Brady is a student of the game and apprentice to the Great Hooded One, arguably the NFL’s most comprehensive historian. Brady knows more than the rest of us what that fourth championship ring will truly mean: immortality. The fourth ring places him on par with his childhood hero Joe Montana as a champion. The rest of his career — the MVPs, the passing records, the 16–0 2007 season — surpasses Montana and Brady becomes the Greatest of All Time.
Brady has become too distracted by what postseason success means to his legacy to just let go and play the game. He is thinking too much. A great athlete displays unconscious competence, which is high performance achieved by reflex without thinking. This is what all of those thousands of hours of practice achieve, moving action from conscious though to reflex, but outside thoughts disrupt the flow of unconscious muscle memory.
Let’s examine a case report from Psychology Today. An expert trap shooter, who routinely hits 22 of each 25 traps released, noted that he had gotten to 24 for 24 shooting on over 20 occasions in his life. Not once had he hit the target to shoot a perfect 25 for 25. “Every single time when I reach my last shot, I switch from not even thinking about hitting the target to repeatedly telling myself, ‘Don’t miss. Don’t miss.’”
This means Brady isn’t looking flustered and missing receivers because defenses have adjusted and are hitting him. Nor has he gotten soft. Soft, easily rattled quarterbacks don’t have 13–3 and 14–2 regular seasons, as Brady has these past two years.