The GOAT: Evolution of Tom Brady

Can we really even call it a debate anymore? As the years keep ticking, Tom Brady continues to pour cement on his legacy as the greatest QB to ever step between the lines.

His first Super Bowl came during the 2001 season. I was just 9 years old. Here we are heading in to 2019 and Brady has been to nine of them. It is absolutely insane to think about given the strong parity in the NFL.

  • New England def. St. Louis 20-17 – Super Bowl 36 (2001)
  • New England def. Carolina 32-29 – Super Bowl 38 (2003)
  • New England def. Philadelphia 24-21 – Super Bowl 39 (2004)
  • New York Giants def. New England 17-14 – Super Bowl 42 (2007)
  • New York Giants def. New England 21-17 – Super Bowl 46 (2011)
  • New England def. Seattle 28-24 – Super Bowl 49 (2014)
  • New England def. Atlanta 34-28 – Super Bowl 51 (Falcons blew a 28-3 lead) (2016)
  • Philadelphia def. New England 41-33 – Super Bowl 52 (2017)
  • New England def. Los Angeles Rams 13-3 – Super Bowl 53 (2018)

Brady has started 17 seasons excluding 2008 when he was injured. He had a made Super Bowl in 53% of his seasons. For context, the guy is statistically more likely to make a Super Bowl than Michael Jordan is to make a basket. For further context, here are some of the things that have happened since Brady’s first Super Bowl…

9/11 Attack
3 Different Presidents Have Held Office
Osama Bin Laden Killed
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all born
Myspace created and dies
All 8 Harry Potter Films Have Been Released
TRL was MTV’s Best Show
Friends was the number one TV Show
Barry Bonds Single Season Home Run Record
First iPod was released

He has more Super Bowl Appearances than all 31 other franchises. Here is a quick look at Brady for regular season and postseason.

Regular Season
Wins – 207 (1st)
W/L % – 78% (2nd)
Completion % – 64% (13th)
Yards – 70.514 (4th)
Touchdowns – 517 (3rd)
Interceptions – 171 (Not Even Top 50 for Most)
TD/INT Ratio – 3.02 (3rd)
QB Rating – 97.6 (4th)
4th Quarter Comebacks – 35 (2nd)
Game Winning Drives – 44 (4th)
MVPs – 3
1st Team All Pro – 3
2nd Team All Pro – 2
Offensive Player of the Year – 2
Comeback Player of the Year – 1
Passing Yard Leader – 3
Passing Touchdown Leader – 4
Passer Rating Leader – 2
Highest TD/INT Ratio in a Single Season 

Playoffs
Appearances – 16
Super Bowl Record – 6-3
Win/Loss – 30/10
W/L % – .750
Completion % – 63.2%
Yards – 11,179
Touchdowns – 73
Interceptions – 34
TD/INT Ratio – 2.15
QB Rating – 90.5
4th Quarter Comebacks – 9
Game Winning Drives – 13
Super Bowl MVPs – 4

Brady has the wins. He has the numbers. He has the longevity. People find reasons to tear him down such as him being coached by Bill Belichick.

Yes. Brady is with, in my opinion, the greatest NFL coach ever. That is all of a sudden a knock on the QB though? Joe Montana had Bill Walsh. Terry Bradshaw had Chuck Noll. Roger Staubach had Tom Landry. Peyton Manning had Tony Dungy. Dan Marino had Don Shula. Drew Brees has Sean Payton. These are all great coaches who had great QBs.

Let’s not pretend that Belichick was a god before Brady. He wasn’t a household name. There wasn’t the “Patriot way.” There was just Bill Belichick, a guy trying to create his own path after being under the great Bill Parcells. Just because you’re an understudy doesn’t automatically make you destined to be a great head coach. Some guys are just better coordinators.

In his five seasons with the Cleveland Browns…

1991 – 6-10
1992 – 7-9
1993 – 7-9
1994 – 11-5 (1-1 Postseason)
1995 – 5-11

In his first season with the Patriots, he goes 5-11 with Drew Bledsoe as his QB. This was Bledsoe’s worst record as a starter in his 8th season. He had a proven track record, unlike Belichick. The Patriots started 0-2 in 2001 with Bledsoe. That is of course when the injury happened and Tom Brady came in. As they say, the rest is history. The greatest QB/Coach duo of Brady/Belichick was born.

We see the wins. We see the stats. We see the longevity. What has really made Brady/Belichick special though is adaptability. This is something that no one I come across ever talks about. It certainly something you don’t hear from the talking mush mouths.

One term I hear because of the head coach Brady has is “system quarterback.” I hate it. It is the furthest thing from the truth. When I say furthest, I mean out of our fucking solar system.

No quarterback like Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Russell Wilson should ever be burdened with that lunacy. That title is reserved for guys like Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Mark Sanchez.

To say this about Brady is further than accurate more so than any other modern era QB. Not only has he operated with multiple systems, he has been successful with all of them. At this point in his career, he does not change it up year to year. He changes it up week to week if need be. When you have a coach like Belichick who is playing chess, Brady being that adaptable is scary.

2001-2004 – Great Defense, Marginal Offense, Efficient QB Play

This era of Brady is a bit of fools gold. I say that because he was backed by historically great defenses for the first three SBs. Many people believed Peyton Manning was better despite not finding the playoff success. At this point, I would have agreed. Brady had the stigma of being overrated and a game manager. In many ways, it was probably true during the first four seasons.

2001 (11-3) – Game Manager Brady
63.9 Comp%, 2,843 Yards, 18 TDs, 12 Ints

In the first run for Brady, we can be honest here and say he was absolutely a game manager with a clutch gene, highlighted by three 4th Quarter Comebacks and three Game Winning Drives (not including playoffs). He relied heavily on the run game with Antowain Smith (1,157 yards 12 TDs) and a passing game dominated by Troy Brown. Brown caught 101 balls for 1,199 yards and 5 TDs. Brown’s only 1,000 yard season in 15 years and 4 as a starter.

2002 (9-7) – Let’s See What Brady Can Do
62.1 Comp%, 3,764 Yards, 28 TDs, 14 INTs

The Patriots decided to let Brady throw after winning a Super Bowl with him. In 2001, the play call split was 52/48 as opposed to 62/32 the following season. The run game wasn’t as efficient so the Patriots threw it 601 times as Brown also came back down to Earth. Not a single receiver eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark showing that Brady can spread the rock.

2003 (14-2) – Doing More with Less Offensively
60.8 Comp%, 3,620 Yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs 

The defense returns to form with the addition of safety Rodney Harrison. The offense remained a pretty big mess due to a lack of playmakers. The two headed monster of Smith and Kevin Faulk couldn’t manage a mere 3.5 yards per carry. Not a single receiver managed 60 catches on the season. Brady’s yards per attempt shot up as he threw 50+ less passes.

2004 (11-5) – Back to 2001 Formula with a Better Brady
60.8 Comp%, 3,692 Yards , 28 TDs, 14 INTs

Now with 2 Super Bowl Titles, Brady heads for his third in his first four seasons as a starter. The Patriots signed Corey Dillon who went ape shit for 1,600 yards and 12 TDs. With even less pass attempts thanks to a strong run game, Brady capitalized on limited opportunities as his yards per attempt and touchdown percentage both went through the roof. He did it despite a lack of playmakers on the outside.

2005-2006 – No Longer a Game Manager Stigma, Breakout Begins

Brady now has regular and postseason success. He finds his stride while still working with limited weapons on offense. Now, he has a target on his back after the Patriots dynasty begins.

2005 (10-6) – Welcome back to 2002, except Brady is More Polished
63.0 Comp%, 4,110 Yards, 26 TDs, 14 INTs 

Corey Dillon returns to the planet Earth after his insane season. The receivers remain the same. Brady eclipses 4,000 yards for the first time in his career. The defense slides to the bottom half of the league. History has a way of repeating itself. Much like the 2002, the Patriots see a down year. This time they were able to make the playoffs though.

2006 (12-4) – The Worst Offense Yet, The Defense Returns
61.8 Comp%, 3,529 Yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs 

Brady takes a dive across the board. To be fair, his supporting cast on offense is horrendous. The number one receiver was Reche Caldwell. I really shouldn’t have to say anymore. BARF.

2007-2009 – 12 Steps Forward, 6 Steps Back, Could’ve Would’ve Should’ve

The Patriots finally give Brady some weapons on the offensive side. He has an unstoppable 2007 regular season. Brady goes down the following season. Just as he comes back, things get shaken up.

2007 (16-0) – Spread the Field. Good Luck Stopping It.
68.9 Comp%, 4,809 Yards, 50 TDs, 8 INTs

Hail Randy Moss, who unloads for 23 TDs on the year to help Brady break Peyton Manning’s TD record (49) just three years later. For the record, it took 30 years before Manning broke it. The pass happy NFL begins.

2008 (11-5) – Brady Gets Hurt. Patriots Revert Back to 2000s.

After going down in the first game of the year with a torn ACL, Matt Cassel takes over as QB. The Patriots went from pass happy the previous year to relying on a four headed rush attack that included Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Lamont Jordan and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. They finished with 500+ rush attempts and 2,000 yards. They missed the postseason despite an 11 win season.

2009 (10-6) – Brady Returns. The Offense Loses Their Mojo.
65.7 Comp%, 4,398 Yards, 28 TDs, 13 INTs 

The flame of the Brady Moss/Welker connection burned out faster than it began. All three finished with great numbers. However, they looked more human.

2010-2014 – The Beginning of Constant Evolution. GOAT Status Approaching.

These four years are the main reason I am writing this. Everything that happened prior to this, arguments could be made against Brady being the best ever. Despite a constant influx of offenses, Brady puts up elite numbers. This is the beginning of there no longer being a debate of the best ever. When you wear so many hats, good luck stopping it.

2010 (14-2) – A Run Based Personnel Leads to Big Passing Numbers
65.9 Comp%, 3,900 Yards, 36 TDs, 4 INTS

Considering Brady threw less than 500 passes, he sure maximized the pay dirt tossing 36 TDs. The Patriots drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and began operating out of 12 and 22 Personnel as their base offense. Something no one else in the league was doing. Thus the glamour of tight ends was born.

2011 (13-3) – Honing in the Two Tight End Approach
65.6 Comp%, 5,235 Yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTs

The Patriots followed the 2010 blueprint and performed even better with a run based personnel utilizing the pass. They finished with 100+ more offensive plays than in 2010. Brady went from under 500 passes back up over the 600 mark. In doing so, Brady breaks 5K.

2012 (12-4) – NFL Jumps on 2 Tight End Trend, Patriots Jump on Hurry Up
63.0 Comp%, 4,827 Yards, 34 TDs, 8 INTs 

The Patriots upped the total offensive plays by 100+ AGAIN. They led the league in total plays, points and yards. One again, it resulted in success from Brady and in the win column. It was basically the NFL and Patriots version of running a fast break all game making the defenses exhausted.

2013 (12-4) – Injuries, Convictions and Losses in Free Agency Leads to Slight Slump
60.5 
Comp%, 4,343 Yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs

Welker leaves. Hernandez gets convicted. Gronk plays a third of the year. Brady is off rhythm with the receivers he has. Julian Edelman (before breaking out), Danny Amendola (injured part of the season), Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are the targets. The Patriots turn the clock back 2008 and and began running the ball. Late in the season, an offensive surge happened. While Brady did well, he looked more vulnerable than previous years.

2014 (12-4) – Slow and Steady Wins the Race
64.1 Comp%, 4,109 Yards, 33 TDs, 9 INTs

The offense is two years removed from going up tempo to polar opposite in 2014. The Patriots revert to a more power run and control the clock with a stable of backs. The Patriots led the league in 40 point games with 6 (including playoffs). They finished the year second in drives of 10 or more plays. They did so five more times during the postseason run.

2015-Present – Forget Year to Year. Time for Game to Game Offensive Approaches

As the years go by, there are always people who say this is the year it all unfolds for the Patriots. It never does. It will eventually. It is the song that never ends. The Patriots are always ahead of the curve because they can adapt and use multiple offenses thanks to Brady and his willingness to do that year after year. The coach is a strategic mastermind and the QB is a major pawn in that.

I will dive into the blueprint of their success. Before I do that, here is a quick look at the last four seasons of Brady…

2015 (12-4) – 64.4 Comp%, 4,770 Yards, 36 TDs, 7 INTs
2016 (11-1) – 67.4 Comp%, 3,554 Yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs
2017 (13-3) – 66.3 Comp%, 4,577 Yards, 32 TDs, 8 INTs
2018 (11-5) – 65.8 Comp%, 4,355 Yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs

Brady has been wildly consistent in his individual numbers and the win column. 2018 marked the first time since 2009 that the Pats failed to reach 12 wins on the season.

The offensive approach week to week the last four years has been insane. Depending on the match up, they may run 40 times or they may throw 40 times. They may spread you out. They may play inside the hashes. They may push the pace. They may eat the clock. There have been common denominators of the offense which has helped them do all of those things week to week.

Brady – You have to start with the obvious here.

Gronk – When healthy, Gronk adds a major chess piece in the pass game. He is big, strong and physical. I don’t know that there has been a more talented tight end in NFL history. He is now retired. Although, I won’t be surprised by a comeback late in the season.

Pass Catching Running Back – From James White to the former Dion Lewis, the Patriots usually have a back who is good with the ball in space. That allows them to counter blitzes with easy dump offs and utilize the screen game.

Bruiser – They seem to always have a short yardage back like LeGarrette Blount and now Sony Michel.

Slot Machine – Edelman has been the guy for them in recent years. Prior to that, they had Welker. They always have someone who knows how to operate the middle of the field and catch the short to intermediate routes.

What Has Made Brady Special?

Great on the Road – With a 92-43 record away from Foxborough, he dominates away from home. He has more Passing Yards and TDs on the road. He has also taken less sacks there. Is it really an advantage when Brady comes to town? Not really.

Quick Release – No matter who blocks for him, his quick release helps him regardless. Much like Manning and Brees, when he drops back, the ball comes out in a hurry. He is decisive and efficient. He is consistently near the top of the league in terms of his release time. It leads to far less negative plays which is why you don’t see him on his back much.

Great Against the Blitz – Minus his abysmal 2018 season and slight decline in 2017, Brady has been phenomenal against the blitz. If you send pressure, he will obliterate you. From 2006 to 2016, his TD to INT ratio when blitzed was 70 to freaking 0! The guy literally never threw a pick versus the blitz for 10 fucking seasons. HOW!

Great on 3rd Down – Much like his numbers against the blitz, the 3rd down numbers are elite. He put that on full display in last year’s postseason. At one point, the Pats were converting 80% of their third downs. Since 2001, he ranks 9th on the list of QB 3rd Down Conversions. He is the only one on the list who has been playing since 2001, which means he’s ahead of Brees and Manning.

Great Playing From Behind – Less than two minutes to go and needing a score, there isn’t a single guy I would say before him. The Brady magic always seems to come answering. Nearly 1/3 of his playoff games have ended in game winning drives. Nearly 1/4 have ended in 4th Quarter Comebacks.

Great Against the Division – Brady dominates his division with 30-3 v Bills, 22-11 v Dolphins and 27-7 v Jets. As a result, he has won 16 division titles.

Great Against the Field – Yeah yeah yeah. I know. The AFC East is trash. I got it. Since 2001, take away the Patriots and the other three teams are ranked 19th, 22nd and 26th. However, those only account for six games per season, a little more than a third of the schedule. If the Patriots were going 9-7, then it holds water. They don’t just dominate the division. They destroy everyone. Brady’s record against the rest of the league is 126-40. He has a losing record against only two teams, Seahawks and Panthers.

Conclusion – Brady is the GOAT. Don’t @ Me. 

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