By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady’s Hall of Fame career will not really be remembered for his regular season accomplishments. He’s more of a postseason guy.
Still, Brady has accomplished quite a bit from Weeks 1-17 throughout his career, and he kept that rolling in 2020, even at the ancient age of 43. (Ancient in football terms, of course. We all know that 43 is the new 34.)
Brady capped off his 2020 season with a four-touchdown, 399-yard passing day to help get the Buccaneers to an 11-5 record. For a team that finished 7-9 a season ago, that’s quite the year-to-year improvement.
Personally, Brady finished third in the NFL in passing yards (behind Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes) and tied for second in passing touchdowns (trailing only surefire MVP Aaron Rodgers).
The four touchdowns on Sunday brought Brady’s season total to 40, just the second time he’s ever hit that mark in his illustrious career. He completed 401 passes, tying his second-highest single-season total. His 4,633 yards marked the fifth-highest single-season total of his career. For comparison, Brady threw for 56 fewer yards and eight fewer touchdowns when he won the NFL MVP Award in 2017 at the age of 40. (Brady did throw four fewer picks that year.)
So, compared to his own career, Tom Brady played rather well in 2020.
And compared to everyone else who’s tried to play at that age? It’s really no comparison.
That’s not necessarily breaking news, as it’s been evident since September that Brady was unlike his 43-year-old predecessors. But now that it’s officially over, here’s the final comparison. As you’ll see by the birth dates, Brady’s the only one who even spent the full season as a 43-year-old.
Tom Brady, 2020
(Turned 43 on Aug. 3)
16 games, 16 starts, 11-5 record
401-for-610, 65.7 percent completion rate
4,633 yards, 7.6 Y/A, 289.6 Y/G
40 TDs, 12 INTs
102.2 passer rating
George Blanda, 1970
(Turned 43 on Sept. 17)
14 games, 0 starts
29-for-55, 52.7 percent completion rate
461 yards, 8.4 Y/A, 32.9 Y/G
6 TDs, 5 INTs
79.4 passer rating
Doug Flutie, 2005
(Turned 43 on Oct. 23)
5 games, 0 starts
5-for-10, 50 percent completion rate
29 yards, 2.9 Y/A, 5.8 Y/G
0 TDs, 0 INTs
56.2 passer rating
1 sick drop kick
Vinny Testaverde, 2006
(Turned 43 on Nov. 13)
3 games, 0 starts
2-for-3, 66.7% percent completion rate
29 yards, 9.7 Y/A, 9.7 Y/G
1 TD, 0 INT
137.5 passer rating
Warren Moon, 1999*
(*Turned 43 on Nov. 18; his lone appearance came on Nov. 7)
20 yards, 6.7 Y/A, 20 Y/G
0 TDs, 0 INTs
57.6 passer rating
The quartet of other 43-year-olds combined to start zero games, so it wasn’t much of a competition. Obviously. Yet with this ever-so-brief pause between Week 17 and the super-sized wild-card weekend, it’s worth pointing out the historic significance and complete lack of precedence for what just took place in Tampa.
(If you’re looking ahead, Moon, Testaverde and Blanda played at 44. They combined to throw 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. They went 2-5 as starters and completed 53.4 percent of their passes. That is to say, barring a sudden loss of limb, Brady should be able to easily make history once again in 2021.)
Here in New England, Brady’s success in 2020 calls into question how the team handled the end of Brady’s career. Certainly, Brady’s performance does indicate that he’s been able to maintain his extremely high level of play despite the fact that nobody’s been able to do it at that age before. In that sense, the Patriots — and, to cut right down to it, Bill Belichick — were off in their determination that a 43-year-old Brady wasn’t worth a contract.
At the same time, Brady flourished in Tampa in large part because of the high-powered offense he found himself driving. In New England, despite his physical abilities and mental prowess, there’s only so much he would have been able to do in an offense lacking high-caliber receiving options. (Make no mistake about the difficulty of stepping into an entirely new system with new teammates and new coaches with no normal training camp and no preseason, though.)
Last year was an indication of that. In 2019, he threw 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 4,057 yards were his lowest total since 2010, and his touchdown total was tied for his third-lowest mark ever. (In 2016, playing in just 12 games, he threw 28 touchdowns. Brady could still make the throws, but he couldn’t conjure magic. The Patriots went 4-4 to end the season and lost their lone playoff game.
In that sense, the Patriots’ error was not necessarily in giving up on Tom Brady. The error came in letting an offense deteriorate over time, losing the likes of Rob Gronkowksi, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and even Chris Hogan over the course of several years without bringing in adequate replacements. Some efforts were made — N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Mohamed Sanu, Antonio Brown — but none worked out in the short or long term for various reasons.
And so, there is only so much lamenting that can be reasonably put forth in the New England area for Brady’s departure. On the one hand, it would have been ideal for the Patriots to maintain their place as an elite offensive team, with Brady at the helm until he could no longer physically steer the ship. But in the real world, a 43-year-old Brady would have essentially been wasting his time for the second straight year if he had stayed in New England just for the sake of staying in New England.
So for now, everyone in the football world can simply take a step back and marvel at an accomplishment that’s never been done before in the history of the sport. Sure, what Brady does in the playoffs will carry much more significance and will be of much more interest. But already, based on history and based on sheer physical ability, the 2020 season authored by Tom Brady has been nothing short of incredible.