Deflategate has finally ended. The embarrassing witch-hunt began after New England’s 45-7 thrashing of Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game on January 18th, 2015. After a tiring back and forth of rulings, suspensions and appeals, Brady finally accepted his four-game punishment in July 2016. He returned to the field on October 9th.
That equates to 630 days. The NFL crowned a new champion during this time period. Donald Trump went from reality show host and hairdo extraordinaire to the Republican nominee for President of the United States. A couple could conceive and give birth to not just one, but two babies if they were in a serious rush.
Roger Goodell went after one of the league’s biggest stars and would not relent until a suspension stuck. Perhaps the commissioner hoped the legal battle would serve as a smoke screen, distracting fans from the NFL’s growing concussion problem. Whatever the reason, New England’s nightmare is over.
There’s no visual evidence of Brady throwing the football while simultaneously flipping Goodell the bird with his other hand, but a 406-yard, three touchdown undressing of the Browns can be interpreted that way. He continues to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL at age 39 – but is Brady the greatest of all time?
It’s always been a polarizing conversation piece, especially after the Patriots got off to a 3-0 start without their franchise QB. The sports world jumped on the opportunity to downgrade Brady in the wake of Garoppolo and Brissett’s success. This article hopes to sift through evidence on both sides of the argument.
Here are 8 Reasons Why Tom Brady is the GOAT and 7 Reasons He Isn’t. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and personal rankings.
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15 GOAT: Playoff Win-Loss Record
Tom Brady is the winningest playoff quarterback in NFL history. He has a 22-9 postseason record, which is good for a .710 win percentage. To put this in perspective, he individually has more playoff victories than 23 NFL franchises. The graphic the Olympics always flash about Michael Phelps’ career medal count versus smaller countries? The NFL could share the same type of statistic about Brady if it wanted even more ill will thrown at the Patriots. His 22 victories exceed Joe Montana’s 16 wins. It’s exactly double the amount of other greats, Troy Aikman, Ben Roethlisberger, and Roger Staubach. If fans and critics judge signal callers on their performance when the lights are brightest, Brady not only passes with flying colors, he blows other GOAT contenders out of the water.
14 NOT THE GOAT: Bloated Record From Early Success
Tom Brady started his career with unprecedented success in the playoffs, going a perfect 10-0 through his first ten starts. Since then, Brady has maintained a record above .500, but has fallen back to earth at 12-9. The latter stretch included two winless postseasons. In 2009, Brady lost to the Ravens in Foxboro thanks to four turnovers. He threw three interceptions and lost one fumble. He managed only 154 passing yards. The next year, Brady was one-and-done again after falling to the Jets. Matt Sanchez, the famed butt fumbler, defeated him. Everyone has off days and Brady has had more storybook moments than postseason duds, but he routinely failed to get the job done after his first three Super Bowls. Brady’s 22 wins are heavily weighted toward the early years.
13 GOAT: Limited Supporting Cast
Joe Montana won two of his four Super Bowls throwing to the best wide receiver in NFL history, Jerry Rice. He also enjoyed the benefit of having the NFL’s 1988 MVP, Roger Craig, in the backfield. Terry Bradshaw, the third quarterback to win four Super Bowls, doesn’t even crack the “Greatest Ever” debate. His supporting cast included Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth. When Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls, he was handing the ball off to Emmitt Smith and throwing to Michael Irvin. Tom Brady has not enjoyed such riches. He’s spent most of his career turning water into wine. Kevin Faulk was a serviceable utility man. Corey Dillion put together one notable year in New England, rushing for 1,635 yards in 2004. David Patten? Troy Brown? His early receivers followed the Patriot way but hardly struck fear in the hearts of defenders. Brady revived Randy Moss’ career. The electric receiver wasted away in Oakland before joining New England and faded again after his departure. Rob Gronkowski is an absolute monster and a future Hall of Famer, but Brady only won his most recent championship with him.
12 NOT THE GOAT: Brady the Game Manager
No, Tom Brady is not in any way a game manager – but he used to be. He rode his defense’s coat tails to his first three Super Bowls. Brady operated Belichick’s system efficiently, but he’s not the reason the team won. In 2001, 2003, and 2004 (his first three championships), Brady didn’t throw more than 28 touchdowns. Here are his touchdown-to-interception totals: 18/12 (2001), 23/12 (2003), and 28/14 (2004). Brady’s first 3-0 trip through the playoffs involved one touchdown and one interception. He threw for 145 yards against St. Louis in the Super Bowl, though he inexplicably named Super Bowl MVP. He exploded in his second championship game for 354 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but he wasn’t elite during the season or playoffs to that point. Brady threw for five touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 2004 playoffs. Still, he never topped 236 yards passing in any of the three games. Defense wins championship. Teams win championships. Brady just played for the side that did.
11 GOAT: 50 Touchdown Passes
Forget that Tom Brady threw more then 28 touchdowns only once between 2001 and 2009. When New England finally acquired a threat at receiver, Brady amassed yards through the air at will. Defenses seemingly moved in slow motion against the 2007 Patriots, as Brady threw a then-record 50 touchdown passes, 23 of which found Randy Moss. To top it off, he only surrendered eight interceptions. Imagine if Brady had a weapon like Moss his entire career. Before 2007, Brady was known for winning. It wasn’t always pretty. He simply got the job done. Tom flipped a switch and began to lead one of the most dynamic passing attacks in the NFL during the second half of his career. Fans in awe of Peyton Manning’s eye-popping stats cannot ignore the numbers of his rival in New England.
10 NOT THE GOAT: Tarnished Legacy
Whatever your opinion on Spygate and Deflategate, they happened. The public attaches the incidents directly to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In 2007, the Jets caught a Patriots video assistant illegally taping New York’s defensive signals. An investigation turned up a library of scouting materials and opponents’ signals dating as far back as seven years. There were even handwritten notes used in the 2002 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Goodell ordered the materials destroyed. Goodell fined Belichick $500,000, the team $250,000, and took away the Patriots’ first round draft pick. Some owners saw Goodell’s destruction of evidence as an effort to hide just how influential New England’s spying had been. Opposing fans did not hesitate to attribute all three Super Bowl wins to cheating.
When the league found Brady was at least generally aware of equipment managers deflating balls for the 2015 AFC Championship Game, Goodell reacted with an iron fist – due in part to the Spygate fallout. For what it’s worth, Joe Montana claims everyone cheats. The 49ers lineman used to spray silicone on their shirts until they got caught. The publicity of New England’s scandals gives dissenters ammo to discredit Brady’s reign anyway.
9 GOAT: Silences the Haters
Don’t make Tom Brady angry. After the 2007 Jets game, the Patriots were universally considered cheats. No one knew how much spying manipulated the Patriots’ dynasty-building championships. Tom cleared it up for everyone. Brady not only tore through the league with 50 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, but he also led New England to a 16-0 record. The run at perfection ended on Super Bowl Sunday, when Brady and the undefeated Pats fell to the New York Giants. Brady’s other vendetta against doubters resulted in Brady’s elusive fourth ring. 2013 saw Brady throw 25 touchdowns, his lowest total since 2006. The Patriots started the next year 2-2 and lost a week four game 41-14 to Kansas City. The Brady era of dominance was officially and emphatically over – until it wasn’t. The Patriots lost two games the rest of the season on their way to a Super Bowl. His 406-yard performance against the Browns last Sunday should put the league on notice.
8 NOT THE GOAT: The Genius of Bill
Coaches and quarterbacks are naturally linked together through highs and lows. In the Belichick-Brady partnership, Brady needs Bill more. The Patriots change game plans and schemes more than any other team on a weekly basis. Belichick benched a running back, Jonas Gray, a week after he gained 201 yards and four touchdowns. He used a wide receiver as a number three cornerback during the 2004 Super Bowl season. Belichick trades and releases big name players at will. He wins through it all. People can point to Belichick’s 36-44 record with the Browns and say he cannot succeed without Brady. What they don’t realize is he turned Cleveland into an 11-5 team in 1994. The team won a playoff game. They don’t realize that the Browns were an early Super Bowl pick, especially after a 3-1 start, in 1995. Art Modell sabotaged the team when he announced the franchise would move to Baltimore at season’s end. Like it or not, Bill Belichick is a genius. He was even smart enough to resign as the Jets’ head coach after one day. There’s no debating that Brady and Belichick are unstoppable together, but what if Brady played his career with a different coach? Is he the same quarterback? Who has more rings? Bill is the smarter bet.
7 GOAT: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
All those in the Peyton Manning GOAT camp stand up. Now, go home. You’re wrong. Manning may be the regular season king. He’s thrown for an NFL record 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns. The only Super Bowl he won, however, was against Rex Grossman. The Denver defense handed him the second ring as a retirement gift. Let’s compare Manning and Brady head to head. The two Hall of Fame quarterbacks faced each other 17 times in their careers. Peyton got the last laugh in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, but the overall record is 11-6 in Brady’s favor. Manning has thrown for more yards (4,985 to 4,323) and touchdowns (35 to 32), but also tossed more interceptions (22 to 15). That equates to a better quarterback rating for Brady in the rivalry. Here’s a look at career playoff stat lines to separate them further:
QB A: 649/1027, 7,339 yards, 40 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, 87.4 rating, and two game winning drives.
QB B: 738/1183, 7,957 yards, 56 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, 88.0 rating, and nine game winning drives
Who do you want to lead your team in the clutch? Quarterback B – Brady. Brady has started four more playoffs games, which puts Manning at a higher pace for yardage. It’s the only category that points to Manning. The close rating is skewed by Manning’s ability to play in a dome while Brady operated in the cold of Foxborough. While Manning is still a good (but not great) playoff quarterback, he is no Tom Terrific.
6 NOT THE GOAT: Patriots Without Brady
Consider this “The Genius of Bill Part Two.” During the Belichick era, the only time the Patriots struggled without Tom Brady occurred in 2000. Tom Brady was a sixth round rookie and on the bench behind Drew Bledsoe. The team went 5-11. It was Belichick’s first year. He didn’t have his system or players in place yet. After Brady drove Bledsoe out of town with his performance, Bledsoe never achieved better than a 9-7 record with the Bills or Cowboys. The pre-Brady year doesn’t wholly factor in. Fast forward to 2008. Brady goes down with an ACL injury in week one. Matt Cassel takes over as starting quarterback. The Patriots still finished 11-5, becoming the second team in NFL history to miss the playoffs with 11 wins. Brady would have almost certainly led them to a better record, but that’s not the point. Cassel had only one good year after turning his success with New England into a new contract in Kansas City. He’s now considered a below average NFL quarterback. Look at his stats as a first year starter compared to Brady:
Brady (2001): 15 games, 63.9%, 2,843 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions
Cassel (2008): 16 games, 63.4%, 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions
The league’s passing game opened up in the seven years between debuts. Cassel attempted 100 more passes than Brady. Still, he averaged more yards per throw. The statistics are similar. If Belichick developed Cassel as a starter instead of Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel, Cassel’s trajectory may have been far different. This year, the Patriots stormed to a 3-0 start during Brady’s suspension. Patriots fans felt a twinge of guilt due to their sudden love affair with Jimmy Garoppolo. The wheels fell off in a shutout loss against Buffalo, but the Patriots once again survived without their MVP. Compare that to the Colts without Manning (2011) or Packers without Rodgers (2013).
5 GOAT: Super Bowl Trips
Tom Brady has led New England to an inconceivable six Super Bowl appearances. John Elway appeared in five, winning his final two to avoid joining Marino in conversation for greatest quarterback without a ring. Defensive Tackle Mike Lodish is the only other man to have played in six Super Bowls. Dob Beebe served as a receiver for six Super Bowl teams, but took the field in just three of the big games. In case you were looking for another Michael Phelps-type stat, only four other teams have even made it to six Super Bowls. Brady became the third quarterback to win four Super Bowls in 2014 and the second quarterback to win three Super Bowl MVP awards. It’s hard to argue with his sustained success on the game’s biggest stage.
4 NOT THE GOAT: The Malcolm Butler Effect
It’s hard to argue with Brady’s results, but not impossible. Every major sporting event and achievement has what ifs. It’s a complicated wormhole, especially considering the fact that Brady has never won (or lost) a Super Bowl by more then four points. Each playoff journey and Super Bowl result could be different with a couple bounces in the opposite direction. The tuck rule game helped kick start a New England dynasty, but the other end of the spectrum is more intriguing. Seattle’s decision to pass on the goal line and Malcolm Butler’s interception saved Tom Brady’s legacy. Alter this play and Brady’s Super Bowl record suddenly drops to 3-3. Not only that, but he won his first three with a stout defense rather than an exemplary offense. Those victories also came before Spygate. He lost two to Eli Manning, currently 2016’s league leader in “what the hell was that” throws. The .500 Super Bowl record coupled with cheating allegations would raise eyebrows of critics across the board.
3 GOAT: Playoff Passing Records
Sometimes numbers don’t lie. Brady is the all time leader in playoff passing yards with 7,957. His 738 completions? Also number one. He holds the playoff record for touchdown passes with 56. Tom Brady has more completions (164), passing yards (1,605), and touchdowns (13) than any player in Super Bowl history. He set the single game Super Bowl record for completions (37) against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. He completed the most consecutive passes in Super Bowl history (16) during Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants. If that seems like an overwhelming regurgitation of stats, it’s only because he has set so many records during crunch time. The sheer volume of passing statistics and accomplishments in the playoffs does not require analysis. Simply put, he’s pretty darn good.
2 NOT THE GOAT: Post-Brady NFL
The final argument against Brady is admittedly speculative, but it truly is too soon to tell. Apply Bill’s status as the more valuable member of the duo. He has more years left in the tank than Brady. It’s unlikely the two retire together – unless Brady plays until he’s 50, a pipe dream shared by all Pats fans. Belichick has built a solid team with depth. It showed during the first quarter of the 2016 season. Jimmy Garoppolo displayed tremendous promise. If he (or another Patriot QB) wins one or two Super Bowls, does Brady receive a downgrade? The farther Belichick can take New England after Brady’s departure, the more likely Brady falls slightly in all-time rankings. Right or wrong, it’s human nature. There’s also a man named Rodgers with a playoff quarterback rating 10 points higher than Brady’s (while playing home games at the Frozen Tundra). Say what you want about his recent struggles, but if Rodgers adds another ring or two, he does it with an average defense and less brilliant coach.
1 GOAT: Overall Body of Work
A relative unknown, selected with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, leads a team without a previous Super Bowl victory to four rings. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It’s one of the biggest underdog stories in the history of sports. His two NFL MVP Awards and 11 Pro Bowls place him in distinguished company. Brady ranks 4th in career completions (4,981), 5th in passing yards (58,434), 4th in passing touchdowns (431) and tied for 5th in passer rating (96.5). He’s still going. Athletes are often the last to know it’s over. Their performance can drop off a cliff, but Brady’s demise doesn’t appear to be scheduled this year. His numbers will only rise. He could add at least one more ring before he hangs up the cleats. Doing so would slam the door on future arguments. Brady’s body of work already establishes him as one of the game’s greatest. Everything from here on out is just icing on the cake.
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