By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After beating the Jets on Sunday afternoon to complete the sixth 13-win season of his career, Tom Brady was not much in the mood for self-analysis.
“I mean, football’s a team sport,” Brady said when asked to evaluate his own play. “We’re 13-3, so that’s the best in the AFC. That’s what we’re playing for, and that’s all that really matters.”
That’s true, and Brady mostly only cares about winning Super Bowls.
But there is one quest on which Brady came up just a hair short: putting together the greatest season by a 40-year-old quarterback in NFL history.
It was, admittedly, a close shave, and we’ll dive into the particulars shortly. But a December slowdown put the unofficial title just out of reach for Brady.
The only real competitor for Brady in this department was Brett Favre, who in 2009 quarterbacked the Vikings to a 12-4 record and an NFC Championship Game appearance. Peyton Manning was retired at 40. Joe Montana faded away from the NFL at age 38, as were Dan Marino, John Elway and Steve Young. Few quarterbacks have even made it to 40, and those who have typically played poorly.
But not Brady in 2017, and not Favre in 2009. Here’s how the stats compare, with the regular season now completed.
Brett Favre, 2009
363-for-531 (68.4 percent)
4,202 yards (7.91 yards per attempt)
33 TDs, 7 INTs
107.2 passer rating
Tom Brady, 2017
385-for-581 (66.3 percent)
4,577 yards (7.88 yards per attempt)
32 TDs, 8 INTs
102.8 passer rating
Now, you could twist an argument that says Brady was better on account of the yardage total and the win-loss record. But Favre had the edge in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating, all while throwing one more touchdown and one fewer interception.
If you were to argue for Brady, you’d quickly point out two things: he’s going to win the MVP award, and he led the league in passing yards. Favre can claim neither accomplishment; Favre finished fourth in MVP voting and ninth in passing yards. Favre threw 568 fewer yards than Matt Schaub, which really puts a stain on the whole season.
At this point, we might as well compare rankings, too.
NFL RANKINGS: Tom Brady, 2017
Passer Rating: 3rd
NFL RANKINGS: Brett Favre, 2009
Passer Rating: 2nd
Among contemporaries, Brady was better in 2017 than Favre was in 2009.
But from a raw statistical standpoint, Favre gets the title.
By the Patriots’ measure (in stats they’ve distributed throughout the year), Brady might actually have the title. That’s because Favre technically didn’t turn 40 years old until Oct. 10, 2009, a birthday which came after Favre had thrown for 837 yards and eight touchdowns.
Using that standard, Brady’s 32-to-8 TD-to-INT ratio could be considered more impressive than Favre’s 25-to-6 ratio. That’s also really analyzing stats at an extreme level.
Really, Favre was 40 years old for most of the 2009 season, and considering the life he led and the way he played the game, his body might have been much more like that of a 50-year-old when he put forth that incredible 2009 performance. The ol’ gunslinger wins this one — albeit narrowly — against the pliable man who refuses to touch strawberries or tomatoes.
While postseason stats, for whatever reason, are often overlooked in such discussions and comparisons, it’s worth taking a look at Favre’s stats in two playoff games that year to provide another benchmark for Brady.
In two playoff games in 2009, Favre completed 43 of 70 passes (61.4 percent) for 544 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. That run ended in disaster for Favre, who threw an interception deep in New Orleans territory when the Vikings were in position for a game-winning field goal. It was his second interception of the game. The Saints won in overtime.
All of those playoff numbers are within reach for Brady, who threw for 1,135 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in three postseason games last year. Ergo, this is a discussion that warrants another look once the Patriots’ season comes to an end. Ultimately, if Brady can lift the Lombardi over his head in early February, he’ll almost certainly have done enough to wrest the unofficial title away from Favre.
And when it comes to looking forward, simply by virtue of staying healthy and producing at a reasonable rate, Brady can easily secure the title of best season by a 41-year-old, and a 42-year-old and so forth for as long as he intends to play. There, he faces essentially zero competition as he embarks on uncharted territory for NFL quarterbacks.