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It’s been a blast, but Tom Brady should retire before this gets ugly

John Romano | Make no mistake, he is good enough to keep playing. But is he good enough to maintain an unparalleled level of excellence?
No matter how long Tom Brady stares at that scoreboard, the Cowboys are always going to win Monday night's wild-card playoff game. The Bucs quarterback hasn't said whether he is retiring, but the time might be right.
No matter how long Tom Brady stares at that scoreboard, the Cowboys are always going to win Monday night's wild-card playoff game. The Bucs quarterback hasn't said whether he is retiring, but the time might be right. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 17

TAMPA — To paraphrase Otter in Animal House:

Tom Brady messed up. He trusted us.

He believed the offensive line was good enough to protect a 45-year-old quarterback. (It wasn’t.) He thought there were enough receivers to absorb the loss of Rob Gronkowski. (There weren’t.) He seemed sure that Byron Leftwich could ace a game plan without Bruce Arians. (He couldn’t.)

The result?

The worst stain of a 23-year career. It wasn’t enough that the regular season was lifeless and wearying, but then Brady exited the postseason in the most un-Brady way imaginable Monday night.

He didn’t look angry. He didn’t look broken. No, the most single-minded athlete of our lifetime looked oddly at ease. As if the accumulation of losing had prepared him for this eventuality.

Which brings us here. To that agonizing moment when we try to do it again. When we convince ourselves that, with a few strategic changes, Brady could deliver another Super Bowl next season.

Don’t believe us, Tommy.

Don’t fall for it again.

Tampa Bay does not have enough draft picks. Or room under the salary cap. Or a map to the Fountain of Youth.

Brady and Tampa Bay once did great things with each other, but that moment has passed. It will take more time than he’s got to plug all the holes on this roster.

Tom Brady (12) reacts after an incomplete pass during the first quarter against the Cowboys.
Tom Brady (12) reacts after an incomplete pass during the first quarter against the Cowboys. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Personally, I think Brady knew that a year ago. Evidence suggests he was angling to go to Miami with Sean Payton during his staged retirement last winter. When the Bucs called his bluff, Brady realized he would have to come back to Tampa Bay if he wanted to play anywhere.

He’s not in that position any longer. He’s a free agent with no obligation here.

And, if he’s smart, he already has his bags packed.

Better yet, he’s checking out the AARP app.

It’s not that Brady isn’t one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the world at this very moment. He very well might be. His arm remains strong, his resolve is unchallenged and no one reads a defense as well.

But the pocket mobility that used to be limited is now non-existent.

And that means Brady is more reliant on his blockers, receivers and coaches than ever before. He can still win, but he needs to be in a near-perfect situation. That is no longer Tampa Bay. In fact, it may not exist anywhere among teams currently searching for a quarterback.

With that in mind, let’s hope we just saw the last game of Brady’s unparalleled career.

That sounds sad, but it shouldn’t be. The man threw for more yards, won more games and played in more Super Bowls than anyone in history. Anything beyond that is getting a little grabby.

Seriously, it’s the right time for him to retire.

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It may not be the ending he envisioned. It may not be the ending he deserved.

But it would be the ending he unwittingly chose after coming back one year too many.

Tom Brady (12) throws a pass, while being pressured by Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) during the first quarter.
Tom Brady (12) throws a pass, while being pressured by Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) during the first quarter. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Just to be clear, there’s no shame in that. We all were excited at the prospect of another season when training camp rolled around. And we all were assuming the results would be wildly different.

So, no, Brady was not alone in this miscalculation. And that’s all it was — a miscalculation.

It’s not as if Brady got old overnight and embarrassed himself a la Johnny Unitas. He/we just didn’t realize his increasing limitations could no longer be hidden on this roster.

It might be tempting for Brady to try to erase that mistake by finding the right situation and taking another shot at the Super Bowl with some other team next season.

But the odds of pulling that off with the Bucs in 2020 were high, and they’ll be even more extreme for Brady in 2023. He’s more likely to ding a reputation that was mostly pristine before Monday night.

Would it be good for Tampa Bay if Brady decided to play here another season? Oh, heck yes. He’s a one-man marketing campaign and economic driver. And he’d probably fare better than any quarterback the Bucs would otherwise find. Give him a new offensive coordinator and a better offensive line, and there’s a chance Tampa Bay will be the NFC South favorite again.

But that’s wishful thinking. And short-term thinking.

The Bucs are not good enough to win a Super Bowl with Brady, which means they’d be spinning their wheels no matter how many games they win in 2023.

It’s time for the Bucs to start thinking about a new future.

And it’s time for Brady to indulge in the memories of his past.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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