Before we do anything else this week, I need to explain the genesis of the most annoying Twitter meme in history.
By late November, the New England Patriots were sitting on a 7-3 record. They were doing just fine, but they weren't quite the dominant Patriots we've seen in recent years. Likewise, by his own standards, Tom Brady was slumping; his then-83.6 passer rating was the worst of his entire career.
I am completely unable to explain to you why I chose this particular point in history to start calling him "Touchdown Tom." I didn't really like him any more or less than the next player. (Barring special circumstances, I like every football player. That is the rule.) Regardless, I began expressing the following two sentiments on Twitter:
1. Tom Brady's nickname should be "Touchdown Tom."
2. You should never count out Touchdown Tom.
I am also completely unable to explain the following events, but at the very least, I can show you.
The above graph was taken from Advanced NFL Stats (as were those below), a terrifically cool site that plots out the likely winner at each point in the game. The arrows point to the moments in which I polluted everyone's timeline with drivel about Touchdown Tom.
That line spiked up into Denver territory pretty early in the game, and it hung up there throughout the first half, because the Broncos built a rather shocking 24-0 lead. But I stuck to my stupid-ass guns, insisting that Touchdown Tom oughtn't be counted out, and Tom rewarded us all with a thrilling second-half comeback. The Patriots won in overtime, and the legend of Touchdown Tom was born.
Naturally, I had no choice but to maintain my convictions the following week. While this particular game isn't really a miracle, Touchdown Tom did indeed find a way to engineer a come-from-behind victory over the Texans.
No, see, the miracle came the next week.
Watch as the Browns' stock climbs, slowly but surely, until it peaks above 99 percent toward the very end. And then witness as they plummet at breakneck velocity. Brady threw two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds, thanks in large part to the Patriots' first successful onside kick in nearly 20 years.
It seems impossible, all of it. It's ludicrous. I'm equal parts giddy and annoyed. But the mandate from Football Heaven is clear: I must respect the magic and majesty of Touchdown Tom, and refrain from ever, ever counting him out.
And that is how we arrive at the theme of this week's BREAKING MADDEN. This is what we're going to do:
Music: "All By Myself," Céline Dion
I. CREATE AN ENTIRE ROSTER OF TOUCHDOWN TOMS.
In terms of skill ratings, of course, Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in Madden NFL 25. But buried deep within the game are ratings for skills Tom would rarely use -- kicking, tackling, pass blocking, et cetera. His ratings are terrible in all of these categories. Time to see how terrible!
I made 21 identical copies of Tom Brady, complete with his height, weight, and exact skill ratings in every category. Then I released every member of the Patriots' offense not named Tom Brady, and replaced them with Tom Brady. He'll be throwing to himself, handing off to himself, and blocking for himself.
II. MAKE THE COLTS' DEFENSIVE LINE REALLY GOOD IN THE FIRST HALF, AND REALLY TERRIBLE IN THE SECOND HALF.
Within the arena of Breaking Madden, nothing is more important than the preservation of the narrative. This week's narrative, of course, is Touchdown Tom's propensity for dramatic comebacks and the dangers of counting him out, so I engineered the game such that the Colts built an enormous lead in the first half, and let Tom do his thing in the second.
I did this by replacing the Indianapolis defensive line with players with maxed-out ratings in every category that mattered: speed, strength, tackling, hit power, and so forth. Once I hit halftime, I quit the game, dragged all their ratings down to zero, fired the game back up, and played another half.
They're all as small as I could make them -- five feet, 160 pounds -- for no other reason than that it made me laugh. As usual, I recruited these brave individuals via Twitter.
if you would like to be in this week's Breaking Madden, please provide your preferred football nickname— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) January 6, 2014
Thanks so much for your responses, everybody. By the end of it, I'd received nearly a thousand applications, and reading through them gave me about an hour of giggling. I decided upon seven individuals:
Defensive end: Grantland's Holly Anderson (@HollyAnderson)
Have you ever read a Wikipedia article and caught the feeling that the entire thing was completely made up? I get that with the "Master of Ceremonies" entry. There are like 900 words about the Catholic church and dudes in robes and the Roman empire and the Boy Scouts and Imperial Russia before you get to anything about hip-hop at all. Wikipedia is my substitute for college, which I did not attend, and if it turns out that it's made up, I am screwed.
Defensive end: Julie (@velocipietonne)
The comma is crucial here. If you don't indicate a pause by splicing your nickname with a comma, fans might grow so excited about your athletic abilities that they speak too quickly and compress your name into a single syllable. That's how Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Tom Brady came to be known simply as Tom Brady.
Defensive tackle: @DashTreyhorn
This is the best answer of the week, straight-up.
Defensive tackle: @TheRealTaz
This week's Breaking Madden features two ladies and a person with a lady nickname. The secondary objective behind the Breaking Madden series has always been to smash the patriarchy, but up until today, we've really only done that via beating the hell out of computer men.
Linebacker: Will Leitch of Sports on Earth (@williamfleitch)
When people send me requests to be in Breaking Madden, I read through them via a tool that doesn't prominently display who's tweeting at me. So when I read this, I laughed at the idea that someone would want Will Leitch's name as their nickname, and I tell you what, it wasn't until considerably later that I realized that the actual Will Leitch applied for inclusion and just wanted to be known as himself. This job is so difficult if you're an idiot!
Linebacker: Ben Plum (@beenplumb)
Duane is dearly beloved in corners of the Internet on account of his innate Duaneness. That video has one of my favorite YouTube comments sections ever. It's just ceaseless adulation of Duane. One time, I was reading through it and noticed that someone posted a comment to the effect of, "I don't think Duane is all that great." And man, I have never seen a commenter more thoroughly ripped to shreds. Just an army of all-caps and cussing. It was brutal.
Linebacker: Phil Hatzenbuehler (@Phildopip)
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Picard Maneuver referred to two things: the short-jumping of a ship's warp drive such that it briefly appears to be in two places at the same time, thereby fouling up the enemy's sensors, and Captain Picard's habit of pulling on the bottom of his shirt. Picard was assimilated by the Borg, tortured by the Cardassians, annoyed by Q, and burdened by a schedule full of social functions that he hated going to, but those nemeses came and went. The man's primary and constant conflict: his shirt was too damn short.
The Colts are ready. The Touchdown Toms are ready. Let's dance.
THE FIRST HALF.
(These GIFs you see are not from the actual game I simulated. I played a second game, with identical settings, just to show y'all what I was dealing with.)
Tom Brady is not very good at blocking, and the Colts' linespeople are essentially unstoppable. It was a recipe for sorrow.
Here, Julie gives Brady only 1.8 seconds to do something with the ball. That's in spite of Brady scurrying out of the pocket. While playing against these Colts, I found it almost completely impossible to accomplish anything with the football. It was though the Patriots' offensive line wasn't even there.
These linesfolk employed a curious means of tackling. They were like a singular organism, orbiting around each other in a sort of amorphous blob, writhing and flailing all over each other. Still, tackling the relatively enormous Tom Brady was like felling an oak tree. He rarely went down right away. On many occasions, he was helplessly stood up as the rest of the pack gathered for the kill.
And as Tom the running back met his tortured end, Tom the quarterback could do nothing but watch and despair.
It very quickly became clear that rushing attempts were fool's errands. Even when a tailback could get out of the backfield, Tom seemed to forget what in the world he was supposed to be doing.
Sir, it's really, really difficult to sell a fake if you're looking the wrong way. But since Breaking Madden is a Godless realm, he was not turned into a pillar of salt, and play resumed.
That's Ben Plum, making his way to the quarterback with speed that is absolutely unfair. Look at that. It's like he's on a motorcycle or something. I'm really glad I made them all really short, because it renders them all the more menacing.
Stopping the show at halftime was the only humane thing to do for Touchdown Tom. A second half would have killed him.
Even when Tom the quarterback could rip off a clean throw, Tom the receiver was thoroughly unqualified to catch it.
Tom Brady's default "Awareness" rating in the game is set at 99, the highest it will go, and NONE of it carried over to any other position. This Tom Brady doesn't even know he's playing football. This Tom Brady believes he's a deck hand in a prehistoric whaling vessel, long before the advent of harpoons, back when sailers attempted to kill whales by surrounding them with boats, frightening them with loud noises, and inducing such panic that they would beach themselves and die. He would tell you all about it -- he'd love to, in fact -- but he speaks only Klingon.
By the end of the first half, Tom no longer understood what was good and what was bad.
Coughing the ball up for a touchdown: BAD. BAD! But don't tell that to Tom, who appears perfectly happy with this arrangement. This nightmare football is ruining Tom Brady. We have had enough.
THE SECOND HALF.
Since narrative is king, I also juiced up Tom's Brady's receivers, Tom Brady, Tom Brady, Tom Brady, and Tom Brady. I made them considerable quicker and better at catching, an alteration that proved to be absolutely necessary.
I made no changes to the offensive line full of Toms. After removing every trace of athleticism or ability from the Colts' defensive line, they sort of took care of themselves.
On this occasion, Holly was so colossally ineffective that she couldn't even manage to remain on the same plane of existence as her blocker. Now, every three-dimensional game ever made has had issues with collision detection to some degree or another, and Madden is no exception. Sometimes a guy's hand will disappear into another dude's back or something, and it won't look right.
But I've logged countless game hours at this point, and I've never seen someone just disappear into someone else like that. This game knows it is being mocked, and it is getting cranky.
The game's "Awareness" skill is a hell of a thing to mess around with. Drag it down to zero, and there's really no ceiling for how stupid the players can get. This is Will Leitch, whose "Pursuit" rating is also flattened to zero, executing the worst pursuit angle in the history of American football.
While testing out these settings, I found this Colts D-line to be so horrible at tackling that I decided to just let Tom stand still, ripe for the sacking. It would take the Colts a solid 45 seconds to elude the Patriots' line, and another 20 or so of listless tackling to finally bring him down.
Say a prayer for Ben Plum, who will never, ever stop trying.
The last tackle attempt really makes the whole thing. HERE COMES THE AIRPLANE WHEEEEEEEE [falls down for third time in seven seconds]
THE FATE OF TOUCHDOWN TOM.
With the Colts' ratings kicked all the way up, this is how Madden simulated our first half:
Seventy-four points. The Colts hung a 74-0 lead on the Patriots through 30 minutes of football. Frankly, I had anticipated 30 or 40 points, and this worried me. 74 points approaches the limit of what is physically possible in one half of football.
Regardless, Touchdown Tom and I refused to count ourselves out.
And this is how it ended.
Music: "Swedenborgske Rom," Jaga Jazzist