TAMPA, Fla. — For a guy who has seemingly ruled the fields forever, Tom Brady is running out of time.
When the season began, we were supposed to believe these were the final, remarkable brush strokes of a masterful career. The achievement few thought possible, and no one dared try.
It wasn't just that he was aiming to play in a 10th Super Bowl or win a seventh title this season, it was that he was going to do both without any possibility that Bill Belichick would be riding in the first car of the parade.
Yet, look at where things stand with little more than a month of games remaining:
Brady is having the best season any 43-year-old has ever known, yet the wolves are at his door.
He's been ridiculed for coming up short in big games. He's been blistered for being a sore loser. At times, he's been criticized by the same head coach who was willing to put his own legacy on the line to sign him in Tampa Bay.
Brady could set records, the Bucs could end a playoff drought, the television ratings could go through the roof, and it still won't be enough.
That's because it was understood this was no ordinary experiment in Tampa Bay. The Bucs were handing $50 million and the keys to the franchise to a quarterback with a limited number of games left in his career. They were, in effect, saying to hell with the future beyond today.
So there will be no bell curve to grade the 2020 season in Tampa Bay. It's either pass or fail. Super Bowl or bust. And here, in Week 12, it's starting to look like Brady and the Bucs might fall short.
If they lose Sunday against the Chiefs — and they were 3.5-point underdogs going into the weekend — the Bucs will drop to 7-5. And, in case you didn't know it, 7-5 teams do not often reach the promised land. Only seven of the 108 Super Bowl participants have been either 7-5 or worse.