Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Some final, final, final Tom Brady thoughts for the season

More a random collection of thoughts than anything else, but here's some stuff about Tom Brady I posted over at my buddy's McBlog! And after this, I promise, no more football. After all, we have important things to get to, such as which of the remaining presidential candidates is the most evil?

If you don't want to look at wins when it comes to quarterbacks, you're ignoring how the position has been regarded for over half a century, not just by analysts, but by every team front office. There's a reason you have to go back thirty years to Archie Manning to think of the losing team that stuck with the same quarterback year in and year out and thats because winning is one of the criteria by which quarterbacks are judged. Of course film study is important, but I'd be curious to know about the losing quarterback who looks good on film.

I point out that Brady beat the Chargers because, again, thats how we talk about quarterbacks. In 2007, the Patriots trailed 21-13 with 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter before Tom Brady made a number of huge plays to help tie the game and take the lead. He pretty much sucked for 3&1/2 quarters of that game, but was huge when it counted. As to this year, Brady's picks againast the Chargers were not killer- one was in the end zone, which basically equates to lost points for the Patriots, and the other two led to Charger field goals. Even if those field goals had been touchdowns, you still would have had a 21-20 game, with the Patriots controlling the ball for the final 9 minutes. Brady wasn't particularly good in either game, but this is precisely the reason why Brady is a good quarterback- he helps his team win games when he's personally off his game.

As to other quarterbacks throw better than Brady under pressure- that's just pure bullshit. There's not a quarterback in NFL history that throws the ball well under a constant pass rush, particularly one that's being administered by the front 4 and front 5 without a lot of blitzing. Against a good pass rush a quarterback has time to go to his primary option and maybe to his check down- that's it. Other than that, he can buy time with his feet, get sacked, or throw the ball away. The fact is, when a defense is on, pressuring the quarterback and taking away his quick reads, it doesn't matter who the quarterback is, you're just not going to be successful. That's why even the greatest quarterbacks have their bad days.

In the Super Bowl, the Pats did have open receivers- I noticed Moss open on the backside numerous times. But the problem is, with the Giants pass rush, Brady didn't have the time to get to those options. Open guys are no good if the quarterback doesn't have time to see them and this is more a fault of play calling and game planning then quarterbacking- Notice Randy Moss after the game was critical of the game plan- not Brady.

You say put Brady on the Ravens, but isn't that just a useless thought experiment? After all, what would Peyton Manning be away from his offensive line and all his weapons on the Colts - Clearly as we saw from this season with Brady, the weapons you have make a big difference in terms of the numbers you put up. But again, to go back to my point about the pass rush, I don't think you'll find a good quarterback who hasn't befitted from quality offensive line play. Aikmen, Montana, Young, Favre, Manning, Marino, they all played behind quality offensive lines and they all weren't sacked at the rate of David Carr.

And yes, Brady's played his career with a great D, but so did most of the other great quarterbacks in NFL history. You mention Jake Delhomme, and of course you don't hold it againast him that the Panther defense failed and the Patriots had the ball last. If Brady had more time the other night and brought the Pats back to win, you wouldn't blame Eli for that either- certainly part of your reputation as a quarterback is based on luck. But it's also based on what you do over time- no one holds bad luck againast a quarterback who's play has been consistently good.

Just to go back to Jake Delhomme. Since that Super Bowl in January 2004, the Panthers have mirrored the play of their quarterback- they've been inconsistent, sometimes looking like world beaters and sometimes looking awful. He had a great Super Bowl, but Delhomme isn't an elite quarterback because he hasn't maintained a consistent level of play.

Let's go back to Brady for a sec. I don't think Brady, at his best, is as good as Montana, Marino, Manning, Favre, or some of the other greats. For my my money, playing at his highest level, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback I've ever seen. But the thing is, how important is play at a high level as a matter of comparison in judging good quarterbacks? When a quarterback throws 6 TD's and his team scores 40 plus points, does it really matter how close to perfect he was? For my money, Tom Brady is great because of how he performs in games when he's not playing at a high level- on days where he makes mistakes, where the pass rush gets to him, and his team probably has no business winning. And I don't just mean the wins- with Brady at quarterback, the Patriots are a tough team to beat. Just ask yourself when the last easy win againast Brady's Pats came? It's been awhile. And try to come up with the teams that have gotten easy wins againast Brady's Pats since he came into the league. I'd put the list at fewer than 10, and that's 10 over the course of 7 years.

As I said, it's not just the wins- Go back to 2005, a year Brady didn't have the advantage of a dominating defense. The Pats went 10-6 and some of the losses that year could have been blowouts, but weren't. At Denver, the Pats fell behind 28-3, but ended up within a touchdown, losing 28-20. At Kansas City, Brady through 4 interceptions and the team fell behind 26-3, but scored twice in the second half to make it 26-16. Even againast Denver in the playoffs in 2005, despite a game in which everything went wrong- Brady's end zone INT, Troy Brown's muffing a punt and Vinatieri's missed field goal, Brady and the Pats kept it a game until a long Jake Plummer drive ended things late in the fourth quarter.

Then, of course, there are the comebacks and the game winning drives. I'm sure you've seen the stat that since 2001, Tom Brady has the most 4th quarter game winning drives in the NFL. That's not about defense, that's about Brady making plays when it matters. This is why Brady is a great quarterback. Listen to other players and coaches and ex-players and coaches talk about him- he gets plenty of respect precisely because he's so hard to beat. And this is why quarterbacks are judged, at least in part, on wins. Because bad quarterback play usually losses games and because good quarterback play is usually needed to win close games.

A performance like Brady had againast the Chargers in January 2006 is far more useful than a quarterback who plays well throughout but can't get the job done in the 4th quarter when his team is trailing 24-23. Even the performance Brady had in this years Super Bowl is part of what makes him great. He was off, he was hassled, and yet he didn't make a single game changing mistake. And that's what you would have heard about if the Patriots defense had made a stop in the 4th quarter. Of course, as I said, there's always an element of luck involved. Eli Manning was huge, and rightfully so, everyone's going to be talking about his ascent to greatness because of his amazing 4th quarter and his consistently good play throughout the playoffs.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion about the greatest QB ever, of course. And as much as I'd like Brady to surpass him, Joe Montana still holds that spot in my mind. But it's foolish not to consider Brady in that elite group. No, I admit, not as dominating, but I don't think you'll see as good a pattern of consistent play that kept his team in games with anyone else.


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