Does a Fourth Championship Ring Make Tom Brady the Best Ever?
One of three quarterbacks to win four championships
Tom Brady joined the list of quarterbacks in NFL history that have won four Super Bowls, with the Patriots latest championship win. Tom Brady has also been among the best quarterbacks statistically during the regular season in the era of football that he has played. One of Brady's best qualities throughout his career, has been his willingness to take an throw underneath the defense that is open, rather than making a throw downfield into a tighter window. With this approach to playing the quarterback position, Brady has been able to avoid turnovers. Brady has always had the talent around him to win quickly at the line of scrimmage in order to make these throws a possibility. The Patriots have also regularly featured a strong offensive line, that has provided the foundation for a strong running game during the seasons that Tom Brady has been the starting quarterback in New England. During the Patriots six times as the AFC Champions in recent years, their coaching staff has done a great job of going above and beyond with their innovation to create playoff success for the team. By playing great football on great football teams throughout his career, Tom Brady was fortunate enough to see his efforts rewarded in the form of four championships. A closer look at everything Tom Brady has accomplished throughout his career, will present a clearer picture on whether or not he is the greatest quarterback to ever play.
Being the greatest is not perfection, just being better than everyone else
Throughout Tom Brady's career, he has been among the best at reading a blitz and making the quick decision of where to go with the football. This included a very unpredictable approach of spreading the football around to a variety of running backs, receivers and tight ends, to prevent the defense from keying on individuals that can become perceived as the primary target in big situations. Brady's approach has not always led to him making the most impressive throws ever from the quarterback position, but it does put him among the most efficient ever to play the position at the NFL level. Brady was once presented with the opportunity at perfection and a fourth championship win in four attempts. The New England Patriots with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback, fell short in that ballgame by three points against a relentless Giants team in Super Bowl XLII. Despite Brady's efforts to take care of the football and to elevate his game in the postseason, the Patriots fell short of the championship goal the two times they made a Super Bowl appearance as a significant favorite. As far as taking care of the football goes for Brady, in only four out 13 seasons in which he played in 15 or more games, has he thrown fewer than 10 interceptions in a season. Brady has fallen short of being the perfect quarterback throughout his NFL career, but with the four championships, is he still the best?
Championships as a team accomplishment
Giving the quarterback too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses, is just a natural reaction for football fans. Throughout Tom Brady's career he has been a key piece of a very strong system developed by Bill Belichick's coaching staff to create the success they have sustained over the last 15 years. Tom Brady took over as the Patriots quarterback in Belichick's second season as head coach of the team, and he has been the face of the franchise ever since the team won three championships in four seasons.
After the Patriots took the NFL by storm with three championships in four seasons, life became more difficult for the Patriots despite being relevant for the nine seasons in between that ended without a championship win. The Patriots made two Super Bowl appearances during those years of relevancy, but an injury to Tom Brady in 2008, revealed something interesting about how structured Bill Belichick's system was for his quarterbacks. Twenty-six year old Matt Cassel in his fourth season as Tom Brady's backup, made his first career start in week two of the 2008 season after Brady was injured in the opener. Cassel went on to play in all 16 games that season, and he produced statistics that are better than five of Tom Brady's 13 seasons as the Patriots starting quarterback. This season is given little thought by NFL fans, because even though the Patriots earned an 11-5 record against a first place schedule, tiebreakers kept them out of the playoffs as the Dolphins won the AFC East with the same 11-5 record.
When the conversation about the greatest quarterback of all time arises, there are many comparisons between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that are made. Peyton Manning without a doubt has put together the greatest statistical career in the regular season, by any quarterback in NFL history. One thing is for certain here concerning Tom Brady. He has played on great football teams throughout the duration of his career. The strong running attack featured by the Patriots offense nearly every year Brady has been the starting quarterback, was the difference between New England going 11-5 without Brady, and Indianapolis going 2-14 with Manning. Brady had the benefit of playing under the system of one head coach throughout his entire career, while Manning had to elevate his team to another level while playing under three different head coaches during his time in Indianapolis. The stability and discipline that Bill Belichick established with the New England Patriots, allowed the team to become a championship organization with Tom Brady at quarterback. Without Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots may not have enjoyed as much success, but Belichick's system may have made a name for another player at the quarterback position with a similar talent level.
Belichick's system provided the foundation for six Super Bowl appearances
The discipline of the Patriots system under Bill Belichick led to the Patriots becoming a championship organization after having none before Belichick took over. After losing his head coaching job in Cleveland, Bill Belichick took over the Patriots job with the approach of doing whatever possible to gain any possible advantage in winning football games. With Brady ultimately winning a Super Bowl in his first year as a starting quarterback, Belichick's win at all cost approach may have led him to extreme measures in order to insure that his young quarterback had the opportunity to read defenses correctly. Without knowing how much of an advantage certain scandals provided the Patriots, they did show the lengths that Bill Belichick was willing to go to, in order to give his team a better chance of winning. Through attention to detail, the use of creative formations and making use of gadget plays in big situations, Belichick was able to create a winning culture in New England with Tom Brady as his quarterback. Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots quarterback when Belichick first took over, but his injury opened the door for Tom Brady to lead the charge set forth by Belichick's brilliance as an NFL head coach.
Is Tom Brady a quarterback who was made great by the system he is in?
How has Brady been able to do it?
To this point in the narrative, it may appear that this is a story telling the reasons why Brady is not as great as he appears. Terry Bradshaw was able to win four championships in four attempts without playing the quarterback position at an extremely high level, as a member of a dominant Pittsburgh Steelers football team. The narrative for Brady is much different than the narrative for Bradshaw however, as Brady started his career and won three championships before NFL offenses evolved into what the fans see today. Brady has been able to keep the Patriots franchise at a championship level throughout a time period in which they completely re-tooled their defensive personnel. Early in Brady's career, the Patriots regularly won tight ballgames in the postseason in which they were able to turn to their defense to protect the lead late. After losing players like Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Teddy Bruschi, Willy McGinest and Richard Seymour, it was up to Brady and the Patriots offense to adapt in order to stay relevant. Brady was able to do this by emulating to almost perfection, the no-huddle, fast paced offense that Peyton Manning had made popular in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.
Brady was able to emulate his rival in Peyton Manning, so effectively that the Patriots offense reached a level where they were able to compete in the postseason with their defense aging to the point where they could not maintain their previous playoff form. New England suffered their first postseason loss under Bill Belichick, following the 2005 season as they were making a bid for their third straight championship. After Peyton Manning and the Colts took an undefeated bid late into the 2005 season, Tom Brady and the Patriots started to emulate what made the Colts so successful, once they began their 2006 campaign. With the best array of weapons in his career, Tom Brady broke Peyton Manning's original single season touchdown pass mark with a 50 touchdown pass campaign in an undefeated 2007 regular season. Even though the Patriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl that season, the record breaking regular season effort elevated Brady's status from being just a good quarterback on a great team, to being Peyton Manning's primary rival for the title of best quarterback in that era of NFL football. Seasons to follow, where Tom Brady performed at an elite level, would only work to solidify his status near Manning's level and among the all time greats in the NFL.
In the no-huddle offense, Brady was able to take full control of the Patriots offense. His ability to read what defenses were trying to do, allowed him to get rid of the football quickly when they brought pressure. Brady also has shown a willingness to stand in the pocket and look for the open windows that his receivers are trying to create when defenses back off and play extra men in coverage. By quickly diagnosing what the opposing defense is trying to do, Brady has gotten the Patriots into the correct play call a very high percentage of time since that point where he was able to take ownership of the offense. Brady's patience and willingness to take what the defense is giving him, has kept the Patriots in nearly every ballgame they have played since the start of the 2006 season. Even in games where the Patriots faced a significant deficit early, smart decisions and flawless execution at the quarterback position have allowed the Patriots to pull of many improbably comebacks throughout recent years. All of this puts Brady among the best ever to play the game of football with two NFL MVP awards in 2007 and 2010.
Brady and Manning are among the all time greats, but who else?
Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Dan Marino are all among the all time greats to play the quarterback position, but it was Jim Kelly who was able to run the no-huddle offense effectively on a regular basis for whole games at a time. All of these players have contributed to the spectacular quality of football that NFL fans get to see on a regular basis. Unitas being the pioneer at the quarterback position, with each of the following names achieving different levels of greatness. With Montana, Marino and Kelly all playing during the same era of NFL football, it becomes much easier to compare those three. Unitas belongs in the conversation among the all time greats, but the purpose of this piece is to show who has played the quarterback position at the highest level. With fewer rules in place to favor offense, Unitas was not able to play quarterback at the level that greats who came after him, were able to achieve. Both Dan Marino and Jim Kelly helped the NFL to make strides at the quarterback position, but neither were able to display the consistent brilliance that Joe Montana produced throughout his career.
Even though Montana was not able to put together one spectacular season like Dan Marino's record breaking 1984 season where he threw 48 touchdown passes, Montana was the model of consistency throughout his career. Joe Montana was the perfect quarterback for the West Coast Offense that Bill Walsh ran in San Francisco. He fit the system and delivered consistently by straying from the system so rarely, on his way to four championships in four attempts. In San Francisco's winning culture, Joe Montana was able to provide Tom Brady with the blueprint that acted as a situational reference for him throughout his career. Each of these great quarterbacks contributed to excellent product that NFL fans see on the field today, with greatness at the quarterback position growing in each new generation. This leaves us with the question of, who is the player that has been able to play the quarterback position most brilliantly throughout his career?
Who is the greatest quarterback of all time?
The greatest quarterback of all time, is one of big name quarterbacks who played a fantastic season in 2014 on the back end of his prime years. However, it is not a quarterback whose team has won four championships with him taking the snaps for the offense. Peyton Manning is the quarterback who has put together the most brilliant career of any quarterback in NFL history. Peyton has earned this honor, because teams win championships, not individual players in a sport where 11 players on the field for each team on every snap.
Peyton has been heavily criticized for his performances in the postseason throughout his career, but the reality of the situation is that he has been a brilliant postseason quarterback since he entered his prime years. At ages 23, 24, and 26, Peyton Manning had three postseason games played in which he put together a subpar combined performance. From age 27 on, Peyton Manning only had one playoff appearance between 2003 and 2013 where he posted a quarterback rating below 88.3 for that playoff year. This was his playoff campaign following the 2006 season, where he faced three of the top defenses in recent history, and threw seven interceptions in three games on the way to a Super Bowl victory. Peyton was rewarded for his efforts that season, with a Super Bowl MVP award, despite posting a 70.5 quarterback rating in a postseason where his team put together a complete effort.
Some may disagree with me here, but fans need to look no further than the career completion percentages for the two quarterbacks. Peyton Manning has completed 65.5 percent of the passes in his career, while Tom Brady has completed 63.5 percent of the passes in his career. Peyton Manning has made the largest number of brilliant passes throughout his career, while putting in place a blueprint for how to play the quarterback position at the most efficient level possible. Along the way Peyton has broken numerous NFL records, and he should be able to put the all time touchdown passes mark well out of reach for nearly any quarterback, by the time he retires. I believe Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time, because he had to create the winning culture for his teams by himself. Most of the other great quarterbacks had the same coach for every year they played, who put the stable system in place for them. I welcome any comments from the audience, whether you agree or disagree with me. If you have an opinion to share, feel free to add to the conversation in the comment section below.
Who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history?