Friday, February 29, 2008

Not The Greatest Quarterback Of All Time, Part One: Tom Brady

Did Super Bowl XLII damage any player’s reputation more than Tom Brady’s? If New England had won that game as expected, we’d right now be hearing football experts throughout the land anointing Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time. You know it’s true. After he completed just his fourth season as the Patriots’ starter we first heard the whispers about Brady possibly winding up as the greatest ever. Look where he was after the 2004 season: three rings, a 3-0 Super Bowl record, two Super Bowl MVP awards, several classic game-winning drives, and only three postseason picks en route to a perfect 10-0 postseason mark. Sure you could quibble about a few things, Brady really didn’t do much in Super Bowl XXXVI until the end, and he got outplayed by Jake Delhomme in Super Bowl XXXVIII, a game in which Brady’s late game heroics might not even have been necessary had he not thrown an end zone interception on third-and-goal midway through the 4th quarter. Still, 10-0 is 10-0.

Lots of people now started comparing Tom Brady to Joe Montana. Sure Montana won four Super Bowls to Brady’s three, but Montana’s third didn’t come until he was 32 years old. Brady won his third at 27. But a few cracks in the armor soon appeared. In 2005, Brady’s Patriots travelled to Denver in the second round of the playoffs. Trailing 10-6 near the end of the 3rd quarter, New England faced a 3rd-and-5 at the Denver five-yard-line. A TD would give momentum and the lead. Instead, Brady threw a horrible interception to Champ Bailey, who took it all the way back to the Patriots’ one to set up an easy Denver TD. 17-6 Broncos, the Pats were done, and the dream of a third-straight Super Bowl ended.

In the second round of the 2006 playoffs, Brady played even worse. Against the Chargers, he suffered his first-ever three-interception playoff game. The final one seemingly putting the Patriots in a huge hole late in the game. But luckily Troy Brown knocked the ball out of Marlon McCree's hands, NE recovered, and Brady pulled another one out of his you-know-where but his luck then ran out the following week. Against Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game, Brady led his team to a seemingly insurmountable 21-3 lead against a team he had owned. Even the biggest Colts homer could not possibly have expected a win at that point but the Colts and Peyton Manning shocked everyone with one of the game’s great comebacks and stormed back to take a late 38-34 lead. To date, all of Brady’s great comeback drives ended in field goals. This time it would take a TD. Brady drove his team from its own 21 to the Colts’ 45 in the final minute, but his shot at another Super Bowl died when he threw an interception with 24 seconds left. So after nothing but playoff success, Brady wound up missing the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons thanks to his own mistakes. Still, 12-2 is 12-2. Nobody’s perfect right?

The only real criticism you could have of Brady was his failure post an MVP-type season. Brady never topped 28 TD’s in a season and he only threw for 4000 yards once. Meanwhile, his big rival Peyton Manning was doing those things almost every year. Now Brady's apologists pointed to his lack of big-time receivers as the reason for his not-so-stellar numbers. And when Randy Moss and Wes Welker landed on the 2007 Pats, those Brady apologists sure as hell looked like they knew what they were talking about! Dude threw 50 freakin’ touchdowns in 2007. 50!!! An all-time record. And 4806 yards passing! And a 16-0 regular season! Sure New England ran up the score in shocking weekly displays of bad sportsmanship, but 50 TD’s is 50 TD’s. Brady ran away with the MVP award. So Brady set the NFL passing TD mark, won the MVP, and won every regular season game. All he had to do to cap off the greatest quarterback season in NFL history was to win that fourth Super Bowl. And with that fourth Super Bowl, Brady would be well on his way to cementing his case as the greatest QB who ever played the game.

One problem. Brady forgot to bring his A-game. He forgot to bring his B-game even. Maybe he brought his C-game. Not discounting the incredible performance by the New York Giants’ defense, there’s no way to say Brady deserved to win that game. The greatest offense of all time scores 14 points? How does that happen? Yeah, Brady’s stats don’t look that bad. He didn’t throw any picks and he completed 60% of his passes. But look at his Yards Per Attempt, 5.5. That is horrible. He didn’t make a single big play all game and, in Super Bowls, nothing is more important than big plays. Nobody’s going to confuse Eli Manning with Tom Brady but in crunch time the guy made some huge plays (i.e the 45-yarder to Boss, and some other play near the end of the game. It’ll come to me later). Brady fumbled, costing his team a field goal, when he held on to the ball too long at the end of the first half. He misfired several times when he had receivers open. He just didn’t get the job done.

You know what’s funny? If the Giants don’t pull off that miracle drive at the end, all of the above is forgotten. All we would have heard about was Brady’s 4th quarter drive that gave New England the lead with less than 3 minutes to play. “When it counts, the guy gets it done”, “Brady just knows how to win”, etc., etc., blah, blah, pick your cliche. He finally would have had that Super Bowl-winning TD drive, just like Joe. And 4 rings, just like Joe. And a 15-2 playoff record, much better than Joe. But he didn’t. And he doesn’t.

So maybe Brady still wins another Super Bowl or two before his career is over. It’s unlikely Brady racks up career numbers comparable to Marino, Favre, or Peyton Manning. So his legacy rests on Super Bowls. And now he can’t say he never lost one. And he can’t say he never played badly in one. Joe Montana can.

Not The Greatest Quarterback Of All-Time: The Series

Tom Brady
Brett Favre
John Elway
Dan Marino
Johnny Unitas
Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham
Joe Montana
Bart Starr

Friday, February 22, 2008

Art Monk: Hall of Famer?

Recently hall of Fame voters ended years of controversy by inducting former Washington Redskins WR Art Monk into the Hall of Fame. To me, Monk was a very good player but not the great receiver you'd like to see make the Hall. Certainly Chris Carter deserved to go in first. While Monk did once hold the NFL's all-time record for receptions, his productivity per catch wasn't that great as seen by his pedestrian yards per catch and touchdowns per catch numbers. Whatever, he's in and at least he was a good player. Monk played for four Super Bowl teams, three of whom won it all so I checked to see if maybe he deserves some extra credit for big catches in championship games. He played in three Super Bowls and conference championship games each. (I only had play-by-play data for the Super Bowls). Here's the stats and the details:

1) 1983 NFC Title Game: WAS 24 SF 21

2) Super Bowl XVII, OAK 38 WAS 9
4th Quarter
Twelfth WAS Drive: OAK leading 35-9. 1st-and-10 at WAS 24. 26-yard catch. WAS punts 4 plays later.

3) 1986 NFC Title Game: NYG 17 WAS 0
Obviously none of Monk's catches led to any points. With his team down 10-0, Monk caught a 48-yard pass that set up a botched 51-yard
FG try.

4) Super Bowl XXII: WAS 42 DEN 10
1st Quarter
Third WAS Drive: DEN leading 10-0. 3rd-and-16 at WAS 10. 40-yard catch. WAS punts 4 plays later.

5) 1991 NFC Title Game: WAS 41 DET 10
Monk caught a 21-yard TD to increase his team’s lead to 34-10. Earlier Monk had a 17-yard catch to lead off the drive that made it 17-10
in the 2d quarter.

6) Super Bowl XXVI: WAS 37 BUF 24
1st Quarter
Second WAS Drive: Game tied 0-0. 1st-and-10 at WAS 11. 12-yard catch. 1st-and-10 at WAS 23. 17-yard catch. 3rd-and-14 at WAS 48. 19-yard catch. 1st-and-10 at BUF 33. 31-yard catch. On third-and-goal from the two , Rypien’s TD pass to Monk reversed by replay official because Monk did not get both feet in bounds. WAS then botches FG attempt. Score remains 0-0

2nd Quarter
Fifth WAS drive: WAS leading 3-0. 2nd-and-4 from BUF 29. 8-yard catch. WAS subsequently scores a TD to take a 10-0 lead.

3rd Quarter
Tenth WAS drive: 2nd-and-10 at WAS 30. 9-yard catch. Team punts two plays later.
Twelfth WAS drive: WAS leading 31-10. 2nd-and-20 at BUF 24. 17-yard catch. WAS scores on 25-yard FG to take a 34-10 lead.

All in all, he only caught one TD in those 6 games and it was fairly meaningless. His participation in key scoring drives also appears minimal. I think it would be stretching things to say Monk played a critical role in the Redskins' biggest victories.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Can the 2008 New England Patriots match the 1972 Miami Dolphins?

No, I’m NOT talking about going undefeated.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins did something else that year of interest, something almost as rare as going undefeated: returning to the Super Bowl the year after losing it and this time winning it. In the Super Bowl era only seven Super Bowl losing teams have returned to the Super Bowl in the following season. Here’s the list:


As we can see, only two teams have ever come back from a Super Bowl loss to win it all the next season, the 1971 Dallas Cowboys and the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. Strangely, those were the first two teams to ever immediately return to the Super Bowl after losing it. The five teams since then to have come back the next season lost again. Of course the Buffalo Bills managed to lose four in a row and skew the list. So in addition to remaining the NFL’s last (and only) team to go undefeated, the ’72 Dolphins also remain the last team to come back and win the Super Bowl the year after losing it. Can New England do what Miami did in 1972? We’ll find out but coming back from possibly the most devastating loss in NFL history won’t be easy.

What about winning teams that have returned? Here’s that list:


Two things jump out: (1) More Super Bowl-winning teams, eleven, have returned the Super Bowl the following season than Super Bowl-losing teams, seven, have. (2) Super Bowl-winning teams are far more likely to win in their return appearance than the Super Bowl-losing teams.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

17-0 > 18-1

17-0 > 18-1

The New England Patriots ended the 2007 NFL season at 18-1, only the third team ever to post such a mark. Here’s the list of those three football juggernauts:

1) 1984 San Francisco 49’ers
2) 1985 Chicago Bears
3) 2007 New England Patriots

Which of those teams is not like the other? HAHAHAHA!!!

Completing my series of eerily inaccurate predictions, shortly before the Super Bowl I wrote that New England would roll. Let's take a moment to review my awesome track record for the 2007 season: I pronounced that Brett Favre and Jamal Lewis were finished, that Miami would finish 8-8, that Baltimore and Philadelphia would play in the Super Bowl, and that Miami trading Wes Welker was a defensible move. Wow. I am hereby retiring from making anymore football predictions. Clearly, I purposely predicted a Patriots win in order to guarantee the exact opposite result, a result which must have been preordained thanks to New England's cheating and bad sportsmanship. Nobody deserved to blow a Super Bowl and perfect season more. A satisfying ending to what was mostly a nightmarish year for Dolphins fans.

You know, the Miami Dolphins and their fans were just two plays away from seeing all of the following happen during the 2007 season:

1) Brett Favre breaking every career passing record set by Dan Marino, the greatest player in franchise history.

2) 0-16.

3) The Patriots going 19-0, joining the 1972 Dolphins as the only perfect season in history.

If all three of those things had come to pass, and they damn near did, I think it’s fair to say that would have been the worst season suffered by any team ever in the history of sports. And I’m not exaggerating. Number one on the list unfortunately happened, and worse, old-man Favre played like an MVP so we didn’t even have the satisfaction of ripping him for hanging on just to break some records. But as our luck would have it Matt Stover’s miss in Week 14 gave the Dolphins the shot they needed to avoid becoming the first team to ever drop all 16 games in a season while the Manning-to-Tyree miracle play in Super Bowl XLII propelled the Giants to their classic upset shocker of the Pats. So it was just one ordinary horrifically awful season, not a legendary horrifically awful season. Whew.

For years people have criticized members of the 1972 Dolphins as a bunch of bitter old men rooting for other teams to lose and then guzzling champagne in unsportsmanlike toasts each year once assured that their undefeated mark would remain a singular accomplishment. While completely unfair (what athlete wants their record broken?), a few Dolphins (I’m looking at you Mercury Morris) no doubt reinforced this view of them by saying somewhat ungracious things about New England as the Pats made their run at a perfect season. As the Patriots got closer and another perfect season appeared near-certain, those old Dolphins suddenly started saying all the right things about the Patriots while insisting that nothing New England might do could ever diminish what the Dolphins accomplished back in 1972.

But they were lying.

Had the Patriots pulled off a perfect season that would have forever diminished what the Dolphins did in ’72. Surely the Dolphins of 1972 knew that better than anyone. In the first place, if it happens twice it can’t possibly be as special as something that’s happened only once. Nobody did it for 41 years before Miami and nobody’s done it in the 35 years since. The longer Miami stands alone, the more legendary the feat becomes. When people argue about who's the greatest football team of all-time, others can throw out all the stats, scores, and schedules they want to make their case but the '72 Dolphins can always play their trump card: "Nobody ever beat us". Nobody else can say that. Had New England won somebody else could have.

Secondly, let’s face it, outside of diehard Dolphins fans everybody would have considered the 2007 Patriots the greater champion. They played a tougher schedule, they won by bigger margins (while running it up!), they won more games, and they were the present while the Dolphins were the past. The 1972 Dolphins would have been shunted off to the sidelines to make room for the lionizing of the 2007 Patriots. But who cares now? It ain't gonna happen. All hail the forever perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins.

I’ll always believe the pressure of trying to go undefeated wore the Pats down once the postseason started as demonstrated by the fact New England played worse every week as the playoffs went on. Unlike the 1972 Dolphins, the New England Patriots saved their worst for last. Under the greatest pressure of all the Dolphins survived, if not thrived, while the Patriots died. The 1972 Dolphins should actually now be thanking the Patriots for what they did! The Patriots Super Bowl choke showed the world just how hard perfection is and underlined once and for all how great those Dolphins played. If before Super Bowl XLII people didn’t quite appreciate what the Dolphins once did, they have to now.

After the Dolphins laid down the gauntlet in 1972, the first team to make a serious run at a perfect season was the 1985 Chicago Bears. That run famously ended on a Monday night in Miami. Later, Larry Csonka said to the 1985 Dolphins, “You won the 18th game for us.” The New York Giants just won the 19th.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bart Starr, Joe Montana...Eli Manning?!?!

If I'm not mistaken, then on Sunday Eli Manning became only the third quarterback in NFL history to lead his team on a game-winning touchdown drive ending in the final minute of play to win an NFL Championship. Here's the list of QB's:

1) Bart Starr--1967 NFL Championship Game
2) Joe Montana--Super Bowl XXIII
3) Eli Manning--Super Bowl XLII

Eli Manning and two Hall of Famers with 9 championships between them. Incredible. Starr of course faced the toughest field conditions of the three (the Ice Bowl), and Montana's drive was the longest (92 yards), but Eli Manning might have had the most pressure of all. Starr and Montana trailed by 3. Only Manning began his drive knowing it had to end in a touchdown. And it did.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl XLII Prediction

Unfortunately the cheaters, aka the New England Patriots, will roll. That is all.