It’s official. Straight from the horse’s mouth:
I really thought he was going to come back and play another year. I thought he would take one last crack at it in San Fran.
I thought there was no way he could go out like he went out. This past year in Tampa was miserable. They were a bad football team, and it ended with them getting stomped out in the playoffs by Dallas.
But apparently it was either come back to Tampa for another year or retire, those were his two options. The Raiders, the Dolphins, the 49ers–apparently those teams were never on the table.
Now, we don’t know if that’s because they didn’t show interest in him or he didn’t show interest in them. Mike Florio and Chris Simms were talking about this today: it’s possible that Brady did not get the type of interest he thought he’d get on the free agent market. Maybe he retired because he did not have all these teams begging him to come play for them. I’m not sure.
I really would have loved to have seen him on the 49ers in 2023, but for whatever reason, it was just not in the cards.
It’s over. Tom Brady is done playing football. Tom Brady has been dominating the NFL since before I even truly paid attention to the NFL; since I was a small child. The longest constant presence in sports is now retired.
I remember when Derek Jeter retired, and that was wild for me personally because I had never experienced baseball without Derek Jeter playing shortstop for the Yankees.
When Kobe retired, it was pretty surreal as well for the same reason. Same thing with Peyton Manning.
But Tom Brady has been a part of my sports fan life for even longer than Jeter and Kobe. I have no memory of the NFL before Brady, I was too young.
This guy was drafted in 2000, became a starting quarterback in 2001, and it is now 2023. That is almost a quarter-century. Bill Clinton was President when he got drafted!
Because Brady played for so long, and accomplished so much, there’s really not a whole lot that can be said about him that has not already been said, other than, “It’s going to be weird having an NFL without Tom Brady.”
And because he accomplished and won so much–so much more than anyone else–there’s really no debating his place in NFL history because there’s just nobody else that’s even comparable to him. I mean the guy has more Super Bowl Championships than any other franchise. That is nuts.
There have been 56 Super Bowls going back to the 1966 season, going on 57 in a couple of weeks. And over those 57 years, no franchise has been able to win more than 6. The Steelers and Patriots have 6 each.
In other words, it took those franchises 57 years to win 6 Super Bowls.
Brady won 7 in 23 years. Obviously all 6 of the Patriots’ Super Bowls were with Brady, but Brady was able to get one more after he left the Patriots and went to Tampa.
The guys on First Things First had some great takes on how Brady has completely skewed the whole debate over great quarterbacks:
Nick Wright pointed out that prior to Brady, it was rare to see quarterbacks get more than 2-3 Super Bowl rings. Joe Montana got 4 and that’s why he was long considered the GOAT.
Brady got 7.
And now we look at other quarterbacks who “only” have one or two rings and think, That’s it?
Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Steve Young, Kurt Warner… one ring apiece, and it’s like they were disappointments because Brady has SEVEN.
Elway, Peyton, Eli and Big Ben have two rings apiece, and you could say Peyton was just along for the ride for his second.
We now look at Patrick Mahomes with one ring as a guy who is just getting started. Like, okay, time to win 3 or 4 more before we can talk about you with Brady.
Brady’s success really hurts a lot of these other guys’ legacies, because we look at a player like Aaron Rodgers who is undeniably more talented than Brady but only has one ring, and we ask, “What is wrong with Aaron Rodgers that he was only able to win one Super Bowl ring?”
And it wasn’t just his success, but also his longevity. A quarterback retires at 39 and we think, that’s it? You’re already done?
Brady plays til 45 and we think every quarterback should do the same.
But not every quarterback is as obsessive with taking care of his body as Brady is–his diet, his sleep routine, his “pliability” stuff. The guy was a freak when it came to wellness and health. Not only that, but avoiding injuries as well. Brady’s whole game relied on a quick release, and getting rid of the ball ASAP, to avoid taking hits and sacks. He did it his whole career, too. Guy played 22 seasons as a starting quarterback and, outside of 2008 when he got his ACL torn on a low tackle and 2016 when he was suspended the first four games of the year, he never once missed a game between 2002-2022.
The guy has completely shattered our conception of what a quarterback both can and should do. Every other quarterback just pales in comparison to him when you put the resumes up next to each other.
I also think it’s important to keep it real here, because a lot of Brady’s Super Bowl Championships were really on a knife’s edge:
- 2001: Should have lost in the Divisional Round but advanced because of the Tuck Rule.
- 2003: Brady actually played really well in this one. Maybe his best performance in a Super Bowl outside of the Atlanta one. However, it was a close game that came down to a last second field goal, and anytime you have a game that close there are always things you can point to as reasons the game could’ve had a different outcome.
- 2004: Another stellar performance. The 24-21 score indicates it was a close game, and it kind of was, but the Eagles scored late and then got the ball back to try and win or tie the game with just 17 seconds left at their own 5 yard line. The Eagles never really had a true shot at winning this game, although it was tied 14-14 in the 4th quarter. The Patriots got out to a 24-14 lead and then it was just desperation time for the Eagles. Can’t really poke holes in this one.
- 2014: Malcolm Butler saved his ass. Or, if you prefer, the Seahawks’ stupidity gave the game away.
- 2016: If the Falcons simply don’t choke away a 28-3 lead, they win that game.
- 2018: You could say the Patriots were lucky they didn’t have to face the Saints, who had been screwed out of a trip to the Super Bowl by the refs. And Brady’s team won the game 13-3. What quarterback couldn’t have won that game when his defense holds the other team to 3 points? Additionally, the Patriots shouldn’t have even beaten the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game; Dee Ford lining up offsides on what would have been the game-sealing INT on Brady was one of the biggest bailouts I’ve ever seen.
- 2020: Mahomes had no offensive line in the Super Bowl
You could very well argue that only 2003, 2004 and 2018 were “legitimate” Super Bowl wins, and that four of Brady’s seven rings are either fraudulent or based on extraordinary luck.
The one I still can’t get over is 2016. How do you blow a 28-3 lead? Atlanta needed one field goal in the second half of that game and that would have sealed the deal, but they couldn’t muster up a single scoring drive. When I was watching this game, I was actually rooting for the Patriots comeback as it was happening, but in the years since the game, it just bugs the hell out of me that Atlanta choked this game away. It was such a missed opportunity. I’m not even a Falcons fan at all, but I just cannot stand wasted opportunities–“the one that got away” and all the regret that comes with it. They had it in the palm of their hand.
However, in Brady’s defense, his three Super Bowl losses also could’ve gone either way:
- 2007: The David Tyree “Helmet Catch.” One of the most improbable and miraculous plays ever, and without it, there’s a great chance the Patriots win this Super Bowl and complete the undefeated season. 3rd down and 5, 1:14 to play in the Super Bowl, Giants have the ball at their own 44, down 14-10. If Eli is sacked on that play, the game is probably over. It would have been 4th and 13. If David Tyree drops that pass or it simply slips off his helmet and goes incomplete, it’s a 4th and 5 to decide the game. Instead it’s first down for the Giants at the New England 23.
- 2011: The next Giants Super Bowl. This one isn’t so clear cut, but the Wes Welker dropped pass late in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were up 17-15. It was only on second down, but if Welker had made the catch, it would have been Patriots ball at around the Giants 20 yard line with 4 minutes to play, first down, and the Giants only had one timeout remaining to stop the clock. Instead, it was incomplete, as was the next play for New England. They punted the ball away afterward and the Giants then went on a touchdown drive to pull ahead for good.
- 2017: When they lost to Nick Foles and the Eagles, Brady threw for 505 yards and it still wasn’t enough because the Patriots defense let up 41 points. Bill Belichick controversially and mysteriously benched top cornerback Malcolm Butler before the game, and there has been speculation that Belichick threw the Super Bowl as an F-U to both Robert Kraft and Brady for forcing Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo before the season. Belichick wanted to move on from Tom and move forward with Garoppolo as quarterback, but Tom went over his head to Kraft, who overruled Belichick. This was allegedly the beginning of the end of Tom’s career in New England, as it fractured his relationship with Belichick.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Belichick was throwing the Super Bowl in 2017 against the Eagles. I find that extremely hard to believe, and apparently benching Butler stemmed from his lack of hustle during practices leading up to the game which led to a heated argument with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Still, though, you have to figure the Patriots would have had a much better shot at winning that game if Butler was playing, and it was a close game even without him.
The bottom line is that even if you want to “throw out” several of Brady’s Super Bowl Championships as fraudulent or luck based, you’d have to also consider that he lost three of them based on bad luck. It kind of evens out. If you take away 2001, 2014 and 2016, and even 2020 due to the fact that the game was basically over before it started because of how destroyed KC’s offensive line was, you have to also then flip the results of 2007, 2011 and 2017. That’s still 6 rings.
Additionally, for the most part, Tom Brady has been excellent in pretty much all of his Super Bowl appearances.
Brady’s Super Bowl stats:
2001, he was pedestrian, but he also led the game winning drive at the end (even though the drive was a bunch of checkdowns).
The only performance of his that really sticks out was 2018, where he put up middling numbers against the Rams yet still won because of how dominant the Patriots’ defense was in that game.
You could also look at the two Giants Super Bowls and say his numbers weren’t very great despite the fact that those were two extremely winnable games. I mean, the Pats’ defense held the Giants to 17 and 21 points respectively, and you couldn’t win those games? It’s fair to put some of that on Brady, although his offensive line in both those games kind of got dominated.
No matter how you slice it, though, we are left with a guy who is an extreme outlier in terms of Super Bowl victories.
That must mean Brady is an extreme outlier in terms of his ability to play the quarterback position, right? It stands to reason if he won way more Super Bowls than any other QB, then he must be a way better QB than anyone else.
But this is where things kind of get messy. Because there was a lot more that went into those seven Super Bowl Championships than just the Greatness of Tom Brady™.
There’s a lot of people out there who like to simplify things and just say, “Seven Rings, Greatest of All Time, End of Story.”
If you’d like that, I understand. Probably now would be a good time to stop reading this post, though. Because while I think you’ve got to hand it to Brady that he’s had the greatest career of any quarterback ever, there’s a lot more nuance and complexity when it comes to answering the question, “Is Brady the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football?”
I don’t even know if you can answer that question because people have different definitions of “greatest quarterback ever,” and because of how many external factors there are that end up shaping a guy’s career.
But I can tell you right now that on this site, we are going to dig into the matter deeper than just counting the rings. If you just want to hear shouting about #RINGSSSS, then watch Skip Bayless, or Stephen A. Smith.
In terms of talent, was Brady the most talented quarterback ever? No, definitely not. Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes, Steve Young and quite honestly a lot of other quarterbacks have Brady beat in terms of just pure football ability–arm strength, accuracy, athleticism, football IQ, awareness, escapability, off-platform throws, etc. Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen–those guys have more natural football talent than Tom Brady.
Like, if you were to make a Madden player of every great quarterback based just off of talent and football abilities, there is no way Tom Brady would be rated the highest out of all of them. There are lots of guys who would be rated higher than Brady.
But talent isn’t everything. There’s also a mental aspect to being a professional athlete that is equally important–if not more important–than raw talent alone. I’m talking about work ethic, mental toughness, perseverance, coachability, willingness to learn, competitive fire and the drive to improve, intelligence as far as being able to break down film and gameplan and read defenses, processing ability in terms of how fast you are able to react to what is happening on the field after the ball is snapped, poise under pressure, etc.
If we’re just talking raw talent alone, then you could say JaMarcus Russell is the most talented quarterback we’ve ever seen. 6’6″, 260lbs, able to move and throw on the run, arguably the strongest arm we’ve ever seen, accuracy–there was a good reason Russell was drafted #1 overall in 2007. In terms of his potential as a prospect, he was off the charts. I mean, just go watch the guy’s college highlights at LSU, he was unbelievable.
However, Russell had a poor work ethic and it seemed like he tried to get by on just his talent alone. That doesn’t work in the NFL. Russell flamed out of the league after just 25 starts.
Talent really only gets you into the NFL. It’s your ticket in the door. Once you actually get in, though, it’s really more about your work ethic and intangibles. To a large extent, this is what’s going to separate the good from the great.
Obviously there are discrepancies in terms of talent when it comes to NFL quarterbacks, and NFL players in general. Patrick Mahomes is more talented than Davis Mills and Jacoby Brissett. He just is. Even though every NFL quarterback is talented, there are still some that are more talented than others. That’s why there are rounds in the draft–the most talented guys go the earliest, and the further you go in the draft, the lower the talent level is, for the most part.
And yes, in general, the best quarterbacks in the league are going to be the most talented guys–the first round picks, the guys who were superstars in high school and college. You look at the best quarterbacks in the league, and pretty much all of them were drafted high in the first round: Mahomes went #10, Burrow went #1, Josh Allen went #7, Trevor Lawrence went #1, Justin Herbert went #6, Jared Goff went #1, Justin Fields went #11. Lamar slipped in the draft but was still drafted in the first round. Jalen Hurts went high second round, although he’s a bit of an outlier in that he has improved a ton since getting to the NFL. People always talk about how Aaron Rodgers fell in the draft, but he still went in the first round.
Obviously there are draft busts, and some highly-drafted players don’t pan out, but I’m not saying that every highly drafted quarterback pans out. I’m saying that most quarterbacks who do pan out are high first round picks. There are some exceptions to the rule, like Tom Brady, but it’s true for the most part.
What I’m getting at here is that when you are comparing the best of the best quarterbacks, the most talented guys, what tends to separate them is not talent, as they are pretty much all insanely talented. It’s the mental, intangible stuff. It’s about who is willing to show up to the practice facility at 4am, and who is willing to spend more time breaking down film, and who is willing to crank out that one last extra rep in the weight room even though it burns like hell.
Right? It’s about work ethic vs. laziness, and that’s what determines success in the NFL?
Well, no, not entirely. I mean, yes, to some extent it does. But Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs didn’t beat Joe Burrow and the Bengals in the playoffs last week because the Bengals are lazy and the Chiefs have work ethic. There’s a lot more that goes into it than simply work ethic and #Grindset.
It’s a nice little fairytale to say, “Brady was doubted and nobody believed in him, so he was drafted in the 6th round, but you know what? He just had a better work ethic than everyone else, and his competitive fire burned hotter, and so he was able to become the greatest because he just #Grinded harder than all the other quarterbacks. He just wanted it more than them!”
Look, I’m not saying that Brady wasn’t fiercely competitive, that he didn’t have a tremendous work ethic, that he didn’t work extremely hard, and that he didn’t have exceptional mental toughness. Obviously nobody is saying that. You don’t play for 23 years without a tremendous passion and love for the game, and without a intense competitive spirit. Brady is definitely a grinder.
But so are a lot of other guys!
I always thought growing up that Peyton Manning was the better quarterback just in terms of actual football ability, talent, etc.
And still to this day I think Peyton is probably the best quarterback the league has ever seen.
Mahomes may be better than Peyton in terms of talent, mobility, arm strength and cleverness, but I also think Peyton has him beat in other areas. I don’t think anyone was ever as great as Peyton Manning when it came to reading defenses, being a coach out on the field, and just being the most prepared quarterback in the league. His film study was legendary; I don’t know if anyone broke down more film than Peyton did. He was just always a step ahead of you.
And here’s another thing about Peyton: the guy won 5 MVP awards. When he and Brady were in their primes, it was always understood that Manning was the better quarterback.
I’m talking about back in the mid to late 2000s, even into the 2010s.
Manning was named First Team All Pro 7 times in his career, Brady only 3 times. And Brady’s third and final First Team All Pro was after Manning was long gone, in 2017. So while they were in the league at the same time, Manning was named First Team All Pro 7 times to Brady’s 2. There is only one QB in the league named First Team All Pro every year, so it basically means you were the best quarterback in the league that year.
Even Aaron Rodgers has made more First Team All Pros than Brady: 4.
This chart shows all the All Pro First and Second Teams since 1998, with Manning, Brady, Rodgers and Brees specifically emphasized here:
I’m not lying here: when they were both in the league, Manning was always understood to be the better quarterback. The All Pro selections bear that out.
Brady won three Super Bowls in his first four years in the league: 2001, 2003 and 2004. Peyton got a ring in 2006. But at the time, it was just understood that Brady had the better team, he had Bill Belichick, a better defense–and there was even the Spygate thing as well, where a lot of people viewed the Patriots as cheaters and their early dynasty was kind of tainted.
Now, I hear people talk about how Brady was viewed as a “game manager” early in his career. Maybe so, but I don’t recall that. I was a little too young for the first three Super Bowls the Patriots won–I remember watching the games on TV but I wasn’t really paying attention to ESPN and sports talk shows and all that stuff. I wasn’t old enough to actually understand sports until about 2005/2006, but even back then, I don’t remember anybody talking about Brady as if he was just a “game manager.”
My earliest NFL memories of Brady and how I personally perceived him was that he was one of the best and most dangerous quarterbacks in the league, from an opposing team’s perspective. When my Bears played the Patriots back then, I was always worried that Brady was going to destroy us (and he did, every time), not that Brady was just some game manager. So all this “he was a game manager early in his career” talk, I don’t recall that being the case.
But it’s also true that Brady didn’t really put up the big numbers until about 2007, when he won his first MVP and the Patriots went undefeated. That was, I think, the first time people looked at Brady as, “Oh, he could actually be on Peyton Manning’s level as a passer.” This was the first time Brady really had elite weapons at his disposal. 2007 was the year they got Randy Moss, plus Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth.
Brady threw 50 TDs that year and Randy Moss caught 23 of them. Randy’s record still stands to this day as the most touchdown catches ever in a season, and Brady’s record stood until Peyton Manning broke it in 2013 with 55 (and Brady’s 50 in 2007 broke Manning’s earlier record of 49 in 2004).
At the same time, though, the 2007 Patriots were also seen as basically unfair; an unbeatable superteam. This was, in my lifetime, the first superteam I ever saw–even before the NBA superteams like the 2008 Celtics, the LeBron Heat and the KD Warriors.
In the offseason prior to the 2007 season, the Patriots added Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth to their offense. That was crazy in and of itself–the sheer amount of incoming offensive talent was unheard of. They were really loading up. And this was a team that had gotten all the way to the AFC Championship the prior season (they lost 38-34 to Manning’s Colts, blowing a 21-3 lead in the process). On defense–and their defense was already really good–they added Junior Seau, although he was like 36 at the time, as well as linebacker Adalius Thomas, who was coming off an All Pro season in 2006, was a multi-Pro Bowler and was on the 2000 Ravens team, albeit as a rookie.
So for those who were too young to remember 2007, it was not really a surprise, at least to me, that the Patriots went undefeated. Maybe I was just too young to understand how uncommon it is to go undefeated in the NFL, but ESPN talked about the Patriots like they were this unprecedented juggernaut of a team, and that they couldn’t be beaten. So that’s how I viewed them.
And they beat the living shit out of everybody for the first half of the season:
Look at that: 38-14, 38-14 again (and the Chargers were really good back then), 38-7, 34-13, 34-17, 48-27, 49-28, freaking 52-7!
The Patriots were rolling through an NFL schedule like Alabama rolls through their schedule.
NFL teams aren’t supposed to beat other NFL teams 52-7, or 56-10. That’s not normal.
The Pats did have some close calls towards the end. They barely beat the Colts on the road, and then really had to gut out wins over the Eagles, Ravens and Giants.
I bring all this up to say that 2007 kind of a turning point in Brady’s career, I think. Yes, the team went undefeated because they had the best roster in the league–it was about way more than just Brady himself. But 2007 was also the year he proved that he could put up the big time numbers and make a case for being the best quarterback in the league, if he had elite weapons. But, this was already three Super Bowls into his career.
Before 2007, his numbers were what I would consider “good not great”:
Completing 62% of his passes, about 227 yards a game, 7 yards per attempt, less than a 2:1 TD-INT ratio, only averaging about 3,600 passing yards a season, 88.4 passer rating–these were not eye-popping numbers by any stretch.
You want to know where an 88.4 passer rating would rank in 2022? 20th in the league. It would be just ahead of Marcus Mariota and just behind Jacoby Brissett. Brady himself this year posted a 90.7 passer rating, and 2022 was his worst year in a long time.
When we compare Brady’s numbers to Peyton’s over that same span, it’s no contest–Peyton blows him away:
Peyton has him beat by a decent margin in every category; he was almost a full yard higher in yards per attempt.
And so that’s why I say that when Peyton was really in his prime (which lasted until about 2014, and then he fell off dramatically in 2015 largely due to injuries), Peyton was hands down the better quarterback. Nobody really disputed it.
Peyton was just asked to do so much more for the Colts back then. Brady had it a lot easier with the Patriots.
In 2008, when Brady went down for the season with a torn ACL, the Pats still went 11-5. In 2011, when Peyton Manning missed the whole season with neck surgery, the Colts went 2-14.
Yes, Peyton consistently had better weapons in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, along with Dallas Clark. But Brady’s teams consistently featured better defenses, and that’s a big deal.
Throughout his career, Brady’s teams (New England and Tampa) have had, on average, the 7th-ranked defense in the league in terms of points per game.
Throughout Manning’s career (Indianapolis and Denver), Manning has played with, on average, the 14th-ranked scoring defense.
Tom had the rings, but Peyton was clearly the superior quarterback. The early Belichick-era Patriots teams were built around defense, sound fundamentals and situational awareness, and that’s a luxury Peyton didn’t really have.
To really illustrate this, consider that Brady’s teams are 7-4 in playoff games in which he throws multiple INTs, including 3-1 in games where he threw 3 INTs. Manning’s teams, on the other hand, were just 2-5 in games where he had multiple INTs. Brady even won a Super Bowl (2014 vs. Seattle) despite throwing 2 picks.
In 2003, when New England won their second Super Bowl, they ranked #1 in the league in points against, and #12 in points for. Defensively-driven team.
In 2004, they were 4th in points scored and 2nd in points against, but look at these playoff scores: a 20-3 win in the Divisional Round over Peyton Manning’s Colts. Manning in 2004 set the record for most passing TDs in a season with 49, and the Patriots defense held him to just 3 points. In the AFC Championship, they won 41-27 over the Steelers, but the Pats were up 24-3 at halftime. The Steelers scored 24 garbage points in the second half. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots defense held that high-flying Andy Reid Eagles offense, with McNabb and TO and Brian Westbrook, to, essentially, 14 points until the final minute of the game when the Eagles scored another TD to make it 24-21.
Peyton and Brady are pretty close in terms of overall career stats. If you just take out Peyton’s rookie season and his last year in Denver, though, he had a 99.3 career passer rating, which is higher than Brady’s career passer rating of 97.4 (excluding rookie year and 2022 season).
I made this table that shows all the best QBs in NFL history and how they rate in the major statistical categories. I’ve sorted the table by passer rating, but there’s more to evaluate them on than just that.
As you can see, there are lots of quarterbacks that surpass Tom Brady statistically. And I did this by “Primes,” too, meaning it goes from your first Pro Bowl appearance until your last one, except with Matthew Stafford who only made one Pro Bowl in his career.
You can see that Brady ranks towards the bottom in yards per attempt, yards per completion and completion rate.
This is all factual, no opinion here at all. These are the numbers. I’m not trying to hate on Brady or slander him. These are simply the facts: statistically, he is very good, but not quite up there with the best of the best.
His completion rate is pretty low when compared to Mahomes, Rodgers, Young, Brees and Manning. His passer rating is a bit below where those guys are. His ANY/A (adjusted net yards per completion) is a touch below theirs. His raw yards per attempt number (the single best and easiest way to measure quarterback efficiency) is a bit below theirs.
It’s not like Brady is far behind these guys, but he’s definitely not on their level statistically.
Brady is definitely in the top 6 or 7 quarterbacks ever when it comes to stats. I want to make that clear. I’m not sitting here trying to argue that he’s an average quarterback who just happened to play in a great system. Not even close to what I’m saying.
I am simply looking at the statistics to show that he is not quite on the level of guys like Manning, Rodgers, Mahomes, Brees and Steve Young.
That should not really be a surprise, either. Brady was a 6th round pick, while all these guys other than Brees were first round picks. Manning and Steve Young were slam dunk #1 overall picks when they got drafted. Mahomes was the 10th pick. Rodgers went at pick 25. The only reason Brees dropped into the second round (and he was the first pick of the second round) was because of his height. Otherwise, Drew Brees was seen as an incredible quarterback prospect back in 2001. Drew Brees and Tom Brady were both playing in the Big Ten at around the same time, and Drew Brees basically rewrote the QB record book for the whole conference for the next 20 years. Tom Brady didn’t.
Tom just didn’t have as much natural, God-given talent as those other guys. You look at his scouting report from April of 2000, and is anything here really off base?
The scouts liked that he was tall, poised, smart, accurate and played well in big games. But they also noted that he was slender in build, easy to knock down, immobile, not great on the deep balls and probably more of a system player as opposed to a playmaker.
Is any of that stuff inaccurate? I don’t think so. Tom really was never the guy who pushed the ball downfield; he lived on a lot of that underneath and checkdown stuff. Other than when he had Randy Moss, he wasn’t really slinging it deep all that often. That just wasn’t his game.
All I’m saying here is that it’s simply not true to say that Tom Brady was the best quarterback ever. He did not have the full toolkit; he had limitations that a lot of other elite quarterbacks don’t/didn’t have, and so he had to go about his business a different way.
This is why I don’t think the GOAT debate is open and shut.
The NFL has done a great job of really sweeping the Spygate stuff under the rug, and for good reason: number one, they don’t want it to taint the integrity of the league. Protect the shield, you know. And number two, Roger Goodell himself was widely criticized for how he handled Spygate, namely that he went easy on the Patriots because he kind of owed one to Robert Kraft, who was instrumental in getting Goodell installed as NFL Commissioner.
But today, we don’t hear about Spygate at all. Anytime somebody (other than Rob Parker) talks about Brady, they don’t bring up Spygate, do they? They don’t bring up that, “Yeah, but” when it comes to Brady’s legacy. It’s just “Brady is the GOAT, period. Seven Super Bowl Rings, mic drop.”
Somebody who was born in the early 2000s or late 1990s–pretty much anybody under the age of 30-35–probably has no real idea about Spygate unless they are one of those people who is constantly going on Wikipedia and researching things. Funny enough, if you go to Tom Brady’s Wikipedia page and CTRL+F for “spygate” it returns zero results!
However, Spygate was a very big deal back when it broke in 2007.
I keep harking back to the 2000s when I talk about Brady because I’m trying to evaluate his entire career, and it goes back a really long way, but you know, as I’ve said earlier, I was pretty young and not fully aware of things back in the 2000s.
The Spygate story broke in September 2007, right at the beginning of their undefeated season, and a lot of it kind of went over my head as a kid. The Patriots were caught “videotaping signs” on the sideline? What kind of signs? I didn’t really know much about schemes and coverages and how plays are called, so I didn’t really understand the significance.
All I knew was that it was on ESPN a lot. They covered the hell out of it.
But what was Spygate, exactly? What was so bad about it? Were the Patriots the only team doing it? How much of an advantage did they gain from it? Is it part of why they won so many Super Bowls?
I’m going to get into all of that, but at the core of it is really the identity of the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick: they have a reputation as the most prepared team in the league, and probably the smartest team in the NFL. There is no better chessmaster out there than Bill Belichick; there is no coach that will outfox you more than Bill. His game-planning is second to none; he knows exactly what to do to take you out of your element and confound the hell out of you.
It’s why the Patriots are notoriously brutal for young quarterbacks to play against. Bill throws a bunch of high-level, complex stuff at them and knows they won’t be able to process it. He makes sure he shows them looks they’ve never seen before. Playing against the Patriots as a rookie QB is a real “Welcome to the NFL moment” where it really hits home for these young guys that they are not in college anymore; that the NFL is a different beast.
There’s always at least one game every year where the Patriots just beat the living hell out of some team that maybe was not totally ready for the chess match against Belichick. This year, for instance, they beat Detroit 29-0. Just throttled them. That’s an example of the classic Belichick masterclass. The Lions were probably a better team than the Patriots were this year overall, but when they played against each other, Belichick had Detroit’s whole gameplan figured out, and the game was over before it started. Dan Campbell is more of a CEO/motivator type of head coach, not as much an Xs and Os guy, and Bill Belichick exploited that.
Last season, the Patriots had several beatdown wins. They beat Jacksonville, with an interim head coach after Urban Meyer got canned, 50-10. Bill Belichick looks at an interim head coach as food, straight up. Prey. Like, sorry buddy, but you’re just not ready for this. The Patriots beat Atlanta 25-0 in 2021 as well–it was Arthur Smith’s first year as a head coach. Belichick is just going to coach circles around a rookie head coach. Arthur Smith never had a chance. New England also beat the Jets 54-13 in 2021 as well, and guess what? Robert Saleh’s first season as a head coach. Welcome to the AFC East, pal.
In many ways, Belichick treats football like war. “If we attack them here, how will they respond?” “Let’s try to figure out how they are going to attack us.” “What is their biggest weakness that we can exploit?” etc.
The remarkable thing about the Patriots under Belichick is how adaptable they were. They could win defensive struggles, they could win shootouts. If the key to beating an opponent was to stop the run, they would stop the run. If they had to throw the ball 55 times in a game with Brady, they would do it. Whatever was necessary to win the game, that’s what the Patriots were good at. They were not just “a power running team” or “a pass-first team.” Lots of teams out there have identities, like they specialize in one particular area. The Patriots were chameleons; their identity changed from week to week, and it was all based around their gameplan for that specific opponent. Whatever the opponent this week is susceptible to, that’s what the Patriots are going to emphasize. If the opponent this week has trouble stopping the run, the Patriots will become a running team.
This is how Bill Belichick coaches. Again, his gameplans are all opponent specific. He’s not one of those coaches that decides before the game, “We’re going to establish the run no matter what.” That’s rigid coaching; where you try to impose your will on the other team and make them play your brand of football. Belichick isn’t really like that. He’s extremely flexible. Sometimes the Patriots would win games with virtually no run game at all. It’s all based on, “What do we have to do to beat this particular opponent this week?”
I still remember the 2014 Divisional Round game against the Ravens, which New England won 35-31. Belichick really had to pull out all the stops to win that game–trick plays, exploiting little known rules, etc. The Patriots had, in that game, 13 rushing attempts for 14 yards total. They couldn’t run the ball. Barely even tried. And it’s because the gameplan didn’t call for it. Belichick didn’t even try to establish the run, he knew that wasn’t how his team was going to win the game.
In the next game, however–the AFC Championship against Indy–the Patriots ran the ball 40 times for 177 yards and won 45-7.
That, to me, is Patriots football in a nutshell. You craft your gameplan around the opponent–what they do well, what they don’t do well, and you’re really just trying to exploit their weaknesses and neutralize their strengths.
In war, intelligence is key. It helps you anticipate your enemy’s moves. Same with football. I would not be surprised if Bill Belichick is a big fan of Sun Tzu and “The Art of War,” which says that if you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not worry about the outcome of a hundred battles.
In order to operate this way–tailoring your gameplan specifically to each week’s opponent; exploiting their weaknesses and neutralizing their strengths–you need lots of intel on the opponent. You have to know their tendencies. That means you have to break down a ton of film on them. You have to watch their games, study their statistics, and overall just try to figure out what their gameplan is before you even take the field, so you can prepare for it effectively.
Belichick is always trying to gain an edge in the intel department. He’s constantly trying to gain as much information on an opponent as possible so that he can predict what they’re going to do in the game. Sometimes that means he employs some “unconventional methods,” or gets very creative. You can only learn so much from film study; sometimes you need more.
For instance, the Patriots are known for signing players that used to be on the team that they’re about to play. Belichick and his staff will debrief the player, try to learn as much about the opponent’s gameplan and strategy as possible, and then cut the guy. Basically they will just pay a guy for information on the upcoming opponent and then send him on his way– “Thanks for this. We’ll put in a good word for you. I’m sure you’ll land on your feet somewhere.”
Belichick is ruthless. There’s nothing he won’t do to gain an edge. And thus we get to Spygate.
The one sentence summary of Spygate was that the Patriots were caught videotaping opponents’ defensive signs and signals, which is basically them trying to figure out how to decode the opponents’ playcalls.
If you know what play the opposing defense is running before the snap, obviously that’s a tremendous advantage.
Now, before we go any further, there’s nothing unique at all about NFL teams trying to figure out what plays the opponent is going to run. In this clip from Undisputed in 2016, where Shannon, Skip and Rob Parker are discussing Spygate, Shannon talks about when he was playing for the Denver Broncos, and when they were playing against the Chargers, they had figured out, from studying film and having the audio from on the field, that whenever Chargers linebacker Junior Seau said “Vegas” or “Reno,” it meant the Chargers were running a cover two defense. Cover two is a zone defense, and one of the drawbacks of a zone defense is that there are always gaps, or holes, in the zone, where the defenders aren’t covering. Like this:
Those circles are the areas, or “zones”, that the defenders are assigned to cover. But you can see that there are parts of the field that are uncovered, right? Well, the key to beating a zone defense is to find those uncovered areas and have your pass-catchers go there.
Shannon said whenever they’d hear Vegas or Reno and knew it was a cover two defense, Denver would audible into a play where Shannon would run a seam route down the middle of the field, because they knew it would be open. Shannon said he finished the game with 13 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns.
So Denver figured out, from film study and having the on-field audio, when the Chargers were going to run a cover two defense. Whenever the middle linebacker said “Vegas” or “Reno,” it was cover two.
That’s “sign-stealing” in a nutshell. When the leader of the defense, usually the middle linebacker, calls out a specific code word, everyone else on the defense knows that’s code to get into a specific formation and run a specific defensive play. Defenses also call plays by having the defensive coordinator use hand signals that the middle linebacker understands. Like if the DC pats his head three times and rubs his belly, that means blitz, or something like that.
It is in no way against the rules to try to figure out the opponent’s signs and signals. Every single team in the league does it. We just went over that example of the Broncos cracking the Chargers’ code back in the 90s. It’s part of the game: if the other team cracks your code, you’re in trouble. That’s your fault for being too easy to figure out. Again, football is in many ways like war, where you’re trying to intercept the enemy’s messages and break the code to figure out their plan of attack.
There isn’t a rule against sign stealing because there can’t be a rule against sign stealing. If there’s a team that is super careless about its play calls and the other team quickly figures it out, you can’t tell them that they are not allowed to act on that information. What if the defense literally yells out, “Cover two!” Is the offense not allowed to change its play up based on hearing that? Of course they’re allowed. So it’s no different if the defense figures out the code word for cover two, and changes up their play when they hear the code word that they know means cover two.
However, there are rules in the NFL that limit what teams can and cannot do in their efforts to figure out the opposing team’s signs and signals. Spygate was, in a nutshell, the Patriots going above and beyond what the NFL permitted.
And that’s important to establish, because I think there’s a misconception out there that the Patriots were the only team stealing signs, which is absolutely not true. All 32 teams steal signs, or at least try to. What made Spygate unique is that the Patriots were going too far in their efforts to do so.
There are legal and illegal means teams use to steal signs. If you hack into an opponent’s computer to try and look at his playbook, yeah, that’s illegal. You can’t do that.
I am going to quote from a 2015 article in Business Insider that details what the Patriots were doing during the Spygate years, which were from 2000-2007:
First, the Patriots had a detailed, efficient system for finding out opponents’ plays. ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham describe a scene in Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s office before a season-opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
“[A backup quarterback named John] Friesz was told that the Patriots had a tape of the Bucs’ signals. He was instructed to memorize them, and during the game, to watch Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and tell [offensive coordinator Charlie] Weis the defensive play, which Weis would relay over the radio headset system to quarterback Drew Bledsoe.”
Van Natta and Wickersham report that although the Patriots lost that game, they realized a “schematic” edge over other teams. They “streamlined the system,” finding a more efficient way to note the plays and relay the information, cutting out the quarterbacks, with only a few people, including Belichick.
Soon, advanced scouts would be sent to the games of upcoming Patriots’ opponents to film the play signals. The scouts would go undercover as media members, with media credentials listed under “Patriots TV” or “Kraft Productions” and were prepared with excuses of what to say they were filming if security asked.
According to Van Natta and Wickersham, “Each video sequence would usually include three shots: the down and distance, the signal, and, as an in-house joke, a tight shot of a cheerleader’s top or skirt.”
The tapes would then go to a Belichick confidant named Ernie Adams, an “amateur historian of pro football,” who would have the tapes edited and match the notes of the play calls and signals to the action on the field.
The Patriots started a library of videotapes from teams all across the league. A former Patriots assistant coach told ESPN “It got out of control.”
According to the report, the system grew to the point that the Patriots would add players cut from upcoming opponents to look at Adams’ tapes and judge their effectiveness.
So basically what the Patriots were doing is they were videotaping the defensive coordinator as he made his hand signals to call plays, and then they were simply looking at the game film for that corresponding play and figuring out which hand signal meant which play. If they saw the DC rub his right elbow and then his left, and they saw on film that the defense ran a zone blitz right after that, they would know that sign meant zone blitz.
After the Patriots were busted for this in 2007, the league made a rule change that allowed for one defensive player on the field to wear a helmet with a radio transmitter in it, just like the quarterbacks wear. The quarterback receives the play call from the offensive coordinator through a headset built into his helmet, where he can hear the offensive coordinator talk to him. After Spygate, the NFL allowed the defense to have a guy with a headset built into his helmet as well. This meant teams would no longer have to rely on hand signals to call plays, which would in theory neutralize the effectiveness of any Spygate-style scheme as sign-stealing was no longer a thing.
Now, again it is important to point out: even the practice of videotaping the opposing defensive coordinator is not in and of itself against league rules, nor was it back when Spygate was happening. The Patriots simply broke rules for where you were allowed to film from. You are not allowed to film from the sidelines, and that’s what the Patriots’ video guys were doing. They were “going undercover” and concocting elaborate ruses to gain access to an opponent’s sideline so that they could film them.
You are allowed to film the opposing defensive coordinator, it just has to be from a booth higher up in the stadium, as I understand it. Basically from the same place that the “All 22” game footage is filmed from.
This is a helpful illustration, courtesy of the incredible website “Your Team Cheats“, which I discovered while writing this post:
I really recommend checking that site out. It’s not only informative and full of stuff I never knew (spoiler alert: pretty much every major dynasty in NFL history has a dark side), but it’s also witty and written by someone with a real sense of humor.
There were other aspects to Spygate as well, although they were more comical and sophomoric than anything else it seems:
Other methods of cheating reportedly include:
Sending low-level Patriots employees to sneak into the visiting locker room during pregame warm-ups and steal the play sheet. As Van Natta and Wickersham note, “The practice became so notorious that some coaches put out fake play sheets for the Patriots to swipe.”
Sending employees through the visiting team’s hotel to try to swipe playbooks and scouting reports.
“Scrambling and jamming” opponent radio headsets to interfere with opponent communication.
Peyton Manning [was] reportedly paranoid about the Patriots’ methods of cheating; he leaves the Patriots’ visiting locker room to discuss schemes with coaches in case the room is bugged.
This stuff the NFL really wasn’t concerned with, as I’m sure it’s not only rampant in the league but far predates Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And as for the Peyton Manning being concerned about the visiting locker room being bugged, we don’t even know if that was actually true or not. We just know that Peyton Manning may have been paranoid about it (and given the way he deadpans so much who knows if he was joking or being serious).
The NFL was much more concerned with the taping, not the sophomoric locker room antics and play-sheet swiping. That latter stuff was more gamesmanship than anything else.
Okay, so how does this pertain to Brady? Was he in on it as well? Does Spygate taint his legacy?
Well, from what it seems like, the taping was more of a coaching staff thing that they would then use in gameplanning, however, there’s no way the intelligence they gathered through Spygate wasn’t shared with Tom Brady. I mean, he was the quarterback and the whole point of Spygate was to decode the opposing defense’s signals so Brady would know what play the defense was running. I would imagine Belichick or whomever was the offensive coordinator (Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels) would tell Brady, “Tom, we figured out that whenever the middle linebacker calls out ‘River’ that means they’re in cover two.” Maybe the offensive coordinator would tell Tom how they figured it out. I’m sure Brady already knew–I mean, if there was an extensive film library in Gillette Stadium, it’s hard to imagine the whole thing was a secret.
But whether Brady knew what was going on or not, the bottom line was that he benefitted from it either way. It was literally designed to make his job easier. The whole thing was for Brady’s benefit, as they were filming opposing defenses. Spygate’s objective was to gain an edge for the Patriots’ offense.
The other day, I was listening to “The Odd Couple,” a sports show with Chris Broussard and Rob Parker. Rob Parker is probably the biggest Brady hater in the sports media and was saying that Brady should not even be inducted into the hall of fame because of DeflateGate and Spygate, while Broussard was taking more of an apologist stance with Brady. One of the things that Broussard was saying was that Brady didn’t know Spygate was going on.
What? How could he not know about it? You don’t think he ever wondered how the Patriots coaching staff was able to decipher the opposing team’s defensive play signals?
The question is not whether or not Tom benefitted from Spygate, but how much he benefitted from it.
Logically, it would make sense that the Patriots wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t provide them with an edge, right? We’ve heard time and again that they didn’t benefit from it. Okay, but then why were you doing it in the first place, then?
It had to help somewhat. Eric Mangini, who in 2007 was head coach of the Jets and was the guy who blew the lid on Spygate, said “there was no great value in what [the Patriots] were doing.” But that was back in 2016, many years after the actual incident. Mangini has expressed regret over the way things went down; it basically ruined his relationship with Bill Belichick and everyone over there in Foxboro because he became known as the guy who snitched on them.
Mangini was with the Patriots earlier in his career before taking the Jets job, and so he was wise to the schemes. He knew what they were doing over there. So he asked Belichick before the game not to do it. Belichick refused, so Mangini tipped off stadium security (it was a home game for the Jets) as well as Jets GM Mike Tannebaum, who in turn reported it to the league, and then that’s how it all blew up. Mangini has said he never intended it to become this massive scandal, which eventually wound up with Belichick being fined $500k and the Patriots being forced to forfeit their 2008 first round pick–as well as the permanent and irreparable damage it did to Belichick and the Patriots in terms of their reputation.
So if Mangini said there was “no great value” in the taping the Patriots were doing, does that mean it’s an open and shut case? Well, no. Because Mangini knew about it, so he was able to prepare for it. He knew he would have to change up his defensive signals before the game. So of course there would be no great value in doing against him, because he was wise to it. Perhaps Mangini meant there was no great value to it in general, meaning he did not feel that, based on his personal experience from when he was actually with the Patriots, that they gained a significant edge from it. That’s possible, but then again Mangini was on the defensive side of things when he was in New England, and the taping was meant to benefit the offense primarily.
It’s also possible that Mangini regrets how the whole thing blew up into this massive scandal–he’s openly said he does–and so he is now trying to downplay it in hopes of one day mending the fences with Belichick and his former friends in Foxboro.
I just always go back to the idea that if it didn’t provide any benefit to them, they wouldn’t have been doing it. Simple as.
Steve Spagnuolo, currently defensive coordinator for the Chiefs and one of the best in the league (not just currently but in league history), former head coach of the Rams, and prior to that the defensive coordinator for the Giants, recounted his experience as the linebackers coach for the Eagles in 2004 under legendary longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. He recounted, on a radio appearance back in 2018, that Johnson was convinced during the 2004 Super Bowl game against New England that the Patriots had all their defensive signs and playcalls. Johnson was convinced the Patriots knew when Philly was blitzing, and Spags, though skeptical in the moment, later concluded that Johnson was right.
When Spags was the defensive coordinator for the Giants and was going up against the undefeated Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, he made sure to have two defensive playcallers out there (presumably one signaling real plays and one signaling fake plays in order to mislead the New England offense). It obviously worked, as the Giants pulled the upset in large part because they were continually able to put Brady under heavy pressure. It was the game that made Spags a legend.
However, Spags did not say it was the Patriots’ sign-stealing that made the difference in that 2004 Super Bowl. Nor would it be accurate for anyone to say that, as the Eagles lost that game because they turned the ball over 4 times to New England’s 1, including 3 picks thrown by McNabb.
So what is the bottom line here? Are the Patriots’ Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 and 2004 tainted due to Spygate? Is Brady’s legacy diminished because they cheated for three of his seven rings?
Well, that all depends on your perspective. I personally believe it gave the Patriots some sort of an edge, but as to exactly how much, it’s tough to say.
Plus, what the Patriots were doing from 2000-2007 only became something that was against the rules starting in 2006, which was of course after their first three Super Bowls.
The 2001 Super Bowl for the Patriots is tainted not just because of Spygate but because of the Tuck Rule game. The Patriots shouldn’t have even been in the Super Bowl to begin with. Their season should have ended in that snowy Divisional Round game against the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots were down 13-10 with 1:46 to play and Brady got hit and fumbled the ball, but the refs ruled it an incomplete pass instead of a fumble based on a rule instituted in 1999. The rule itself was poorly worded, but the fumble was reviewed and overturned into an incompletion, and the Patriots went on to tie the game, send it to OT and win in OT, advancing to the AFC Championship.
The “tuck rule” was later abolished in 2013, meaning that if that game was played today rather than in 2001, the play would have been ruled a fumble and the Patriots would have lost under current NFL rules.
Spygate or not, the 2001 Super Bowl Title for the Patriots is tainted because of the Tuck Rule game. When you add Spygate into the mix, that only further bolsters the case.
But I do want to talk about that 2001 Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Rams, because that opens up a whole different aspect of Spygate that we haven’t even discussed up to this point: the charge that the Patriots videotaped the Rams’ pregame walkthrough before that Super Bowl.
It was actually the 2018 “rematch” of that Super Bowl between the Rams and Patriots that stirred up all those old grudges and resentments. Because in the two weeks leading up to the game, you know the media has to cover a hundred different angles on the game, and inevitably one of the conversation points was the last time the Rams and Patriots met in the Super Bowl.
Marshall Faulk maintains the Patriots cheated to win, as does Eric Dickerson. Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce–the list of former Rams who have publicly said the Pats cheated in 2001 is extensive. Kurt Warner has also hinted that he feels the same way, although he wasn’t as blunt about it as Faulk and Dickerson. Dickerson wasn’t on the team in 2001, he retired in 1993. But he’s a Rams legend and went into the Hall of Fame in a Rams uniform.
Marshall Faulk says he’s convinced the Patriots had the Rams walkthrough taped, because in that walkthrough, the Rams worked on some plays that they’d never run before, and were waiting to bust out in the Super Bowl. Yet in the game, the Patriots were seemingly ready for those plays, and Faulk concluded that the Patriots had some sort of advanced knowledge of them.
Mike Martz, head coach of the Rams in 2001 when they lost to New England in the Super Bowl, was apparently pressured by Goodell to put out a statement in 2007 saying he was satisfied with the league’s investigation of Spygate. Goodell begged him to do it avoid the situation from ballooning into a huge scandal that destroyed the league’s reputation.
But did it swing the 2001 Super Bowl? That’s the real question here. Was it the reason the 14 point favorite Rams lost?
It’s important to point out that the Rams lost this game in large part because they made three turnovers in the game and the Patriots didn’t have any.
The Patriots had a 17-3 lead in this game going into the 4th quarter, and almost all of it was due to Rams mistakes. Kurt Warner threw a pick six in the second quarter up 3-0 because he was pressured by Mike Vrabel and threw off his back foot. New England’s next points would happen right before halftime. Ricky Proehl fumbled the ball around midfield and the Patriots returned it to the 39, setting up Brady and the offense with a short field, which they capitalized on to score a touchdown right before halftime. 14-3 New England.
So the two most important plays of the first half, the pick six and the Ricky Proehl fumble—were they a result of the Patriots cheating and filming the walkthrough? I doubt it. The pick six was just a bad throw off his back foot by Warner, caused by heavy pressure. And a fumble is obviously not something you just draw up; defenders are trying to force a fumble on every play.
The next New England points would be a 37 yard Vinateri field goal. This came off a pick of Warner around midfield. But what caused the pick was Torrey Holt falling down on the route. He got jammed at the line and fell, which disrupted the timing of the route. Unfortunately the ball was already out and it went straight to Otis Smith. It would lead to a 17-3 lead for New England.
A frantic comeback by St. Louis would eventually tie the game up at 17 with 1:30 to go. The Patriots went against John Madden’s advice and mounted a game winning drive attempt with about 1:21 on the clock and the ball at the 16. It was successful, Adam Vinateri hit the 48 yard game winner as time expired to give the Patriots their first Super Bowl.
The Rams lost the game 20-17. New England scored 17 points off of three Rams turnovers. Without those three turnovers, I don’t think there’s any way the Patriots win that game. Their offense couldn’t do much; they were out-gained by the Rams 427 to 267 in the game. Tom Brady threw for just 145 yards.
Even if the Rams only turn the ball over twice, they probably win that Super Bowl.
I know the Rams are pretty vocal about how they believe the Patriots cheated in that game. They may be right about the Patriots having the jump on certain plays.
But the way that game actually played out–the key Rams turnovers that decided the game–I don’t think they were due to cheating by the Patriots. The Rams made several careless turnovers and that’s what did them in.
Plus, while the Rams players often claim that the Patriots seemed to know exactly what they were going to do in the game, it’s also important to remember that the Patriots and Rams played one another in the regular season in 2001, and the Rams won 24-17. Generally, rematches favor the defenses as they have already seen what the opposing offense wants to do, and are better prepared to stop them the second time around. Perhaps the Patriots’ preparedness in the Super Bowl was simply a result of them having seen the Rams once before that season.
And although the Super Bowl line was Rams -14, again, the game they played earlier in the season was a 24-17 Rams win. So I’m not sure why the line was so lopsided in the Rams favor in the rematch.
The important thing here is that the Rams’ assertions that the Patriots filmed their walkthrough before the 2001 Super Bowl are not part of the actual “Spygate” scandal. Spygate was about the Patriots taping opposing teams’ defensive play signals from an unapproved location. The allegation that they filmed the Rams’ walkthrough is something completely separate from that, although it often gets erroneously grouped in under the umbrella term “Spygate.”
“Walkthroughgate,” as I guess we’ll refer to it, stems from a February 2008 report by the Boston Herald, which was later totally retracted, that claimed the Patriots filmed the Rams’ pre-Super Bowl walkthrough before the Super Bowl. As we know, the Spygate stuff broke in September 2007, and had been hanging over the Patriots’ undefeated season like a dark cloud the whole way. The day before Super Bowl XLII against the Giants, the Boston Herald report dropped, but it soon fell apart. The NFL even investigated it and concluded that the allegations were baseless. After several months, the Boston Herald retracted the story and issued a full apology to the Patriots:
However, the damage was already done. The Herald had piggybacked off of the Spygate hysteria gripping the sports media at the time and completely jumped the gun. People who wanted to believe the Patriots were cheaters ignored the retraction, brushing it off as simply the NFL doing damage control and trying to cover up the scandal, because after all, the most important thing for the NFL is to avoid the perception that a Super Bowl Championship is tainted by cheating. Because what do you do then? Strip the Patriots of their Super Bowl title in 2001, seven years after the fact? It would be a stain on the league, and we all know how important it is to Goodell to “protect the shield.”
Belichick and Robert Kraft unequivocally denied the “Walkthroughgate” allegations, but, again, the damage was done. Rams players seized on the story and still to this day cling to it as a consolation for losing that hard-fought Super Bowl in 2001.
I don’t really put a whole lot of stock into the whole “Walkthroughgate” thing, personally. Could I see it being the case that it was actually true, but that the NFL wanted to “debunk” it to preserve the integrity of the league? Yeah, sure. It would be hugely damaging to the league have a Super Bowl Title tainted by cheating.
But what I am more focused on here is that the 2001 Patriots should have been knocked out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round by the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game, not the allegations that they filmed the Rams’ walkthrough before the Super Bowl. The Rams lost that game because they were careless with the football.
Most important here is, what if Brady’s fumble in the Raiders game was actually ruled a fumble? There would be no 2001 Super Bowl Championship for the Patriots, and that was the birth of the dynasty right there. Would that dynasty have even gotten off the ground? Would they have won additional Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004 if they didn’t win in 2001?
Winning that Super Bowl in 2001 really set the tone for the Patriots over the next two decades, and for Brady’s career more specifically. He was a winner from the very start, yet he shouldn’t have been.
Tom Brady started off his career winning 10 straight playoff games. 3-0 in the 2001 Playoffs, Super Bowl. Missed the playoffs in 2002, but then 3-0 in the 2003 Playoffs, Super Bowl. Then 3-0 in the 2004 Playoffs, repeat Super Bowl. Then in 2005, they made it to the playoffs, but had to play in the Wild Card round. They beat Jacksonville 28-3, but then lost to the Broncos in the Divisional round 27-13. That was Brady’s first playoff lost.
From that point, losing the Divisional round in 2005, Brady and the Patriots would go just 8-8 in the playoffs over their next 16 playoff games. They choked away the 21-3 lead in the 2006 AFC Championship game against the Colts. They blew the perfect season in the 2007 Super Bowl, then Brady missed the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL, and although the Patriots went 11-5 without him, they still somehow missed the playoffs. In 2009, with Brady back, the Patriots were one-and-done in the playoffs, losing 33-14 to the Ravens in the Wild Card Round. Then, the Patriots went one-and-done again in 2010, despite finishing the regular season 14-2 and having the top overall seed in the playoffs. They lost at home in the Divisional Round after a bye to their hated rivals, the Rex Ryan-led New York Jets, a team they had beaten 45-3 in the regular season. It was one of the great upsets in playoff history.
So with that loss to the Jets in the 2010 playoffs, it meant the Patriots had not won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC Championship game, and would not have a chance to win another playoff game for another year.
The Pats did then make the playoffs in the 2011 season, and beat the Tim Tebow-led Broncos in the Divisional round by a score of 45-10. That was their first playoff win in four years, which is kind of crazy, isn’t it? In the midst of the whole “Dynasty run” in New England, they went four whole years without a single playoff victory: from January 20, 2008 to January 14, 2012, not one single playoff victory for the New England Patriots.
Even though Belichick and Brady remained the whole time, the dynasty kinda died there for a while, from 2005-2013 really. Although they did make the Super Bowl twice over that span, they were just 9-8 in the playoffs from 2005 through 2013.
It was when the Patriots were in the 2014 Super Bowl against the Seahawks that I realized, wow, the Patriots actually aren’t really a dynasty anymore. I think I was watching a pregame show or something and they were like, “Yeah the Patriots haven’t won the Super Bowl since 2004, ten years ago.” And that was when it hit me that, wow, it’s been a decade since the Patriots have truly ruled this league, hasn’t it?
Just because they were always really good in the regular season and they were always in the mix in the playoffs (they still made the AFC Championship game 5 times between 2006-2013), it felt like you still had to beat them if you wanted to win the Super Bowl, but damn, a decade between Super Bowl wins?
That was two different dynasties, man. People talk about the Patriots like they were one big, long dynasty, but there were actually two dynasties in there.
And when you think about it, if you’re going to contend for Super Bowls over two decades, there has to be some rebuilds in there. Most NFL players don’t play that long, so it’s hard to sustain greatness.
This is why I have to give a ton of credit to Bill Belichick for that run: he had to completely rebuild that team multiple times.
The first dynasty was anchored by defensive guys like Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison and Asante Samuel. Those guys were pretty much all gone after the 2008 season.
And on offense, other than Brady, you had Kevin Faulk, Deion Branch, Troy Brown, Ben Watson, offensive linemen Matt Light, Dan Koppen and Damien Woody. None of those guys were around for the second dynasty.
The second dynasty featured guys like Jerod Mayo, Donta Hightower, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, Malcolm Butler and Stefon Gilmore on defense. Vince Wilfork was kind of a tweener, he was there for the 2004 Championship and the 2014 Championship, so he caught the tail end and the start of two dynasties plus those years in between.
On offense, the second dynasty was a totally different core of guys on offense: Gronk, Edelman, James White, LeGarrette Blount, Danny Amendola, plus an offensive line of Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder and Shaq Mason.
And they took over for what I guess we’ll call the “second phase” of the Patriots offense, when they had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, etc.
The Patriots really went through three different roster iterations: the first dynasty from 2001 to 2007, the “interlude” part of the dynasty that didn’t win anything from 2008-2013, and then the second dynasty from 2014-2019.
(The one Patriot from the Brady-Belichick era I feel for: Logan Mankins. Dude was an outstanding offensive lineman but was in New England from 2005-2013, literally the only stretch of years they didn’t win a Super Bowl. They won one the year before he got there and the year after he left. Just brutal.)
There is no way you can say Belichick doesn’t deserve a ton of credit for the dynasty. He literally built and rebuilt that roster three separate times.
And so this leads me into what I guess I would say is my biggest reservation when it comes to the idea that Brady is the greatest of all time: I think more of the Patriots’ success from 2001-2018 should be credited to Bill Belichick than to Tom Brady.
I am already seeing a lot of parallels between Tom Brady’s GOAT status with Michael Jordan’s (supposed) GOAT status, specifically this vicious and destructive way Jordan Stans have to belittle and discredit any and everyone who could possibly undermine Jordan’s GOAT status. We’re already seeing people do this about Brady.
What I mean is anyone who could possibly get some of the credit for Brady’s greatness has to be diminished, because otherwise people might get the idea that Tom Brady isn’t the hands down, undisputed GOAT. That he wasn’t the sole reason his teams won 7 Super Bowls.
With Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen has to be discredited, because to acknowledge that Scottie is one of the greatest NBA players ever lends credence to the idea that maybe Jordan didn’t do it all himself. Jerry Krause is not remembered as one of the great executives and team builders in NBA history; he’s a fat, nasty little villain who ruined everything the Bulls had going. Phil Jackson, either the greatest head coach in NBA history or the second-best (behind only Red Auerbach), is written off as a goofy stoner who stumbled into 11 NBA titles purely because he had MJ, Kobe and Shaq. Dennis Rodman is a sideshow freak who was more of a distraction to the Bulls than anything else, rather than the greatest rebounder in NBA history.
Everyone has to be belittled and discredited in order to protect and preserve the Jordan GOAT legacy.
I can already see it happening with Brady. Belichick is already starting to be diminished and belittled, because to acknowledge his brilliance would open up the possibility that maybe Brady isn’t the GOAT; maybe Brady only won as much as he did because of Bill Belichick. People feel the need to tear down Bill in order to prop up Tom.
I predict that Gronk will eventually be remembered more as a goofball–Brady’s comic relief–than as one of the 2-3 greatest tight ends to ever play in the National Football League.
The media already completely ignores the greatness of the Patriots defense for virtually that entire 20 year run.
People have a special devotion and nostalgia for “their own era” of sports. Guys who came of age in the ’90s a fiercely protective of the Jordan GOAT legacy, because they saw it live, they feel like they were a part of it, and they want to believe that their generation is the best to ever do it.
We are inherently wary of and biased against younger generations, which we perceive as being out to replace and erase us and all that our generation accomplished. This is why so many of the “old heads” in the NBA community are so vicious and hateful toward LeBron: he threatens the Jordan legacy, and a lot of those old heads–former players and media personalities like Skip Bayless–feel like if people start to perceive that LeBron has surpassed Jordan, then that means the old heads’ generation might not be the best generation ever, and that they won’t have anything to hang their hat on.
It’s like every older generation looks at the younger generation behind them and says, “Fuck these soft-ass young kids and their dumb music and their silly-ass haircuts, they don’t have shit on us.”
In 20 years, people in their 50s are going to be saying stuff like, “Man, Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have shit on Tom Brady. Mahomes played in a soft-ass era where all the rules are meant to help the offenses. In Brady’s era you couldn’t go over the middle. They’re playing flag football nowadays, this isn’t real football. You’re not even allowed to play defense anymore!” Of course we’ll conveniently forget that Brady was the most protected quarterback in the league, and you couldn’t even as much as breathe on him or else it was a 15 yard roughing the passer flag. We’ll also forget that people were calling the league soft for more than half of Tom Brady’s career, too.
“Man, fuck Arch Manning. I don’t care how many Super Bowls he wins, he doesn’t have shit on Tom Brady!”
It’s coming, in like 15-20 years. You know it is.
Look: I don’t think any quarterback is going to surpass Brady in terms of Super Bowl rings. At least not anytime soon. Mahomes, if he wins this next one in a week and gets #2, might have a chance to get 6 or 7, but it will still be highly improbable. Even if Mahomes gets #2, he will still need FIVE more to equal Brady, which is nuts.
But if Mahomes gets 3 or 4 rings, he will absolutely have a legitimate GOAT case. People will simply point to the fact that Mahomes is clearly and undeniably a better football player than Tom Brady was. Mahomes’ athleticism, his craftiness, his arm talent, his mobility, his moxie–he’s got Brady beat in all of those categories already. In terms of pure football talent, Tom Brady doesn’t even come close to Patrick Mahomes.
And so the sticking point in the NFL GOAT debate, I predict, will center around two things: the first is Brady’s “Killer Instinct” and competitiveness, just like it is with MJ and LeBron. LeBron is clearly and undeniably a better basketball player than Michael Jordan, but Jordan’s GOAT status still persists because people had to shift the goalposts to more intangible, unfalsifiable stuff like “competitiveness” and “killer instinct.” LeBron can break every record, and put up better numbers than MJ, and be a better basketball player period than Michael Jordan, but he doesn’t have Mike’s killer instinct! There is no stat for “competitiveness” or “killer instinct,” and so as long as people keep saying nobody is more competitive than MJ, then he can never be surpassed. It’s the last line of defense for the Jordan gatekeepers.
It’s like when your parents just want a reason to get on your ass, so they start making stuff up. “Did you clean your room?” “Yes.” “Did you take out the trash?” “Yes.” “Did you mow the lawn?” “Yes.” “Well I still don’t like your attitude right now, mister!”
The Jordan gatekeepers just keep raising the bar, and every time LeBron surpasses the bar, they raise the bar for some BS reason and claim he never got over it. “LeBron will never win a ring!” *wins two rings* “Well he did it with a Superteam!” *wins a ring in Cleveland, overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the Finals against a 73-win team* “Well it was only because Draymond got suspended!” *LeBron takes the worst supporting cast ever to the Finals three separate times* “MJ never lost in the Finals!” *LeBron wins ring #4* “Well it doesn’t count because of the bubble!” *LeBron becomes the all-time leading scorer in NBA history* “Well it’s just a longevity stat!” *LeBron shatters the all-time scoring record and finishes top-4 all time in assists, while also being the only player ever to record 10,000 points and 10,000 rebounds* “Well LeBron just didn’t have that dawg mentality and killer instinct like MJ had! 2011 Finals! 2011 Finals! JJ Barea! End of story! Shut the fuck up!“
It’s almost as if these people have been debating in bad faith the whole, and never actually cared about which basketball player is better–they only cared about protecting and preserving Jordan’s legacy and diminishing LeBron’s.
The same thing will happen in the NFL, I promise you. The same thing will happen with Brady, and it will be my generation behaving in the same childish manner as the NBA old heads do with Jordan.
When people say that Mahomes is better than Brady despite not having as many rings as Brady, the response will be, “Mahomes just didn’t have that Killer Instinct™ like Brady did! That’s why Mahomes will never be the GOAT!” Just as the reason LeBron didn’t win as many rings as Jordan is because LeBron don’t have that Killer Instinct™ like MJ!
The second, and significantly more valid, sticking point in the future NFL GOAT debate will be Belichick. The Brady gatekeepers will be steadfastly committed to discrediting and belittling Bill Belichick–they already are. And the Brady skeptics will be saying, validly, that coaching in football matters more than in any other sport, and Brady had the best coach of all time. The only reason Brady won seven rings was because he had Belichick.
And I have to admit, I am more partial to Team Belichick.
How many rings would Belichick have won with Peyton Manning in New England, or Aaron Rodgers?
As great as the Patriots were with Brady, they would have been even better with Peyton or Rodgers at QB. I truly believe that.
We have already gone over the stats in detail. Brady is not a top-5 quarterback statistically. He is only the top quarterback when it comes to the accumulation stats, like total passing yards, total passing touchdowns, stuff like that. Not to say those stats aren’t important because they absolutely are in terms of showcasing his unparalleled longevity, but it’s an apples to oranges comparison when it comes to other quarterbacks. You can’t say Brady is better than Peyton because Brady has more career yards and passing TDs–Peyton didn’t play as long. When you look at the per game, and per attempt stats from their primes, Peyton’s metrics are better. He was a more efficient quarterback than Tom Brady, as were several other quarterbacks.
And don’t bring up “Well Brady just had that dawg mentality; he had a chip on his shoulder; no one was more competitive!”
Peyton was every bit as competitive as Brady was. And Peyton’s legendary work ethic and film study habits, combined with Bill Belichick’s attention to detail, gameplanning and cleverness? Come on. They would have been unbeatable together.
Now, you could say that maybe Rodgers wouldn’t have been as successful in New England’s system as Brady was, because Rodgers has shown over the past several years, what appears to be some sort of mental block in the playoffs. A lot of the Packers’ playoff failures over the past decade have been because their defense just couldn’t hold up (largely due to Rodgers’ exorbitant salary hindering the team cap-wise). And poor coaching decisions (like in the 2020 NFC Championship against Brady’s Bucs) have also cost the Packers as well. But some of these playoff losses over the years have to be pinned on Rodgers.
Rodgers was not great in the Divisional Round game last year against San Fran, which Green Bay lost 13-10. He made some mistakes of his own against Tampa in the 2020 NFC Championship. Rodgers probably could have played better against Arizona in the playoffs in 2015. And the 2014 NFC Championship against Seattle? The Packers had the Seahawks dead to rights; they were up 19-7 with like 2 minutes to go and lost the game. Rodgers didn’t play well. He could’ve been better against San Fran in 2013 as well; Green Bay lost to them in the Divisional Round 23-20.
Despite Rodgers’ well-documented playoff shortcomings, Brady himself even said that Rodgers would be unstoppable in the Patriots system. Brady was quoted as saying, “He would throw for 7,000 yards ever year. He’s so much more talented than me.”
So it’s definitely valid to say that the Patriots could have been even more successful with a quarterback other than Brady in their system from 2001-2019. Brady himself even said it.
Okay, hold on. Wait a minute. Haven’t we already settled the Brady vs. Belichick debate?
Didn’t Tom put that to bed when he went to Tampa and won the Super Bowl his first season there?
Didn’t that prove the Patriots dynasty was all Brady, and that he carried Belichick the whole time, and that Belichick is just a big fat Spygating fraud with a ripped up hoodie and an admittedly cute dog?
A lot of people think this, and it’s easy to see why. Brady left Belichick, went down to Tampa and won the Super Bowl immediately, meanwhile Belichick’s Brady-less Patriots went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
But that’s not the full story.
For one thing, do people even bother to ask why Brady left New England in the first place? The conventional wisdom is that he just wanted to get away from that asshole Belichick.
I’m not sure that holds up to scrutiny. I mean, Brady was able to tolerate Belichick for nearly 20 years. You mean to tell me that Brady just decided he’d had enough of Bill after 20 years? No way, man. If those two didn’t get along, their marriage would have ended a lot earlier than 2020.
The media built up this narrative that there was some sort of rift between Brady and Belichick, and I just don’t think it’s true. Bill and Tom have enormous respect for one another. Each man understands how important the other was. To be honest, I’d say the people who are out there pushing the “Brady and Belichick don’t get along!” narrative don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I was just listening to Brady’s “Let’s Go” podcast and they actually brought on Bill Belichick. He and Tom couldn’t stop singing each others’ praises; you could just tell there’s a ton of respect there. Tom was getting emotional hearing Bill talk about him and how he got his start. Tom at one point said about Bill, “There’s nobody else I’d rather be associated with” when talking about the success they had.
Brady was even talking about how the media was trying to drive them apart and creating controversies out of thin air towards the end there, and how that outside noise actually brought him and Bill closer together. The idea that Brady had finally just had enough of Belichick, it’s just nonsense. They had disagreements about football–like everyone does–but it was never personal.
It’s obvious why Brady truly left New England: the dynasty run was over! It was played out. The music had stopped. The cupboard was getting bare, and Brady, who knew he only had a few years left in the NFL because he was 43 at the time, didn’t want to stick around for another rebuild. Back in ’08/’09 when the first dynasty run was over and lot of the key players had departed, Tom was still young so of course he was going to stick around for the rebuild (and the worst year of the “rebuild,” 2009, still saw the Patriots go 10-6).
But facing a rebuild at the age of 43? Of course he’s going to look elsewhere.
So he left New England and went to a team that was tailor made to win a Super Bowl. Tampa, despite going 7-9 in 2019, had a lot of pieces that Brady knew he could work with. First and foremost, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at wide receiver. That was huge for him. They had an offensive line that could protect him, and in the draft they picked up Tristan Wirfs, who has developed into a stud at tackle. The Tampa defense, meanwhile, didn’t do so hot in 2019 (ranked 29th in points against) but a lot of that was due to the fact that Jameis Winston threw 30 INTs and fumbled the ball 12 times that year. There were pieces on the Tampa defense: Lavonte David, Devin White, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea. Sure enough, they shaped up into a top-10 defense in 2020.
Additionally, Tampa told Brady they’d basically sign anybody he wanted. They picked up Gronk, then AB, and also added Leonard Fournette at running back, and Fournette was instrumental in that Super Bowl against the Chiefs. That Bucs roster was absolutely loaded. The offensive line only allowed Brady to get sacked 21 times in the regular season, and only a few quarterbacks were sacked less than Brady that year.
On top of all this, Tampa had an excellent coaching staff. Bruce Arians may not be Bill Belichick, but he’s still a damn good coach, even though he and Brady didn’t really see eye to eye on everything. Todd Bowles is an excellent defensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich did a great job with the offense. Brady went from a great coaching staff in New England to a really, really solid coaching staff in Tampa. And you saw how much Tampa fell off this year without Bruce Arians at head coach. So let’s stop acting like Belichick was exposed as some fraud because Brady went down to Tampa and won a Super Bowl with another great head coach–plus an incredibly stacked roster. Let’s not act like the Bucs were not just a quarterback away from being a really great team.
Now, I certainly think there was a “Brady effect” in Tampa, at least his first year. The guys on that team definitely upped their game because Brady had chosen to play with them. I think Brady boosted their confidence. Like, “Oh, damn, the GOAT wants to come play with us? We must actually be pretty good, then. We can win this.” And also, the young guys (every football player is young in comparison to Brady) really didn’t want to disappoint him, because that’s Tom Brady. I don’t think it’s silly to say this, but also, where was the “Brady effect” this past year, when they were horrible?
Meanwhile in New England, by 2020, the dynasty hangover was in full force. In fact, it had been during the 2019 season, although it wasn’t readily apparent because the Patriots were still able to go 12-4. But Gronk retired after the 2018 Super Bowl, so that was a huge blow. And the offense started sputtering in general after an 8-0 start. After week 8 in 2019, the Patriots would only surpass 30 points in a game one time for the rest of the way, and it was against the 2-14 Bengals. New England started out 10-1 but finished the year 12-4. They tried to shore up the offense by signing Antonio Brown, but he got hit with a rape charge after only playing one game and was immediately let go.
The Patriots offense was basically Julian Edelman and not much else. They traded for Mohamed Sanu in the middle of the season, but he didn’t really have much left in the tank by that point. The top two receivers on New England that year were 33 year old Edelman and James White, a running back.
New England’s defense was still great (best in the league that year) but the cupboard was bare on offense, and Brady at that point in his career was not really able to do more with less. Turns out Gronk and guys like Amendola and Hogan were pretty important. Brady had his worst passing season since his early 20s, completing only 60.8% of his passes, barely throwing for 4,000 yards, and averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt, the third worst mark of his career, ahead of only 2022 and 2002.
In the 2019 playoffs, the Patriots had to host a wild card game against the Titans because they failed to qualify for a bye due to how poorly they finished out the regular season. Brady was lackluster in the playoff game, as he had been for most of the season, and the Patriots defense got sort of gashed by Derrick Henry, allowing over 200 yards. But still, the game was just 14-13 Tennessee with under a minute left. Brady threw a pick six on the final drive and that was his last play as a Patriot.
After the way the 2019 season ended, people figured Brady was washed up. He didn’t get the offers he thought he would in free agency. His top choice was the 49ers, but San Fran passed on him, concluding he was washed up. What a mistake on their part, but it was also hard to blame them as Brady didn’t look good at all that year. Only 73% of his throws were on target, he had a bad throw rate of over 20%, and he pretty clearly could not handle pressure. New England’s offensive line had regressed a bit and Brady was blitzed almost twice as much as he was in 2018, which is a big part of why he played so poorly.
In addition to Brady wanting out of New England, I’m sure Belichick wasn’t too broken up about him leaving. Belichick had reportedly been trying to move off of Brady since 2017, because that’s just what Bill does: he moves off of guys a year or two early to maximize his return.
But things were deteriorating in New England before Brady left for Tampa, that’s the main takeaway here.
In 2020, the Patriots had very little salary cap space to work with, plus they had a league-high 8 players opt out of the season due to Covid, including linchpin linebacker Donta Hightower, longtime starting safety Patrick Chung, and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. They lost Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, all starters on their 2019 defense. Four defensive starters gone from 2019 to 2020, that’s a big deal.
And look: I am not saying that Tom Brady was just along for the ride in New England. He was an all-time great quarterback, one of the very best the league has ever seen. Not having him hurt, for sure. They had to replace him with a washed-up Cam Newton.
For the people who say, “Belichick couldn’t win without Brady!” It’s just ridiculous.
How many Super Bowls would Bill Walsh have won without Joe Montana? What would we think of Andy Reid without Patrick Mahomes? How great a coach would Mike Shanahan be without John Elway?
You need a great quarterback to win in the NFL, now more so than ever. You could win a Super Bowl or two with an average quarterback and a great defense back in the day (Joe Gibbs did it three times, Bill Parcells won two with Phil Simms, the Raiders with Jim Plunkett, etc.) and you probably still can if things break your way, but quarterbacks are just so important nowadays that to criticize a coach for needing a great quarterback to win Super Bowls is almost asking the impossible. It’s like asking a NASCAR driver to win the Daytona 500 without a pit crew. Look at Kyle Shanahan in San Fran: how many Super Bowls would he have won over the past few years if he had a great quarterback? I’d say at least one or two just over the past 3 years.
The reality is that Brady and Belichick needed each other. There would not have been 6 Super Bowl titles and 9 Super Bowl appearances over an 18 year span without both of them being there. They were the twin pillars of the dynasty. Take away either one, and there is no dynasty.
But where I give Belichick the slight edge over Brady in terms of credit for that dynasty is because Belichick was the architect of those great teams. Again, he built and rebuilt that Patriots roster three times over from 2000-2019, and now he’s doing it again.
Does Belichick have some shortcomings? Absolutely. He is pretty terrible at drafting wide receivers. His defense has had some lapses in the playoffs, most notably against Nick Foles and the Eagles in the 2017 Super Bowl.
The way I see it is like this: Belichick could’ve won 6 Super Bowls with other quarterbacks. But I don’t think Brady would have won 6 Super Bowls without Belichick. He probably could’ve gotten a couple of them had he been drafted to a team like, say, the Chargers or the Cardinals. But without a coach like Belichick, I think Brady’s career in terms of playoff success would look a lot more like Peyton Manning’s, or Aaron Rodgers’, or Drew Brees’.
When the Patriots actually had a great roster, Belichick went 11-5 without Brady in 2008. People just forget that nowadays when they say Belichick can’t do anything without Brady. Brady tore his ACL in the first game, and Belichick went 11-5 with Matt Cassel, a guy who hadn’t started a football game since high school (at college at USC, he sat behind Heisman Winners Carson Palmer and then Matt Leinart all four years). The Patriots didn’t make the playoffs that year, but they were the only 11-5 team to ever miss the playoffs. It was fluke bad luck.
The 2008 Patriots sans-Brady had the 8th ranked scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 25.6 points per game. This was well below their 2007 clip, when they were #1 in the league and averaged 36.8 points per game (which is still to this day the third-highest scoring average in league history dating back to the 1950 Rams who averaged 38.8 a game). However, when Brady came back in 2009, they averaged 26.7 points per game and finished as the 6th best offense in the league. They also finished 10-6 in 2009, a game worse than they were in 2008. This is not to say there wasn’t much of a gap between Brady and Matt Cassel, because Brady’s 2009 stats were clearly better than what Cassell put up, but it is to say that the Patriots functioned pretty well without Tom for that one year he was out in 2008. That 2008 Patriots team was an overtime loss to the Jets away from going 12-4.
Belichick not only built great teams, he built a system, a culture, a way of life up there in New England. That’s “The Patriot Way” that you always hear about. Next man up, do your job.
Belichick was winning games and making the playoffs as head coach of the Cleveland Browns back in the 90s. Until 2020, he was the last coach that had ever won a playoff game for the Browns, and he did it back in 1994. He would have done great things in Cleveland, but the team got moved to Baltimore in 1995. They let him go after the season and just blew the whole thing up.
And here’s the one thing that I think really seals it for Bill: he won 6 Super Bowls with a quarterback he drafted in the 6th round. He turned a 6th round pick into a guy who is widely considered to be the GOAT.
Brady always gets all the credit for turning himself into a great player, but nobody ever talks about Belichick’s role in taking that 6th round talent and turning him into an elite quarterback. Brady improved over the course of his career, and it had a lot to do with the confidence that Belichick built up in him, putting him in a position to succeed, and developing him.
Kyle Shanahan gets a ton of credit for turning Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy into a winning quarterback. We all understand that great coaching often makes the difference in a player’s career. But why don’t we ever apply that logic to Tom Brady? Why don’t we ever give Belichick credit for turning a 6th round pick into the GOAT?
Tom Brady would not have become the Tom Brady we know if he were drafted into one of those QB meat grinder franchises like Chicago or Cleveland or the Jets, who routinely take promising college quarterbacks, then chew them up and spit them out. You cannot look me dead in the eyes and tell me Tom Brady would’ve won 6 Super Bowls with the Browns, or the Bears, or the Lions, or the Raiders. I don’t care how competitive and fiery he is, or how much avocado ice cream he eats to stay in shape, Tom Brady would not have won 6 Super Bowls in Detroit.
Look, quarterback is the most important position on the field. Nobody is denying that. But head coaches are even more important. And we’re talking about a head coach in Bill Belichick who is also the GM for the team, too.
The Patriots as a team won 6 Super Bowls. It wasn’t just Brady. Sometimes they even had to overcome Brady’s mistakes to win. Belichick was the guy who built those teams. He was the guy behind the Patriots’ defenses, who ensured that Brady rarely ever had to play from behind, or get into shootouts in the playoffs. Brady’s first five playoff games, the opposing team never scored more than 17 points because of Belichick’s defense.
At the end of the day, the “Brady vs. Belichick” debate is pretty stupid, in my view. There is no dynasty without both guys.
But the way I look at it is, the Patriots probably would have been even better, and more dominant, with a quarterback like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. That’s just my opinion, others may disagree, and I know it sounds like hating on Brady. But it’s more that I just think Manning and Rodgers have Brady beat, not by a ton, in the talent department.
So much of football–and sports in general–is based around where a player lands; situation, fit, and even timing. The stars really did align perfectly for Brady for virtually his entire career. From where he landed, to the breaks his teams caught along the way, to the fact that he almost always had a great defense backing him up, it just feels, to me, like luck had a lot more to do with the way Brady’s career turned out than anything else. When I think of Brady’s 7 Super Bowls, I can’t help but think of Malcolm Butler’s interception, the Tuck Rule, and the Falcons choking away the 28-3 lead, Dee Ford being offsides, and Mahomes not having an offensive line in the Super Bowl.
Obviously you’ve got to be great to even be in position to benefit from this stuff, so I’m not trying to say Brady was actually bad or anything like that. I still think Brady is, when you look at everything he brings to the table overall, a top-5 all-time quarterback. But the reason he got 7 Super Bowls and is known as the GOAT is a lot more due to luck, circumstance and Belichick than it is about Brady’s singular and unique greatness.
I don’t think he’s a notch above guys like Manning, Rodgers, Montana and Brees in terms of football skill and talent. I don’t think he was the only one capable of winning seven Super Bowls in the situations he was in. I think any of those other guys could have won as many Super Bowls as he did if they were in his shoes–maybe even more, honestly.
This is is going to come off as hating, slander, being overly critical. But I don’t feel that way. I feel like the picture the media has painted of Brady, which so many people have just accepted without questioning it, is inaccurate. They act like he did it all himself, and it’s just not true. I am not the bad guy for pointing out that the media’s narrative on Tom Brady is inaccurate.
There’s a lot of people who don’t care about context, don’t care about facts, and only care about narratives. “SEVEN RINGS, NUFF SAID!”
Personally, though, I care about context, facts, and telling the full story.
I am not saying that my opinion of Tom Brady is the objective reality and the only valid version of the truth about him. I just believe there are certain facts about his career that cause me to hesitate when it comes to labeling him as the hands-down, undisputed, undeniable GOAT.
It’s not “hating” just because I am not on board with the media’s hagiographical, fairytale narrative about Tom Brady.
I actually like Brady a lot. I pulled for the Patriots for most of their dynasty run; I’m a big fan of Bill Belichick, of greatness in general, and and because I like a lot of the players on those New England teams, like James White, Gronk, Edelman, McCourty, and Donta Hightower. From the very start of the “Deflategate” fake controversy, I knew it was a crock of shit, and I’d argue with my buddies about it, defending Brady. Notice I didn’t bring up that fake-ass “scandal” in this entire post. I used to pretend to be Tom Brady out in the backyard playing football in the early 2000s when I was a kid. I have a ton of respect for Brady, and as a fan of the NFL, I’m so glad I got to witness his career play out, because it was awesome to watch.
But that doesn’t mean I’m on board with all the myth-making and propaganda.
Brady has had the greatest career of any football player ever. I agree with that. To me, that’s just a fact. Brady is also the most decorated quarterback ever. I don’t think that’s deniable, either. If that’s what makes him the GOAT, then I guess that’s fair.
But if you ask me who was better at playing the quarterback position, Brady or Peyton Manning? I’m saying Peyton Manning without a second of hesitation. There isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind. Same with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Steve Young.
So that’s why I’m kind of wishy-washy when it comes to calling Brady the GOAT, the more I think about it.
The only analogy I can think of to explain what I think Brady’s place in NFL history should be is Bill Russell.
Bill Russell won 11 rings, but we pretty much all know he wasn’t the best basketball player to ever live. We know there are better players in NBA history than Bill Russell.
We know that Bill Russell was the leader and best player on the greatest dynasty the NBA has ever seen, but also that he had a ton of great players on his teams, he was in a great basketball situation, and he had the greatest (or second-greatest) coach ever. So while we revere him for being the heart and soul of a team that won 11 titles, and having the most rings, we also understand that Championships are a team accomplishment, yet the GOAT debate is about the individual.
Most of Brady’s GOAT case relies on team accomplishments.
Try to make the GOAT case for Tom Brady without saying, “Seven rings.” I don’t think it’s possible. What are you going to talk about, how great he was at throwing checkdowns and underneath routes? How much he barked at his teammates to motivate them?
You could say Brady won 5 Super Bowl MVPs in his career, but even that is a team award when you think about it. You are the “MOST Valuable Player,” not the “ONLY Valuable Player.” It’s MVP, not OVP.
I think Brady is the Bill Russell of the NFL: a legendary, revered figure who towers over the sport, and will probably always be known as the greatest winner the sport has ever seen. But at the same time, we know he wasn’t the best to ever play the sport.
Brady is the personification of the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever seen; the face of it–the lead singer of the band.
I’ll call Brady the GOAT, just because I can’t think of any other label to apply to him (the Bill Russell of Football–The BROF?)
But he is not the best quarterback we’ve ever seen.