PITTSBURGH — First of all, good on Tom Brady for calling it quits when he did. And yes, I believe him this time.

Here’s why: Brady’s ego won’t allow him to risk a Joe Namath-on-the-Rams debacle to end his career. I mean that as a compliment. Brady won’t allow himself to finish like Namath or Willie Mays, and if you watched the Tampa Bay-Dallas playoff game, he suddenly found himself wading into that territory.

Sometimes with great athletes, the end comes slowly. Sometimes, as with a boxer, it happens on a single night. I believe it happened to Brady that night.

He wasn’t willing to take hits anymore, as you saw on the horrendous end zone interception. The game looked faster than his ability to process it, which had never been the case.

So Brady gets to leave without them having to tear the proverbial jersey off his back. He did it himself. Two games before that, he was 34 of 45 for 432 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina. Earlier in the season, he went 39 of 52 for 385 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a loss to Kansas City and his most worthy successor, Patrick Mahomes.

Even amid several shaky performances, on a battered and mediocre Bucs team, Brady finished his final season throwing for 4,694 yards, 25 touchdowns, just nine interceptions and multiple late-game wins. It was reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, in that Brady still was more than functional, still found ways to beat you and hardly embarrassed himself.


But it was time, which means it’s our time to reflect. And for me, one question rises above the rest: Has any quarterback of the Super Bowl era tortured one franchise the way Brady tortured the Steelers?

Maybe what John Elway did to the Cleveland Browns, beating them in the AFC championship game three times in four years? Maybe what Eli Manning did to the Patriots and Brady, with those two Super Bowl wins, including the derailment of a perfect season?

I’m sure there are others – Jim Kelly hurt the Miami Dolphins very badly – but not many, especially when it comes to the highest stakes.

Even when Brady got knocked out of a game against the Steelers, he got credited with a win. That happened in the 2001 AFC championship game, when Drew Bledsoe did the heavy lifting in place of an injured Brady. But Brady, because of a silly NFL rule that credits starting quarterbacks with decisions regardless of how events play out, was credited with the win.

That means he was 3-0 against the Steelers in AFC championship games, matching Elway’s mark against the Browns.

But that’s only part of the story.


I have neither the time nor the method to look up every quarterback’s stats against every other team, but I feel very safe in promising you that no quarterback ever did to a visiting team – a good visiting team, I should say – what Brady did to the Steelers in Foxborough.

I mean, of course he killed the Bills, going 33-3 against them overall, but they were a joke for most his time with the Patriots – and at least they intercepted a pass in Foxborough once in a while.

The Steelers never did. Brady at home went 6-0 against the Steelers with 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He completed 171 of 239 passes (71.5%) for 2,147 yards in those games – good for a 128.4 passer rating. Most memorably, in 2007, he got in the face of one Anthony Smith, who had guaranteed a Steelers win. Brady ran up to him after a double-pass play burned Smith for a touchdown.

“I don’t care to repeat what I said, especially if my mother reads it,” Brady said after the game. “She wouldn’t be very happy.”

Smith’s boast even had Bill Belichick taking a shot at Smith.

“We’ve played against a lot better safeties than him, I’ll tell you,” Belichick said.


Then there was the worst beating ever administered to a Steelers defense, when Brady and the Patriots beat them 55-31 in 2013 and rolled up 610 total yards in the process.

Maybe all you need to know is that the one time Brady missed a home game against the Steelers, his team lost, 33-10.

True, the Steelers scored some nice home wins against Brady –and let the record show that they beat him this season in his final appearance on the North Shore (although Steelers fans should be glad he didn’t get the ball back at the end).

Those wins hardly balanced the scales. Twice, Brady kept very good Steelers teams out of the Super Bowl. He beat a 16-1 team in the 2004 AFC championship game. He also ended the Steelers’ 2016 run and cost them homefield advantage in 2017, which forced the Steelers to play a home game against surging Jacksonville instead of Tennessee in the divisional round.

Brady had a higher career passer rating against the Steelers (109.2) than any team in the AFC (even the Bills).

And was it just me, or did he seem to take special glee in beating the Steelers?

Maybe that’s a compliment to them. Maybe Brady identified the Steelers early on as the NFL’s standard-bearer, as the franchise to beat. They had the most Super Bowl wins, after all, as his career progressed.

But in the end, he beat the Steelers there, too. The official tally reads like this:

Brady 7, Steelers 6.

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