Tom Brady, who arrived in the NFL near the start of the new century and is threatening to stay until the next one, has played 278 regular-season games. He also has taken part in 40 postseason games, the equivalent of another 2 ½ seasons tacked on like contrails behind the flaming accomplishments of his career.
In all those games, Brady has thrown for 500 yards only twice. The main reason is that it is very hard to throw for 500 yards in an NFL game. It has been done only 23 times since the league’s inception.
The list of quarterbacks who reached the 500-yard plateau is a little weird. It includes Elvis Grbac and Vince Ferragamo, for one thing. For another, the all-time record of 554 yards in a game was set 68 years ago by Norm Van Brocklin, then of the Los Angeles Rams. That might have more to do with the quality of the opposing 1951 New York Yanks, whose franchise was revoked by the league after that season, but The Dutchman did keep winging it despite a 27-point halftime lead. Whatever he had against the Yanks, he had it bad.
Brady’s career high is 517 yards. That came in New England’s 2011 opener on the road against the Miami Dolphins, but his other 500-yard game is much better remembered around here. On Feb. 4, 2018, Brady set a number of records, with two of them having to do with the 500-yard mark. He became the only quarterback to throw for 500 yards in a postseason game, and he also became the only one to do it and lose.
Oh, sure. That game.
Brady is famously competitive — to a rule-bending extent, as we know — so it is unlikely he views that game, and his 505 passing yards, as anything approaching ironic. But how can it be viewed otherwise by Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz? His defense, the fourth best in the league that season, was shredded by Brady and the Patriots. It’s difficult to stick thumbs under your suspenders and give them a snap after allowing a Super Bowl-record 613 net yards.
When Schwartz looks back at that game, he acknowledges the Eagles highlights, particularly the Brandon Graham strip-sack that set up their last field goal and pushed the lead to eight points. The New England drive that followed, however, really stays with him.
“If I wake up in a sweat at 4 in the morning, a lot of the time it’s Brandon Graham missing him in the Super Bowl on the last play,” Schwartz said. “Everybody thinks about the play that Brandon knocked the ball out of his hand, but it’s like you don’t think of Brady that way.”
That is what Schwartz was feeling on the final play when Graham beat tackle Cameron Fleming and got to Brady only to slide to the ground as if the quarterback’s legs were greased. Brady stepped aside and lofted the Hail Mary that hung in the air just like a prayer for the Patriots, and could have finished his day with 556 yards — take that, Dutchman! — and left Schwartz and his defense as the biggest goats rather than the ironic hoisters of the Super Bowl trophy.
Schwartz, in his typical manner, took the backhanded congratulations with a shrug.
“I’ll say this in just broad strokes. Our objective is to win the game. We won the game. So we don’t want to dissect it any farther than that,” Schwartz said. “We won the game. That’s our objective. There it is.”
He’s right, of course. Real victories beat moral ones every time. Brady’s pass fell to earth among the end-zone crowd, and everything Schwartz’s defense had done for the previous five months to get the team to that precipice outpointed Brady’s stat line.
Still, it was 505 yards for the quarterback, and 613 for the team.
There are a number of interesting story lines this Sunday as the Eagles and Patriots meet in a meaningful game for the first time since that Super Bowl. Some believe quarterback Carson Wentz, who has only 40 fewer postseason appearances than Brady, can exorcise the ghost of Nick Foles with a big day and a big win. Others focus on Brady himself and the seething inferno that must rage internally from that previous game.
Save some space for Jim Schwartz, though. As a head coach in Detroit, and as defensive coordinator with the Titans, Bills and Eagles, he has been tortured by Brady over the years. He’s not alone in that, but he’s in that.
Schwartz wants a win Sunday, and he’s pragmatic enough to take it any way it arrives. But the man would probably like one after which he doesn’t have to walk backward to the victory podium.