By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s overkill at this point to state that Tom Brady is historically excellent at playing the quarterback position in the National Football League. In fact, it’s a bit over-the-top to even use so many words when trying to make this simple point: Tom Brady is very good.
Alas, in this world where everything’s a debate and everyone wants to know who is the greatest, Brady has closed the book on one discussion, as he has proven to be the single best quarterback to ever play the game in an age 39 season.
The quarterback was trending in this direction early in his season, when he threw 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions through his first four games.
But now that the regular season is officially in the history books, and with some time to spare as New England awaits its divisional round playoff matchup with Houston, let’s take a look at how Brady’s final statistics compare with some of the game’s all-time great quarterbacks in their age 39 seasons.
For starters, very few quarterbacks even last through the age of 39 in the NFL, but for the sake of comparisons, we can include all of their final seasons. Here’s a look at all of the modern-era Hall of Fame quarterbacks, plus those who will be in the Hall soon.
Tom Brady, 2016
67.4% passing, 3,554 yards, 8.2 YPA, 28 TDs, 2 INTs
11-1 record, 112.2 passer rating
Peyton Manning, 2015
59.8% passing, 2,249 yards, 6.8 YPA, 9 TDs, 17 INTs
7-2 record, 67.9 passer rating
Brett Favre, 2008
65.7% passing, 4,155 yards, 6.7 YPA, 28 TDs, 15 INTs
13-3 record, 81.0 passer rating
Warren Moon, 1995
62.2% passing, 4,228 yards, 7.0 YPA, 33 TDs, 14 INTs
8-8 record, 91.5 passer rating
Len Dawson, 1974
58.7% passing, 1,573 yards, 6.7 YPA, 7 TDs, 13 INTs
3-5 record, 65.8 passer rating
Sonny Jurgensen, 1973
60% passing, 904 yards, 6.2 YPA, 6 TDs, 5 INTs
3-1 record, 77.5 passer rating
Johnny Unitas, 1972
56.1% passing, 1,111 yards, 7.1 YPA, 4 TDs, 6 INTs
1-4 record, 70.8 passer rating
Age 38 or younger
Dan Marino, 1999 (age 38)
55.3% passing, 2,448 yards, 6.6 YPA, 12 TDs, 17 INTs
5-6 record, 67.4 passer rating
Steve Young, 1998 (age 37, final full season)
62.3% passing, 4,170 yards, 8.1 YPA, 36 TDs, 12 INTs
11-4 record, 101.1 passer rating
John Elway, 1998 (age 38)
59% passing, 2,806 yards, 7.9 YPA, 22 TDs, 10 INTs
10-2 record, 93.0 passer rating
Joe Montana, 1994 (age 38)
60.6% passing, 3,283 yards, 6.7 YPA, 16 TDs, 9 INTs
9-5 record, 83.6 passer rating
Ken Stabler, 1983 (age 38, final full season)
56.5% passing, 1,988 yards, 6.4 YPA, 9 TDs, 18 INTs
7-7 record, 61.4 passer rating
Roger Staubach, 1979 (age 37)
57.9% passing, 3,586 yards, 7.8 YPA, 27 TDs, 11 INTs
11-5 record, 92.3 passer rating
Fran Tarkenton, 1978 (age 38)
60.3% passing, 3,468 yards, 6.1 YPA, 25 TDs, 32 INTs
8-7-1 record, 68.9 passer rating
Y.A. Tittle, 1964 (age 38)
52.3% passing, 1,798 yards, 6.4 YPA, 10 TDs, 22 INTs
1-8-2 record, 51.6 passer rating
Really, it’s a pretty small pool; the large majority of Hall of Fame quarterbacks don’t last in the NFL past their mid-30s. And as you can clearly see, those who do make it don’t tend to fare too well.
And among them all, Brady is the best. He posted the highest completion percentage and highest yards per pass attempt in the field, all while setting an NFL record for the greatest touchdown-to-interception ratio in history. Despite playing only 12 games, Brady’s total of 28 touchdowns is lower than only Warren Moon’s 33 TDs in 16 games. But Moon threw seven times as many interceptions as Brady.
Now, there are some caveats. Namely, some players had better seasons after age 39. For example, Brett Favre’s age 40 season was tremendous, as he completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in leading the Vikings to a 12-4 record. (His age 41 season was putrid.) Certainly, when Brady takes the field in 2017, that showing by Favre will serve as the gold standard. Moon went on to post decent but not great numbers while making 33 more starts from age 40-44.
Also, of course, numbers are relative. It’s easier to put up passing stats in today’s NFL compared to yesteryear. In fact, Roger Staubach led the NFL with that 92.3 passer rating in his final season of 1979. In 2016, a 92.3 passer rating would leave a quarterback ranked 15th in the NFL.
But even adjusting for that statistical inflation, so to speak, a case simply cannot be made for any other all-time QB for having a better age 39 season. It is Brady and only Brady.
But then, for as bad as Peyton Manning’s 2015 season was, he was able to put together a mediocre postseason performance (2 TDs, 1 INT, 75.4 passer rating) that led to this:
And he went through Brady’s team to get it.
(For that matter, Elway “went out on top” too, albeit after his age 38 season and a similarly passable postseason.)
Ultimately, that is that finale that Brady — and the Patriots — will be wanting the most.
But for now, as the world waits to watch that spectacle, the regular-season debate has been settled. No 39-year-old has ever had a finer regular season than Tom Brady.