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
Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham