The career of Tom Brady fascinates me to no end, for any number of reasons. Primary among them is the narrative that picks up around a player. Early in his career, he could not lose in the playoffs. I mean, could not lose. He started with 10 straight wins in the postseason. Some of those games the Patriots won handily; others involved bizarre circumstances or key moments.
Two years ago, after New England lost at home to the Jets, and the Atlanta Falcons and “Matty Ice” lost at home to the Green Bay Packers, I penned one of my personal favorite pieces (not immediately appreciated by the commenters) that was kind of about Matt Ryan, but really about Tom Brady. “The Twisted Tale of Paddy Ice” was a fictional jaunt through the career of a player who went in complete reverse order to Tom Brady’s career up until that point, and an examination of how differently he might be viewed.
Two more years have passed, and two more heartbreaking losses have now occurred when Tom Brady’s team was the favorite. First, in the Super Bowl against an old nemesis, and then at home against a team that has been a thorn in the side for New England the last few years. It has now been eight seasons that the Patriots have entered the season among the favorites to win the title, and eight times they have not. The only comparable stretch I can even compare it to are the stretch for Dallas from the late 70’s to the mid-80’s that included a Super Bowl loss, a crushing defeat to the Rams at home as the top seed, and then three straight championship game losses as a favorite.
I’m not going to go back and weave a tale that includes names like Brian the Lion and Mike Chateau again (thank goodness), but I think it is an interesting question. How would Tom Brady be perceived if the last eight years came at the start of his career?
If we take Brady’s last seven seasons (of course, minus the knee injury year), and compare them to the first seven (non-rookie) seasons of all quarterbacks, who most resembles him? Glad you asked. Here are the most similar quarterbacks to post-rings Tom Brady (using Adusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANYA+) for seasons with 200+ attempts, ordered by best to worst during seven seasons).
- Peyton Manning (1999-2005)
- Dan Marino (1984-1990)
- Dan Fouts (1974-1981)
- Joe Montana (1981-1987)
- Boomer Esiason (1985-1991)
- Jim Kelly (1986-1992)
- Brett Favre (1992-1998)
- Ken Anderson (1972-1979)
Tom Brady has been very, very good over the last eight years. One of the best ever. Eight of the best quarterbacks at the start of their careers are closest to what he has been recently. Only two of them won a Super Bowl title during those years. Only Peyton Manning won one after. I don’t know what that tells you, but it tells me that winning titles is hard. Even the best at their most important position will lose way more than they win in the end.
Now, look at the top of that list, and the power of perception. Tom Brady will draw some criticism today. All three of those guys, like Brady, were on the losing end of playoff games when their team was repeatedly a high seed. The perception of them is vastly different.
The public outcry and perception of Tom Brady would be very different today without the rings. He would be the same person, with the same internal drive and ability. Tom Brady, by the way, would also be a Hall of Famer without three rings in his first four years, when you look at that list. The outcomes of field goal kicks and Tuck rules and catches against a helmet, and crushing home defeats to Baltimore and the New York Jets do not change that.