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It’s hard to get the true measure of a career like Tom Brady’s simply because, well, there’s never been one like it.
After all, setting aside the raw numbers (seven Super Bowl titles, three MVPs, and five Super Bowl MVPs), how many players in NFL history have had seemingly two or three different “primes” in their careers, won multiple Super Bowls in two different decades, and gone out playing the game as well as they ever had (at 44 years old, no less)?
The answer: probably just one.
Brady’s 20 years with the Patriots were already enough for him to be the greatest player in NFL history. Then, he went and tacked on two more years for the ages with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before officially calling it quits last week.
Here’s a look at all 22 of Brady’s NFL seasons from “best” to “worst,” though you can argue the GOAT only had two truly “bad” seasons in his entire career.
Note: “best” doesn’t always mean the season in which he played the best football. In some cases, Brady having an “OK” season statistically while winning a Super Bowl gets the nod over him having a better year and bowing out of the playoffs early.
Wait…Brady played as a rookie?
Why yes, he did.
Are we going to talk about his three pass attempts that year? No.
Tearing your ACL midway through the 2008 season opener, your first meaningful game since that improbable Super Bowl loss spoiled what could’ve been the greatest NFL season ever?
Not at all how Brady and the Patriots drew it up.
The only positive thing about that injury: it happened so early in the season Brady was able to start all 16 games in 2009.
The good news: Brady led the league in touchdown passes (28) and put up a respectable 3,764 yards.
The bad: Brady threw 14 interceptions, a career-high he’d hit two other times in his career.
Also, New England missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, losing its shot to repeat as champions.
It’s not Brady’s fault his best receiver was Reche Caldwell (760 yards receiving). (The ever-reliable Troy Brown was 35 this season and only put up 384 yards. He’d only play one more game with the Patriots after this year.)
Still, his 3,520 passing yards marked the worst output Brady would achieve over 16 or more games in a season, and he unsurprisingly earned no hardware for this effort. Brady also had a less-than-stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio that postseason (5-to-4), with Peyton Manning and the Colts knocking the Patriots off in the AFC Championship game en route to a Super Bowl title.
Why is it that all of Brady’s best statistical seasons seem to end without any meaningful hardware to go with them?
On one hand, he topped 4,000 yards passing in a season for the first time in four full seasons as a starting quarterback with the Patriots. But he continued a troubling trend of throwing far too many interceptions, once again matching his career-high of 14.
This time, the turnovers hit harder than they did the previous two seasons, and the Patriots couldn’t get past the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs.
It’s no surprise Brady’s first Gronk-less year since 2010 was the year he looked more mortal than he had in more than a decade. His 24 touchdown passes and 3.9 touchdown percentage were the lowest he’d put up since 2013 (more on that soon).
Of course, tt would’ve been helpful if his second-best receiver behind Julian Edelman (1,117 yards) wasn’t James White (645 yards) — he’s good, obviously, but that’s not enough. But that wasn’t the case, and the defense had to carry the freight for most of the season.
Unfortunately, neither offense nor defense was enough in New England’s wild-card loss to the Tennessee Titans, and Brady’s last pass of the season was returned for a touchdown by ex-teammate Logan Ryan. Just like that, the GOAT’s Patriots career was over.
Brady’s overall numbers were fine (4,343 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs) but nothing to write home about (by his standards, anyway). He also had his lowest completion percentage (60.5) since 2003, his second full season as a starter.
Of course, a lot of that might have had to do with having to rely more heavily on guys like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins with Rob Gronkowski out for most of the year with an arm fracture and later a torn ACL.
Not surprisingly, Brady couldn’t will the Patriots past a resurgent Peyton Manning and a far more talented Denver Broncos squad, falling in the divisional round of the playoffs.
After coming back from his ACL tear the year prior, Brady would only miss only four games for the rest of his career (due to the Deflategate suspension).
It wasn’t the cleanest year for the former MVP; though he put up 4,398 yards passing, he only threw for 28 touchdowns and got picked 13 times. What’s more: Brady and the Patriots didn’t do much of note in the playoffs that year, bowing out to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round.
But his toughness toward the end of the season in playing through broken ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand was no joke. It also set him up for the massive 2010 rebound that saw him win his second MVP.
Brady looking like he was squarely in his prime at 35 years old? In hindsight, not that surprising. His 4,827 passing yards in 2012 were the second-highest total of his career to that point and gave him an insane 11,000 yards in just a two-year span (2011-12).
Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment of the year: getting big production out of journeyman receiver Brandon Lloyd (991 yards, four TDs) with Rob Gronkowski fighting through multiple injuries and still maintaining the league’s top offense in terms of points and yards per game.
That AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens didn’t go well, though, as Brady tossed two picks against the eventual Super Bowl champions.
This was probably the “lamest” of Brady’s seven Super Bowl wins.
If we’re keeping it real, he wasn’t special by his own lofty standards. Though putting up 4,355 yards at age 41 is probably something only he could do, his touchdown (29) and interception (11) totals weren’t amazing. He also didn’t play exceptionally well in the postseason with just two touchdowns versus three interceptions in three games.
Of course, he got it done when it mattered, putting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs away in overtime in the AFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl and hitting Gronkowski for a clutch fourth-quarter throw to set up a touchdown that basically put the Super Bowl on ice.
Let’s be real here: the Patriots didn’t go 14-2 and win a Super Bowl because of Brady. His 3,620 yards were the second-lowest he would ever put up in a full season, and his 23 touchdowns were his worst full-season total.
He rode the top-ranked scoring defense in the league to the Super Bowl, where he went off for 354 yards and three touchdowns to help the Patriots knock off the Carolina Panthers.
The numbers were a little better than the year before (3,692 passing yards, 28 touchdowns), but Brady also tied his career-high with 14 picks.
Once again, he was solid, especially for that period of football. But the Patriots’ defense is why they got to the Big Game that year.
That said, Brady had a stellar postseason, completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 587 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Oh yeah, and his third Super Bowl win in four years.
The one that started it all.
The numbers through 15 games (14 starts) weren’t much to write home about (2,843 yards, 18 TDs), but that was a product both of Brady being inexperienced and the style of early-2000s NFL football. He was, for all intents and purposes, a rookie in terms of NFL readiness when he was first pressed into service that year.
Yet, while he was a passenger for much of the season, young Brady proved his mettle when it mattered most, leading three comeback drives in his first regular season.
He then gutted out 312 yards in a snow globe in the “Tuck Rule” game and finished the season with the drive that gave John Madden goosebumps.
Just like that, a legend was born.
One of those really good Brady seasons that isn’t going to get much shine here because the season didn’t yield much.
He had his fifth-best yardage total (4,770), tied for his fifth-highest number of touchdown passes (36) and had one of the lowest interception rates (1.1) of his career. In terms of Brady playing his best football, this season is up there.
But those blasted Broncos got Brady again. This time, Denver’s defense harassed him in the AFC Championship game, picking him twice, and Manning’s now-noodle arm stayed attached just enough not to blow it en route to another Super Bowl berth — the Broncos won this time.
By this point, good-to-great regular seasons were commonplace for Brady. This one was no exception (4,109 passing yards, 33 TDs, nine INTs, 97.4 rating). But he and the Patriots hadn’t broken through for a Super Bowl championship in a decade going into this season.
A Super Bowl thriller over the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks changed that, touching off a second three-title dynasty in Brady’s mid-and-late 30s.
While Malcolm Butler was the hero of that title-winning tale in the end, Brady (328 yards, four TDs) put the Patriots back at the top of the NFL world.
In any other year, Brady’s numbers (5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns, 105.6 rating) would’ve been enough for another MVP award.
But a quarterback explosion relegated him to being a Pro Bowl selection only. Drew Brees set the single-season passing yards record that year with 5,477, and Aaron Rodgers won his first MVP while helping lead Green Bay to a 15-1 record.
Still, this was probably the second-best passing offense the Patriots ever fielded, led by Welker (1,569 yards), Gronkowski (1,327), Hernandez (910) and Branch (702).
Why did they have to face the Giants in the Super Bowl again?
Sure, there was a 17th regular-season game, so you can quibble about whether or not Brady’s 5,316 passing yards is a true “career-high.”
But can we talk about how this man led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns (43) at 44 years old? That was even with losing one of his best receivers to an ACL tear mid-year (Chris Godwin) and another having a meltdown mid-game and getting cut from the team (Antonio Brown).
Let’s also not forget his fateful win at Gillette Stadium—another comeback win, mind you—against the team he played almost his whole career for.
Then, Brady almost gave us one more piece of pure magic in the divisional round, rallying his team from a 24-point hole to tie the game.
Though his career didn’t have the finish he wanted, you could argue he’s the only football player ever to have beaten Father Time.
The crazy part of this season wasn’t that Brady won MVP, made First-Team All-Pro, and led the league in passing for the third time in his career to that point.
It’s that he did all that at 40 years old.
He was so good at age 40 that he forced Bill Belichick to trade his young heir-apparent, Jimmy Garoppolo, to the San Francisco 49ers. And somehow, it wasn’t even the last Super Bowl he’d win in New England.
Of course, that wasn’t meant to be in 2017. Though Brady had an unbelievable 505-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Super Bowl, the Patriots couldn’t solve the man of mystery that was…Nick Foles.
This was what “making it look easy” looks like.
Brady spread the wealth everywhere in this campaign: Wes Welker was the team’s leading receiver with 848 yards, and yet that wasn’t a problem at all. Four pass-catchers (Deion Branch, Hernandez and Gronkowski) had more than 500 yards receiving.
Meanwhile, their quarterback put up an absurd 36 touchdowns versus just four interceptions to go with a 111.0 passer rating for the year.
Why isn’t it higher on the list? Because the Patriots lost to THE JETS after getting a first-round bye. Come on, man.
Sure, people called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl contenders when Brady signed there after the Patriots let him walk after the 2019 season. But did anyone really believe he was going to just jump right into a new offense and win a title at age 43?
Joke’s on us, apparently.
Brady took full advantage of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and an unretired Rob Gronkowski to the tune of 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns—the first time he’d hit that mark since his 50-TD season in 2007.
Then, he took the wild-card Bucs on a hellraising tour through Drew Brees’s New Orleans Saints, Aaron Rodgers’s Green Bay Packers, and Patrick Mahomes’s Kansas City Chiefs all the way to a Super Bowl championship.
In doing so, he became the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl for the third time. No big deal.
Brady didn’t have the best numbers of his career or earn an MVP that year (though he finished second in the voting). After all, he missed the first four games of the season after the “Deflategate” investigation convinced the league office it needed to take action.
But he went full “FEA” when he returned, throwing for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns in those 12 games and leading the Patriots to an 11-1 record as a starter.
Then, he simply did the impossible, helping the Patriots complete the largest comeback in Super Bowl history over the Atlanta Falcons. He finished second in MVP voting for the regular season, but he got the MVP award that mattered in the end.
Sometimes, it’s not about how something starts. It’s about how it finishes. That’s what made this year so special.
There have been a lot of great passers in NFL history. But until 2007, no one had ever played quarterback at a level anywhere near what Brady did that year.
He led the league in passing yards and set a then-record with 50 touchdown passes en route to his first MVP award. The Brady-to-Randy Moss connection was simply unfair, showing the Patriots how deadly the quarterback could be when you gave him an elite receiver.
He and the Patriots were at the peak of their powers and looked destined for a fourth Super Bowl championship in seven years. Then, it just came undone in the Super Bowl against the underdog New York Giants.
It feels somewhat wrong to end on a losing note, so to speak. But Brady was just so transcendentally good in 2007, what other choice do you have?
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