By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
ATLANTA (CBS) — How on earth is there still a Tom Brady/Joe Montana debate? Didn’t we settle that one a couple of years ago?READ MORE: Brockton High School Adds Metal Detectors, Bag Searches To Updated Safety Precautions
That’s at least what I thought, until I flipped on “Good Morning Football” (great show) on Thursday morning in Atlanta and saw a real live debate about whether it would hurt Brady’s legacy in the GOAT discussion if he were to lose a fourth Super Bowl come Sunday night. And that’s just a couple of weeks after Mike Francesa said on that same show that Montana is more clutch than Brady.
Now, normally I don’t cuss, and normally I like to keep a cool head, but to that I have just one reply.
What the heck?
What the flipping heck?
Now that the expletives and profanities are out of the way, can we speak honestly about this? Obviously, when comparing stats, one must always factor in the different eras. Heck (there I go with the cursing again), just look at Brady’s own career, which really spans two eras. He led the league in 2002 in touchdown passes … with 28. Patrick Mahomes led this season … with 50. Brady threw 29 touchdowns and ranked 10th. It’s a whole different league.
Still, at a certain point, even when adjusted for the statistical inflation, there’s simply no comparing the two players. Tom Brady has done more and continues to do more.
267 games started
207-60 record (.775 win percentage)
64.0% completion rate
262.1 yards per game, 7.5 yards per attempt
517 TDs, 171 INTs
3.02 TD-to-INT ratio
164 games started
117-47 record (.713 win percentage)
63.2% completion rate
211.2 yards per game, 7.5 yards per attempt
273 TDs, 139 INTs
1.96 TD-to-INT ratio
Playing through age 41, and experiencing a late-career renaissance the way Brady has, certainly brings with it some statistical benefits.
If there is, though, one mark that looks pristine and shiny on Montana’s record, it is his work in Super Bowls. In the biggest game in the world, Montana is undefeated, 4-0. He’s thrown 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. It is, without a doubt, magnificently impressive.
And for a while, it was held over Brady’s case, back when Brady was a three-time champion with two Super Bowl losses on his resume. While using it as a trump card in the argument did have its flaws (making five Super Bowls is better than making four Super Bowls, objectively speaking), it was nevertheless a very worthy case.
But now? To use that now is to overlook:
–Brady winning five Super Bowls (Montana won four)
–Brady reaching nine Super Bowls in 17 seasons as a starter (Montana reached four)
–Brady winning 29 playoff games and owning a 29-10 record (Montana went 16-7)
–Brady throwing 73 postseason touchdowns and 33 interceptions, for a 2.21 TD-to-INT ratio (Montana had a 2.14 TD-to-INT ratio with 45 touchdowns and 21 interceptions)
–Brady never getting benched in a playoff start (Montana was benched after going 12-for-26 with a pick against Minnesota in 1987)
It’s that last point that really got forgotten in the “4-0, no Super Bowl picks” argument. How was it a mark against Brady that he won more games in the divisional and conference championship rounds in the playoffs? Is it more honorable and better for a legacy for a player to lose in the divisional round? Why was it better for Joe Montana to have three straight one-and-dones on his postseason resume, right in the prime of his career? (Brady has just two one-and-dones, while Montana had four.)
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39 games started
29-10 record (.744 winning percentage)
63.3% completion rate
279.9 yards per game, 7.0 yards per attempt
73 TDs, 33 INTs
2.21 TD-to-INT ratio
23 games started
16-7 record (.696 winning percentage)
251 yards per game, 7.9 yards per attempt
45 TDs, 21 INTs
2.14 TD-to-INT ratio
“Montana on the grand stage was perfect. Brady has not been that,” Francesa said on “Good Morning Football.” “Montana never stumbled in these games, and that’s the big difference. Montana, on the grand stage, was the most perfect quarterback, best player I saw in those games. Never stumbled in those games.”
There’s no questioning Montana’s Super Bowl performances, but here’s the thing: other playoff games matter too. If you lose in an earlier round of the playoffs, your season ends. The stage in playoff games is grand.
Here’s what Joe Montana did in the playoffs from the 1985 postseason through the 1987 postseason: 46-for-88 (52.3%), 168 yards per game, 0 TDs, 4 INTs.
Kind of takes the shine off that perfect Super Bowl record, doesn’t it?
Consider this: Brady has lost 10 playoff games in his career. Three of those came after getting his team to the Super Bowl. Montana has lost seven playoff games. All seven of those seasons ended with his team coming up short in a quest for the Super Bowl. If winning is what matters, then winning is what should matter.
8 games started
5-3 record (.625 winning percentage)
65.8% completion rate
322 yards per game, 7.2 yards per attempt
18 TDs, 5 INTs
4 games started
4-0 record (1.000 winning percentage)
68% completion rate
285.5 yards per game, 9.4 yards per attempt
11 TDs, 0 INTs
Montana’s Super Bowl stats are obviously pristine, but they’re also pumped up by a comical performance against the Broncos’ defense in Montana’s final Super Bowl appearance. In that game, Super Bowl XXIV, Montana went 22-for-29 for 297 yards, five touchdowns and zero picks. The Niners won going away, 55-10.
Prior to that romp, Montana had completed 65.6 percent of his Super Bowl passes for 281.7 yards per game with two touchdowns per game. Compare that to Brady’s first three Super Bowls: 65.7% completion rate, 245 yards per game, two touchdowns per game, one total pick.
Brady wasn’t far off. Obviously, Montana gets credit for doing what he did to a top-ranked Denver defense in that laugher of a Super Bowl, but suffice it to say, Brady’s more than made up the necessary ground. In his last five Super Bowl starts, Brady has completed 65.8 percent of his passes, averaging 368.2 yards, 2.4 TDs, and 0.8 INTs per game. In his last three Super Bowl starts, he’s gone from 328 passing yards, to 466 passing yards, to 505 passing yards.
The man is getting better with age, and if he can win Sunday, his resume will only grow to new preposterous lengths.
Still, that argument for Montana had some merit. For a time. Now that Brady’s won five Super Bowls and has reached nine? There’s no going back. Even if Brady loses a fourth Super Bowl on Sunday night, he’ll have been able to say he reached the Super Bowl in nine out of 17 years as starter. No other quarterback ever reached more than five. He has almost doubled up the entirety of NFL history.
Try as they may, those whose job is to debate and debate and debate until they can debate no more just cannot say that the greatest quarterback of all time is anybody other than Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. The case was settled long ago.
Win or lose, Brady’s beyond the point of being in a position where his “legacy” or all-time standing or any other measurement can take a hit. There’s just no going back on all of those accomplishments.MORE NEWS: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments