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Will the Real NFL G.O.A.T. Please Stand Up

For years I’ve contended that Tom Brady is NOT the G.O.A.T. There will be tons of fans and critics who think I’m crazy. However, my belief has always been that Brady, while a great quarterback, was more a product of his system and the talent put around him rather than having pure athletic or quarterback skills. He certainly has not been or is as physically talented as, say, John Elway. He, in my opinion, lacks the quarterback smarts of a Peyton Manning or Joe Montana. I also don’t believe he's a naturally born quarterback like the great Johnny Unitas was.

So why do the majority of experts and fans alike put the label of greatest quarterback of all time on Brady? Probably because he wears six Super Bowl rings and teams he has played for have won six. What irks me the most is that Brady gets so much credit for winning all those league titles but he would not have been able to accomplish that if he didn’t have talent around him and teams capable of winning a Super Bowl. By no means did he carry any of those Patriots teams on his back or the championship Buccaneers team of 2020.

When playing for Bill Belichick, Brady had the luxury of being a part of a team coached by perhaps the greatest mastermind of football in the history of the league. Love him or hate him, Belichick had the knack for making moderately good players great and fewer players bringing their skills to a level that hadn’t been reached before. When he signed with Tampa, Brady played a part in bringing in players from the outside he knew would help him win a title again. Not with the team the previous season but who played a part in the winning season and the culmination of a Super Bowl triumph over the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs were Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and LeSean McCoy.

A question to ponder is what if Tom Brady had been on a team known for losing? Would he have won six Super Bowls? Would he still be considered among the greatest ever? I believe Matthew Stafford is supporting my argument this season. Having played his entire career with the Detroit Lions, Stafford never got to experience the winning ways that Tom Brady was lucky enough to be a part of. So on March 18 of this year, the Los Angeles Rams managed to convince the Lions to make a trade for Stafford where the Rams got Jared Goff and three draft picks this year and two more in 2022 and 2023.

Stafford’s new team is off to a red hot start at 3-0 and the former Lions and University of Georgia quarterback is lighting it up. In three games Stafford has thrown for 942 yards (over a 300-per game average) and nine touchdowns. He has thrown just one interception and is completing an astonishing 70.2 percent of his passes. For his career in Detroit, his percentage was 62.6. In 12 years as a Lion, his per-game passing average was 274. Now he’s over 300. The Lions also only had four winning seasons in that dozen when Stafford was the quarterback.

Matthew Stafford’s quarterback rating in 12 seasons playing with Detroit was an average of 89.9. This year he is nearly 40 percentage points above that. This is why he proves my argument. Give a solid quarterback a good team around him and he too can win a Super Bowl. At this early point in the 2021 season, many are jumping on the bandwagon that the L.A. Rams are the odds-on favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC and perhaps win it. You have to be happy for Matthew Stafford, a likable guy who suffered through a 2-8 rookie debut and had subsequent seasons of won/loss records by Detroit of 4-12, 6-10, and 5-11.

Things to consider in this argument. In 12 years as a Detroit Lion, Stafford’s completion percentage was 62.6. For 20 years as a Patriot, Tom Brady’s number was 63.8…not much better. Brady averaged 27 touchdowns a season while in New England. Stafford? 23.5. Again not much difference except Stafford’s numbers came with a team that was a perennial loser. How about passing yards? That’s a great measuring stick. In 12 years, Matthew Stafford averaged 3,759 yards passing as a Lion. For Brady as a Patriot, 3,728. That’s less than Stafford if you didn’t notice. On the negative side, there are the interceptions. Stafford’s 12-year average per season is 12. Brady’s is nearly nine.

One final set of stats to ponder. In 12 years, Matthew Stafford has led 32 comebacks and 39 game-winning drives. Having played eight more seasons with the same team Tom Brady had 40 comebacks and 49 game-winning drives but again his teams were perennial WINNERS. The bottom line is this…I’m not trying to compare Matthew Stafford to Tom Brady or indicate he is as good. The point I’m trying to make is that if you take a solid quarterback and put him on a talented team…winning occurs. Put the same man on a team that doesn’t win (just as was the case with Stafford in Detroit) and they aren’t winning quarterbacks.

Therefore, I deem Tom Brady overrated and NOT the G.O.A.T. Who is? That’s an argument that has no clear-cut winner. It’s my opinion that championships are one factor that should be left out of the discussion simply because winning titles is a TEAM effort and not an individual one. For argument’s sake, let’s put Brady up against others that are in the G.O.A.T.

Let’s start with John Elway. A two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, the former Denver Bronco QB played in 16 seasons. His average yards per season was 3,217. Taking into consideration Brady’s entire career including last season with Tampa and what he has done thus far in 2021, his per-season average is 3,649. Not known as a passing quarterback, John Elway averaged nearly 19 touchdowns for his 16 years at the helm. Brady is currently riding a nearly 27 per mark. But as a running quarterback, John Elway rushed for 3,407 yards in Denver where Brady has only carried the ball for 1,063 in 22 years.

One man many consider the best ever is Joe Montana. Like John Elway, Montana also played 16 seasons. Those two QBS played during the same era and Montana had a season passing yards average of 2,534 and his touchdown mark is at 17 so numbers do not bear putting Montana in the same class as Brady. But like Brady, Montana was behind center for some very good teams and is a multiple Super Bowl winner. Montana also had the luxury of having Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver ever at his disposal.

If I had to name a G.O.A.T. at quarterback for me it would be Peyton Manning. The former Colts and Broncos signal-caller in my opinion is the smartest QB in history and watching him on the field he was like a machine. So automatic. Precise. His completion percentage for a career bests Brady’s by over one percentage point. His season average of 3,996 is well above Brady’s 3,649. Manning averaged just about 30 touchdowns a season again bettering that of Brady’s number.

Perhaps overshadowed by many in this discussion is one man who quietly became one of the best ever is Drew Brees. His final season was in 2020 and like Tom Brady, he did his damage to opponents playing for two different teams. But Brees has numbers that are just as impressive as anyone else considered to be a top 10 all-time quarterback. For 20 years of NFL game time, Drew Brees was fortunate to win a Super Bowl unlike another hall of fame signal-caller named Dan Marino. But the numbers don’t lie.

Drew Brees averaged an amazing 4,018 yards per season way above Brady’s current average. With nearly 29 touchdowns passing a season unless Brady improves on his number he trails Brees there as well. Drew Brees has a better completion percentage. He has fewer interceptions. He was also sacked less than Brady has gone down behind the line of scrimmage.

After reading this some may believe I simply do not like Tom Brady. I don’t. That’s because I dislike all the hype he receives while believing he is not the greatest of all time and as I said, he is more a product of his environment, the teams built around him, and not because he is a gifted natural quarterback. Just consider all the facts presented in this article and then ponder it again.

I think the pro-Brady types are being blinded by his six-Super Bowl resume and believing he is responsible for those titles. The truth is, equal credit belongs to his teammates as well both on sides of the ball (offense and defense). For that matter then, you could argue that the Patriots players who were a part of those six or even four to six of the titles can say they were the greatest at their respective positions since they too are multiple Super Bowl winners.

Harv Aronson

Harv Aronson

Writer

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