In this day and age, the sport’s media loves to act like everything is the greatest of all time. Any good game, player, or team is the new greatest ever. But I am here to tell you that just because we all want to ignore anything that didn’t happen right before our eyes that the past still counts! And the best example of that right now, is all of the people out there proclaiming Tom Brady as the GOAT of the NFL.
In this article, I am going to breakdown exactly why Brady not only isn’t the best player in NFL history, as many people like to claim, he isn’t even the greatest quarterback ever! Sorry TB12 fans, he isn’t the best now, and as it looks like this year might be his last, he never will be! Let’s get started!
The Claim to Greatness
An NFL quarterback’s greatness tends to be rated in two ways. The stats they compile during their career, and by how many championships they have won. Some of the all-time greats have one and not the other. Terry Bradshaw has four rings and mediocre numbers. Dan Marino had all of the stats in the world, and never got a ring. We are going to take a look at both of these and prove beyond a doubt, that Brady just doesn’t deserve all the credit that he gets.
GOAT NFL Player
This first argument is going to be quick and easy, so I will get it out of the way right upfront. Brady isn’t the greatest NFL player ever, and really it isn’t even close. In order to be considered for the true NFL GOAT title, in my opinion, you need to not only be the best player at your position for the entire duration of your prime, you have to leave a legacy on the game.
My top three for NFL GOATs are Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, and Lawrence Taylor. After that, there is a significant drop off in consideration. My NFL Mount Rushmore only has three heads.
Jerry Rice was a thirteen-time Pro Bowler, a ten-time all NFL first-teamer, and a three-time Super Bowl champion. When he retired, he had every single passing and scoring record under his belt. Even in an era where passing is a much bigger part of the NFL game than when he played, he still holds nearly every significant receiving record including receptions (1,549); receiving yards (22,895 yards); most 1,000-yard receiving seasons (14); total touchdowns (208); and combined net yards (23,546)
Jim Brown played just nine NFL seasons. He led the league in rushing in eight of them. When he retired, he was the league’s all-time leading rusher. That record would stand for nearly twenty-years before Walter Payton broke it in 1984. Brown defined what a modern-day running back looked like as he was much bigger, faster, and stronger than anything the NFL had ever seen. Nearly all running backs now fit the Jim Brown mold.
Before Lawrence Taylor played, most conventional offenses used an I-formation with two running backs. However, during Taylor’s reign of terror, offenses had to add an extra tight end to help block him. The NFL never went back as I-formations are used sparingly at best these days. He changed the league permanently with his ability to get after the quarterback. In thirteen NFL seasons, LT made the Pro Bowl ten times and was an all-pro nine times. He won the defensive player of the year award three times and is one of only two defensive players ever to win the league MVP. When the NFL announced their top 100 all-time team, Taylor was the only defensive player in the top five.
As great as Brady has been, he has rarely been the best QB in the league in a given year. He has led the league in passing yards just three times in his twenty NFL seasons. He has been a first-team all-pro only three times. That means in seventeen seasons, Brady was not the best quarterback in the league. To truly be considered as the greatest ever to play, you have to at least be the best player of your own era when compared to your peers. Brady isn’t the best player ever, and it’s not close, but he does have a compelling case to be made as the greatest QB ever. We will now take a look at that.
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
We just talked about Brady’s somewhat underwhelming stats above. But I did cherry-pick some of those numbers, so I will give it to you straight right here. Below you will see a table with three players from Brady’s era individual career stats. You have to tell me which numbers are Brady’s.
As the game is constantly evolving, it is a fruitless exercise to try and compare current stats to historical passing numbers. Remember, Troy Aikman was Hall of Famer just a generation before and the most passing TDs he ever had in a season was twenty-three. That would get you benched these days. So, the table below is an apples to apples comparison. Ready? Ok, go.
|Mystery Player A||77,136||544||98.2|
|Mystery Player B||74,350||539||97.0|
|Mystery Player C||71,940||539||96.5|
So, which mystery player is Tom Brady? Here is a hint, it doesn’t matter. As you can see, none of those three players seem to stand out in any significant way from each other. If you are trying to make a case that Brady is the QB GOAT because of the stats, you shouldn’t be able to find players of his own era, that are so closely matched. If I listed Jerry Rice or Jim Brown’s stats next to their contemporaries, the contrast would be stark.
Just so you know that I didn’t just make up the numbers above, mystery player A is Drew Brees, B is Tom Brady, and C is Peyton Manning. To make Brady’s stats seem even a little more less significant, he has played twenty NFL seasons, Brees has played nineteen, and Manning played eighteen. Statistically, Drew Brees has him edged in yards, TDs, and passer rating.
To The Victor Goes The Spoils
Of all ways that quarterbacks are rated, winning seems to be the most important. We have seen some signal-callers that have amassed gaudy stats in their careers but won’t sniff the Hall of Fame, because they never took their team to the promised land. Names like Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, and Phillip Rivers come to mind of current QBs, that despite their elite numbers, will never be considered truly great.
If you are looking for retired greats that never won the Super Bowl, Dan Marino, Jim Kelley, and Warren Moon are notable. And you’ll notice that even though those guys won a lot of games and racked up eye-popping stats, they won’t be part of this conversation. To be considered elite in the NFL, you need to win championships.
This is where Brady really makes his case as the all-time best. Brady certainly has won more than his fair share of games in his career. Brady has six Super Bowl rings, which is the most of any quarterback ever. Very impressive for sure. The Patriots have also won eleven straight division titles, another very impressive run of success. He has a 30-10 postseason record and with all of those playoff games, owns most playoff passing records. But what if I told you that when you dig a little deeper, Brady might not be the main reason that the Patriots have won so many games.
Belichick Is The GOAT Coach
Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history. Everywhere he has gone, he has had a tremendous amount of success. In his first big NFL job, he helped lead the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles as their defensive coordinator. That performance got him his first head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns, and he took the cursed franchise to the playoffs and even won a playoff game in 1994. Twenty-five years later, that is still the last time the Browns won a playoff game.
After Cleveland, he coached one year with the Patriots as assistant head coach to Bill Parcells. That team won the AFC and went to the Super Bowl before losing to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. After a strange two-year stint with the Jets, Belichick took over as head coach of the Patriots in 2000. Before Belichick made the decision to draft Tom Brady in 2001, he already had a long and well-documented history of winning.
We all know the story from here. Brady and Belichick have combined to go to nine Super Bowls, winning six of them. In addition to the nine Super Bowl trips, the Patriots have also made it to four other AFC title games as well. That is an unprecedented stretch of winning.
Patriots Without Brady
Brady has been extremely durable in his time with New England. Outside of missing the entire 2008 season, he has mostly played every game. But when he hasn’t been on the field, the Patriots haven’t missed a beat. Brady famously took over for incumbent QB Drew Bledsoe in week two of his rookie year. He led the Patriots all of the way to the AFC title game, where he then got hurt and could not play. Most people don’t remember it, but it was Bledsoe, not Brady, that won the AFC title game for the Patriots.
Brady came back to win the Super Bowl the following week and officially displaced Bledsoe as the Patriots QB. The next time that the Pats were forced to play without Brady was the 2008 season when Brady got injured in week one. Matt Cassell took over for New England, after having not started a single game in college at USC. Belichick and Cassell led the Patriots to an 11-5 regular-season record and are the only team in NFL history not to make the playoffs with at least eleven regular-season wins.
Brady then missed four games at the start of the 2016 season for his role in the Deflate-Gate scandal. The Patriots were forced to turn to Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, neither of which had ever made an NFL start. they went 3-1 without Brady. While it is certainly a fairly small sample size, it would appear that with or without Brady, this team does a lot of winning with Belichick running the show.
Adam Vinatieri Is The GOAT Kicker
I would be remiss not to mention Adam Vinatieri in all this Patriot’s winning talk. As the Patriots kicker, Vinatieri played an enormous role in many of the Patriot’s biggest wins. He kicked what is widely considered the greatest field goal in NFL history when he made a 45-yard field goal in a blizzard against the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs. He made another in overtime of that same game to send the Pats to the AFC Championship game.
Vinatieri then made the game-winning field goal two weeks later, again as time expired, this time in the Super Bowl, against the Rams, to give Brady his first Super Bowl title. Two years later, Vinatieri nailed another game-winner as time expired to give the Patriots their second Super Bowl title against the Carolina Panthers. All told, in his ten years of kicking for New England, he nailed eighteen game-winning field goals in the last one minute of games. How much different would Brady’s legacy be had Vinatieri missed a couple of those seemingly impossible kicks?
Unfortunately, you can’t mention the New England Patriots without mentioning all of the controversies they have had throughout the Brady and Belichick era. Deflate-Gate, Spy-Gate, stealing opposing team’s play sheets, scrambling the signals of opposing team’s headsets, accusations of bugging the visiting teams locker room, fire alarms being pulled at the visiting teams hotel in the middle of the night, and too many controversial play calls to count, have led many to believe that the Patriots don’t play by the rules. What would Brady’s record be if they actually had to play by the rules in New England?
If Not Brady, Then Who?
I have made my case that Brady certainly isn’t the greatest player in NFL history. I have also made a case that he doesn’t have the best stats and that while he does have the most Super Bowl wins ever by a quarterback, some significant factors helped lead to all that success. So, if Rice, Brown, and Taylor are the real GOATs at any position, who is the greatest QB of all-time?
I am going with Joe Montana. Montana had all of the stats and accolades that you would expect from an all-timer. He won multiple league MVP’s, he was an eight-time Pro Bowler, he was first or second-team all-pro six times, and he led the league in passer rating and touchdowns multiple times each. But the real reason I am going with Cool Joe over Tom the Cheater? He was a real winner.
Just like Michael Jordan is always going to win the argument about the best NBA player ever over Lebron James, Montana will always have the edge over Brady in my book. Jordan went to six NBA Finals and won them all. Lebron has lost six times in the Finals. Jordan took his game to another level when it counted. The same could be said about Montana.
Montana took his team to four Super Bowls and went 4-0. His QB rating in the Super Bowl is still a record at 127.8. He also holds the records for most passes in the Super Bowl without an interception at 122. He won three Super Bowl MVP awards. In the one Super Bowl where he didn’t win the MVP? He threw for 357 yards and two scores, the second of which was the game-winning TD to John Taylor on one of the most famous throws of all-time.
While Brady has six Super Bowl wins, he also has three Super Bowl losses, which is the second-most ever for a QB, only trailing the four straight losses by Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills in the nineties. Two losses came to Eli Manning, a guy with a career record of 117-117, and one to Nick Foles, a career backup. Jordan over James, and Montana over Brady. But keep an eye on that Drew Brees guy as he has the stats now, and if he can pull an Elway and win a couple titles on his way out, he will join the conversation as well!