If you’re going to throw your first interception of the season, would you rather have it bounce off your receiver’s hands and be returned for six, or be an under-duress and underthrown arm punt downfield?
It remains unclear which scenario is easier to live with. It is inevitably hard for a quarterback to choose between the lesser of two picks. But for Tom Brady, those have been the two outcomes over the past two years.
Both arrived in the second quarter of the New England Patriots signal-caller’s fifth game.
The first caromed in and out of Julian Edelman’s hands on a comeback route versus the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 18, 2015, which gifted safety Mike Adams the chance to walk into the end zone from 14 yards out.
The second was intended for Malcolm Mitchell versus the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night, after Brady wove around pressure from defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin for seven seconds and lofted one to cornerback DeShawn Shead.
One seemed like a game of hot potato; the other seemed like a game of 500. They couldn’t have been much more dissimilar, but much like his bobbled interception in a win over Indianapolis, Brady’s interception in a loss to Seattle was poor execution more so than a poor decision.
“We were behind them, I just didn't get a great throw on it,” Brady said following the Seahawks’ 31-24 primetime victory at Gillette Stadium. “I was kind of running back to left. We made some plays on scramble plays this year. I just didn't get a great throw on that. I wish I would have, because we would have had a chance.”
He was right.
Brady drifted rightward in the tackle box with 9:17 to go before halftime, drawing single-high safety Earl Thomas to the right hashes where strong safety Kam Chancellor was matched up with tight end Rob Gronkowski. Not far from that trio stood cornerback Richard Sherman, closing in on Edelman down the right sideline.
Gronkowski and Edelman were looking back to the ball, but neither looked to have separation. Their routes, in the vicinity of three All-Pro defensive backs with 62 career interceptions combined, had slowed to an idle. And at that time, the 39-year-old quarterback looked elsewhere while returning to a pocket that had burst.
It was then that he saw Mitchell breaking free down the left numbers after Shead tripped to the turf.
The rookie fourth-round pick had beaten the corner on a hitch and extended the pattern vertically, distancing himself roughly 20 yards from Seattle’s centerfielder, Thomas.
But the impending first-and-10 pass did not materialize the way Brady envisioned it. His trunk opened to the line of scrimmage as his arm angled back. And as he followed through his front shoulder, his briefly reset base couldn’t help him climb and drive the ball to where his eyes wanted him to.
The Cover-3 lane still loomed deeper downfield. Only the pass would not be destined for there. Its trajectory had already been arced high and towards the sideline before the ball left Brady’s hand.
Shead fair-caught the difference.
It marked the corner’s first interception of the season, and the end of Brady’s 133-attempt streak without one to begin the season.
The Patriots had eclipsed the 2008 Washington Redskins’ NFL record of 251 pass attempts to start a campaign without an interception earlier on against the Seahawks. Through Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and Brady, however, New England’s quarterbacks could not match the 1960 Cleveland Browns, who still hold the league’s all-time record of nine games without an interception.
Brady, who finished Sunday 23-of-32 for 316 yards and no touchdowns, has now thrown six interceptions in his four career meetings with Seattle. And while the last one he let get away would end in a Seahawks punt rather than a touchdown, it counted nonetheless in an encounter that ultimately ended on the one-yard line.
It was among several plays New England would like to have back.
“Our execution wasn't great, and they put a lot of pressure on you defensively,” Brady said of the Seahawks. “They have a lot of good players and they make you earn every yard. That's what I respect about that team, that defense. They play to the end.”