game. But you won't hear that from the likes of Skip Clueless and his ilk. In the myopic eyes of these "pundits," Manning was still the best quarterback in football following his collapse in the biggest game of his career. Apparently, he gets a bad-performance waiver by virtue of genetics. The Cold, Hard Football Facts are far more egalitarian and bow to no family pedigree.
The truth is that Brady went into Pittsburgh against a very good Steelers team without his top receiver from last season, Deion Branch, while Troy Brown made just his second appearance of the year after an extended injury. The truth is that his starting right tackle missed the game and that his starting left tackle went down during the game. The truth is that he was missing his top ball carrier and that his corps of running backs was laughable: Kevin Faulk, a 5-foot, 8-inch third-down specialist who came into the game with just 11 carries this season; Rabih Abdullah, a seven-year NFL journeyman who has just 56 career rushing attempts; and Cedric Cobbs, a rookie who was literally pulled off the physically-unable-to-perform list hours before the game to make his first NFL appearance. The truth is that Brady has overcome these obstacles before but failed to do so when he played poorly in an October game at Pittsburgh.
But you wouldn't know it from listening to the likes of Skip Toothless. Nope. All you hear is that the most successful quarterback in football has been "exposed." The Cold, Hard Football Facts have vertigo trying to follow the logic of that argument.