Tom Brady's 40 greatest moments: Nos. 30-21

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Amber Matsumoto)

Tom Brady has had one of the most storied careers in NFL history. With Brady set to turn 40 on Aug. 3, Shutdown Corner is counting down the 40 most memorable moments from Brady’s career, on and off the field.

Brady’s 40 greatest moments: 40-31

30. Brady outduels rival Peyton Manning in 2004 season opener

Brady and Peyton Manning will always be linked. The contemporaries are two of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen, and their teams faced off 17 times in the regular season and playoffs before Manning’s retirement.

The fifth installment of Brady-Manning came in the opening game of the 2004 NFL season. It saw the Patriots as reigning Super Bowl champions, having beaten the Colts in the AFC championship eight months earlier. It was Brady’s best performance in the rivalry with Manning.

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Brady threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ win, getting their title defense off on the right foot. It marked the 16th consecutive win for New England, a streak that would reach an NFL record 21 games before they lost to Pittsburgh later that season.

29. Mexican TV reporter asks Brady to marry her at Super Bowl media day

The NFL has generally let pretty much anyone who requests a credential crash its annual Super Bowl media day. Over the years there have been “reporters” with hand puppets, wearing nothing but a barrel held up by suspenders, and a grown man in a green superhero costume.

So a personality from Mexico’s TV Azteca in a white dress and veil at the media day for Super Bowl XLII wasn’t out of the ordinary. But when she shouted to Brady, “Tom, I’m in love with you! Will you marry me please?” it definitely got her some attention. Brady politely rebuffed the woman, Ines Gomez Mont, who also proposed to Giants QB Eli Manning the same day.

Brady noted that Mont was beautiful and any man would be fortunate to have her, but said he’s a one-woman man. Brady was already involved with Gisele Bundchen at the time; the two were married the next year.

28. Patriots beaten by Jets and Rex Ryan in a playoff shocker

Like all great athletes, Brady has had his share of defeats which have shaped him as a competitor. The way the 2010 season ended was one of them.

The 2010 regular season was an interesting one; New England traded Randy Moss in-season, necessitating a change to the way the offense was run, left guard Logan Mankins sat out part of the season in a contract dispute, and the Patriots lost at Cleveland to Colt McCoy in November. Still, they rolled to a 14-2 record that included a 45-3 drubbing of the New York Jets in Week 13.

But a little more than a month later, with the wild-card Jets back at Gillette Stadium for a divisional-round matchup, Rex Ryan’s swaggerful defense bullied Brady (five sacks and seven quarterback hits) and flooded the middle of the field, making it tough to run the crossing routes Brady and the offense preferred.

The Jets were up 14-3 at halftime and held on for a 28-21 win, just the second home playoff loss of Brady’s career.

27. Brady lights up Dolphins for 517 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown

Some NFL followers will argue Brady isn’t the greatest quarterback due to his lack of statistically huge games, particularly relative to Manning. It’s bunk, but some people use that reason.

But Brady put up one of the biggest games in NFL history in the 2011 regular-season opener in Miami, when he threw for 517 yards with four touchdowns (and one interception). He can’t take credit for all of those yards – a short fourth-quarter pass to Wes Welker resulted in Welker getting a 99-yard touchdown – but it was vintage Brady, in full command of the offense. Only seven players in NFL history have thrown for more yards in a game.

26. Brady’s perfect Thanksgiving

Brady was absolutely brilliant during the 2010 regular season: He had 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Not surprisingly, he won his second MVP award that year. His stellar play was on full display in a Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions, when he posted one of the two perfect passer ratings (158.3) of his career.

Though the Lions came into the game 2-9 and New England 9-2, Detroit was up 14-3 midway through the second quarter and 24-17 midway through the third. But Brady put on a clinic in the second half. He threw a gorgeous 79-yard touchdown to Deion Branch to tie the game. Later he had another precision strike, this one in the seam to Branch early in the fourth, to put the Patriots ahead for the first time.

Brady completed 21 of 27 passes for 341 yards, four touchdowns and no picks.

25. Brady finishes his college career with a gem at the Orange Bowl 

Once Michigan coach Lloyd Carr came to his senses and realized his best chance to win was to stick with Brady over hotshot freshman Drew Henson (see No. 37 on this list), Brady closed out his senior season in spectacular style.

In the Orange Bowl against Alabama, Brady and the Wolverines twice found themselves down by two touchdowns – 14-0 and then 28-14 – but he brought them back both times. The game went to overtime, and Brady hit tight end Shawn Thompson for a score, the first time the Wolverines led. Alabama scored as well, but when the extra point went wide right, Michigan got the win.

Brady was 34-for-46 for 369 yards and four touchdowns. Incredibly, his teammate, David Terrell, was named the game’s MVP.

Drew Henson, (7), Jason Kapsner, (13) and Tom Brady pose during Michigan’s media day before the 1999 season. (AP)

24. Brady throws a huge interception to Champ Bailey and finally loses a playoff game

It’s not possible to have a better start in the playoffs than Brady: he won the first 10 postseason games he started, including three Super Bowls. But then came the 2005 season, and a divisional-round game in Denver.

It was the first playoff loss for the Patriots under Brady and Bill Belichick, and it will always be remembered for one play: an interception.

Late in the third quarter with New England at the Denver 5, Brady was forced out of the pocket thanks to a Nick Ferguson safety blitz. He threw to Troy Brown in the right of the end zone. Champ Bailey jumped the route and had a clear path to the end zone.

Or so he thought.

Amazingly, Patriots tight end Ben Watson chased Bailey down, knocking him out of bounds inches short of the goal line. Bailey got credit for a 100-yard interception return but didn’t get the touchdown. New England lost, 27-13, with Brady picked off twice. Like the other disappointments for Brady on this list, this startling loss seemed to sharpen Brady’s competitive edge going forward.

23. Brady helps keep 2007 Patriots perfect with a final-minute touchdown at Baltimore

As the 2007 season wore on and the Patriots had not yet lost a game, each contest took on added significance. Even though the Baltimore Ravens came into the Dec. 3 Monday night matchup with a 4-7 record, their brash defense led by Rex Ryan had its sights set on smacking the Patriots from their lofty perch.

And they almost did it, but for a boneheaded decision by Ryan, and a bad acknowledgement from the officials.

Baltimore had New England on the ropes late, holding a 24-20 lead. The Ravens had held Brady, in the midst of a record-setting season, to a completion mark under 50 percent. They stopped New England back Kevin Faulk a yard short of the marker on third-and-10, and then appeared to stop Brady on the fourth-down play.

Except Ryan furiously called for a timeout, one that he was not supposed to be able to call as the coordinator. It was granted, negating the defensive stuff. A second fourth-down try ended with a flag on the Patriots for a false start; they got the conversion at last on the third try.

Five plays later, with 44 seconds left, Jabar Gaffney made a juggling catch that was upheld on replay, giving New England the win and a 12-0 start on their way to a 16-0 regular season (more on that later in the countdown).

Tom Brady and the Patriots had a dramatic last-minute win against Ray Lewis and the Ravens in 2007. (AP)

22. In rare playoff underdog role, Brady and Pats upset 2006 Chargers

Brady has just 11 games in his career (out of 271) with three or four interceptions, and he has lost all but one of them.

In 2006, the San Diego Chargers were the best team if the AFC, if not the NFL. They had the most productive offense in the league, a top-seven defense, and at 14-2 earned the top seed in the conference. It was an unseasonably cool day in San Diego when New England came in for the divisional-round game. Brady was just cold.

He was picked off three times: in the second, third and fourth quarters. But when Marlon McCree intercepted Brady with 6:25 to play in the fourth and the Chargers up 21-13, McCree didn’t go down immediately. When he tried to return the ball, receiver Troy Brown, who had played cornerback two years earlier when the Patriots were depleted in the secondary, stripped McCree of the ball. New England’s Reche Caldwell fell on the fumble, the Patriots were given new life, and would score 11 points in the closing minutes to win.

21. A crushing collapse against the Colts in the AFC title game

A week after knocking off the Chargers, Brady and the Patriots found themselves on the bad end of a comeback.

New England was up 21-3 six minutes into the second quarter and 21-6 at halftime in Indianapolis, and it looked like they were headed back to the Super Bowl. The Patriots offense stagnated in the second half, converting just one of six third-down tries, failures that led to field goals instead of touchdowns. And the defense couldn’t slow Peyton Manning, who led the Colts into the end zone on each of his first three second-half possessions.

New England’s fate was sealed in the closing seconds. The Colts took a 38-34 lead with a minute to play, and after Brady led the Patriots into Indy territory, he was picked off. It was his only interception of the game, by Marlin Jackson. It’s one of the greatest games in NFL history, though not the best memory for Brady and the Patriots. It might have been a blessing in disguise. It became clear in that game the Patriots needed to upgrade the receivers around Brady, and they acquired Wes Welker and Randy Moss the following offseason. Brady’s career took off with some better targets around him.


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