Patriots

Post-injury Tom Brady alone might be the NFL’s best ever

TB12's last 10 seasons stand alongside the entire careers of some all-time greats.

Tom Brady New England Patriots 2019 Super Bowl
Tom Brady pumps up the crowd at Sunday's Super Bowl LIII send-off rally at Gillette Stadium. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Go ahead and erase three Super Bowl wins and a fourth conference championship from Tom Brady’s resume. The two Super Bowl MVP awards against the Rams and Panthers. The seasons he led the league in touchdown passes in 2002 and 2007. The seasons he led the league in passing yards in 2005 and 2007. In fact, go ahead and scrub the first 197 touchdowns and 26,446 yards he accumulated in the regular season as an NFL quarterback.

Go ahead and remove the undefeated regular season. The first four Pro Bowl nominations. The first-team All-Pro nod and MVP in 2007. Eighty-seven regular-season wins and 22 game-winning drives, plus a 14-3 postseason record. Six additional fourth-quarter, game-winning playoff drives, including a couple that instantly turned ties into titles.

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Without all of that, Tom Brady’s achievements from 2001 through eight football minutes of 2008, he is not the greatest quarterback of all time.

Or is he?

Next Sunday night in Atlanta, Brady will complete his 10th season since tearing the ACL in his plant leg. He’ll complete it the same way he has finished four other campaigns since the surgery that rebuilt his knee: In the Super Bowl, matching the five big-game starts John Elway made in 16 seasons. Elway is the only other quarterback to make five Super Bowl starts in his career, regardless of its length.

Winning at the highest level is given more weight as a metric of greatness for quarterbacks than perhaps for any other position in team sports, so that alone makes the case Brady would belong in the Hall of Fame even if he hadn’t played a pro down before 2009.

But when Super Bowl trips are considered in combination with everything else he’s piled up, post-surgery Brady doesn’t merely belong among the best, but merits mention in any discussion about the single best quarterback to ever play.

Brady isn’t necessarily atop the statistical leaderboards looking just at his post-surgery numbers, but he’s still among the best in a bunch of significant categories — much like Joe Montana, who was widely declared the GOAT before Brady bumped him from that perch in the brains of all reasonable assessors in recent years.

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Via profootballreference.com, with all stats regular-season only unless otherwise noted:

Touchdown passes

1. Peyton Manning 539 1998-2015
2. Drew Brees 520 2001-18
10. BRADY, 2009-18 320
11. John Elway 300 1983-98
17. Joe Montana 273 1979-94

Even if everything before Bernard Pollard’s low hit was expunged from Brady’s record, he’d still ahead of Elway and Montana in touchdown passes.

A couple of other interesting comparisons come further down the list: Both Jim Kelly and Kurt Warner reached the Hall of Fame by starting for about a decade, and played for what were considered potent offensive teams. Kelly had 237 career touchdowns, and Warner had 208.

Passer rating

1. Aaron Rodgers 103.1 2005-18
2. BRADY, 2009-18 100.6
3. Russell Wilson 100.3 2012-18
4. Drew Brees 97.7 2001-18
7. Peyton Manning 96.5 1998-2015
13. Joe Montana 92.3 1979-94

Only two qualifying quarterbacks in history have posted ratings in the triple digits, yet that is the company Brady has kept for ages 32-41.

Passing yards

1. Drew Brees 74,437 2001-18
2. Peyton Manning 71,940 1998-2015
3. Brett Favre 71,838 1991-2010
14. Drew Bledsoe 44,611 1993-2006
15. BRADY, 2009-18 44,068
17. Aaron Rodgers 42,944 2005-18
19. Joe Montana 40,551 1979-94

This is one spot where the limiting Brady to a decade restricts him in the rankings. Everyone ahead of him, save for Matt Ryan, built their numbers in at least 14 seasons. That said, Brady is still ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Montana, and a 4,000-yard season next year will put him in the top 10.

Completion percentage

1. Drew Brees 67.3% 2001-18
2. Kirk Cousins 66.5 2012-18
8. Aaron Rodgers 64.8 2005-18
9. BRADY, 2009-18 64.7
15. Joe Montana 63.2 1979-94

Brady has become slightly more accurate over the latter half of his career as compared to the first, even while increasing the gain on his average attempt by half a yard. Only eight quarterbacks have ever been more accurate than Brady has since 2009.

Interception percentage

1. Aaron Rodgers 1.45% 2005-18
2. BRADY, 2009-18 1.49
3. Colin Kaepernick 1.8 2011-16
4. Derek Carr 1.92 2014-18
5. Russell Wilson 1.93 2012-18

 

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A remarkable note: While Brady ranks third all-time in touchdown passes, 46 quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions. By comparison, Favre, Peyton Manning, and Marino are among the top 10 on both lists. Since 2009, Brady is on par with Rodgers’ all-time low, though the other names on the list speak to the way this stat has been skewed by the evolution of the game.

Wins

t1. Peyton Manning 186 1998-2015
t1. Brett Favre 186 1992-2010
3. John Elway 148 1983-98
t4. Dan Marino 147 1983-99
t4. Drew Brees 147 2001-18
9. BRADY, 2009-18 120
11. Joe Montana 117 1979-94

Even without his first seven seasons as a starter, Brady would still rank among the 10 winningest quarterbacks ever, three victories ahead of Montana — who helmed his team to a 2-5 mark in 1980, then 3-6 in 1982.

Playoff wins

1. Joe Montana 16 1979-94
2. BRADY, 2009-18 15
t3. Terry Bradshaw 14 1970-83
t3. John Elway 14 1983-98
t3. Peyton Manning 14 1998-2015

If the Patriots win Super Bowl LIII, Brady will match his childhood hero without needing the first 17 postseason games he played.

Playoff touchdown passes

1. BRADY, 2009-18 47
2. Joe Montana 45 1979-94
3. Brett Favre 44 1991-2010
4. Peyton Manning 40 1998-2015
5. Aaron Rodgers 36 2005-18

Brady has six 3-touchdown playoff games since turning 37, which is one more than he had before then. He has just two touchdowns in this year’s AFC playoffs, when he was masterful, but New England finished eight scoring drives on the ground.

Playoff passing yards

1. Peyton Manning 7,339 1998-2015
2. BRADY, 2009-18 6,963
3. Brett Favre 5,855 1991-2010
4. Joe Montana 5,772 1979-94
5. Ben Roethlisberger 5,256 2004-18

Manning made the playoffs 15 times, yet if Brady throws for more than 376 yards in the 2019 Super Bowl against the Rams, he’ll usurp Manning’s whole career in his last 10 postseasons. Accumulating yardage is certainly circumstantial and relates to opportunity, and Manning’s nine one-and-dones are trumped by Brady’s eight straight AFC championship appearances.

4th-quarter playoff comebacks

1. BRADY, 2009-18 6
2. Joe Montana 5 1979-94
t3. Terry Bradshaw 4 1970-83
t3. John Elway 4 1983-98
t3. Russell Wilson 4 2012-18

Trailing the Seahawks by 10 points in the final period and falling behind the Falcons 28-3 in the latter part of the third quarter should probably count double. They don’t, and yet post-surgery Brady still leads.

Game-winning playoff drives

t1. BRADY, 2009-18 6
t1. John Elway 6 1983-98
t3. Eli Manning 5 2004-18
t3. Joe Montana 5 1979-94
5. Dan Marino 4 1983-99

If there was no Snow Bowl, no Madden-defying drive against the Rams, no championship-producing march against the Panthers, and no 66-yard response to put the Pats ahead of the Eagles to stay in Super Bowl XXXIX, Brady would still have authored as many game-winning, fourth-quarter (or later) playoff drives as any quarterback ever has.

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And that doesn’t even include the two times in the past seven years he’s led a go-ahead drive only to see his defense give back the advantage.

Accolades

Brady may not play this [expletive] to go to Pro Bowls, but he’s been named to the AFC squad each of the past 10 seasons. Peyton Manning, Favre, and Brees are the only other quarterbacks to earn more than 10 nods in their careers.

Manning, Favre, and Johnny Unitas are the only QBs to win more than the two MVP awards Brady has earned since 2009, and Montana is the only QB with more Super Bowl MVPs than the two (and counting?) Brady has claimed in that same span.

On top of that, Brady’s led the league in TD passes twice more in the past decade and has also paced the NFL in both passing yards and passer rating in different seasons.

So, would post-surgery Brady be the GOAT?

Brady’s past decade compares respectably to other candidates’ entire careers. His achievements as a winner and a postseason performer in that time should be the envy of all except maybe Montana.

And, remember, it’s not over. Before he hangs up his Under Armours for this season, Brady could well have another Super Bowl title — and Super Bowl MVP — added to his resume. If he fulfills his informal promise of playing to age 45, a merely average level of play will have his reconstructed ACL to the cusp of the top five in career yards, touchdowns, and probably wins.

Which makes it even clearer that claiming any quarterback has been better than Brady when considering his entire body of work has long since become a brand of lunacy espoused exclusively by trolls.

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