By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are storybook narratives, and then there are storybook narratives. What Tom Brady might do in 2021 is nothing short of a fairy tale.
While the mere appearance of Brady as a visitor in Gillette Stadium will be a wondrous sight to behold, the Buccaneers’ visit to Foxboro in Week 4 could be a history-making moment for the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
As it stands now, Brady is just 1,155 yards away from passing Drew Brees for the all-time NFL record for passing yards. That means Brady could pass Brees … in Week 4 … when the Buccaneers visit the Patriots.
That’s some story.
For Brady to do it, he’ll need to average 288.75 yards in his first four games. That’s certainly more than doable. Last year, at 43 years old, he averaged 289.6 yards per game.
Despite working in a new system last season with no preseason, Brady threw for 1,122 yards in the first four weeks of the season. In the final four games of the regular season, when the offense was really rounding into form, he averaged 333.3 passing yards per game.
If Brady averages a clean 300 yards per game through the first three weeks of the season — at home vs. the Cowboys and Falcons, and in L.A. against the Rams — then he’ll need just 255 yards against the Patriots to set the record.
(The fact that he could set the record while hitting Rob Gronkowski on a seam route only adds to the potential majesty of the moment.)
Setting this record will matter, too, as there’s quite literally nobody even close to threatening Brady’s spot atop the NFL’s all-time leaderboard. With Brees now retired — after Brady beat him head-to-head in a playoff game in New Orleans last year — Brady figures to own this record for a very, very long time.
MOST PASSING YARDS, ACTIVE QUARTERBACKS (AGE IN PARENTHESES)
1. Tom Brady (43) 80,358
2. Ben Roethlisberger (39) 60,348
3. Matt Ryan (35) 55,767
4. Aaron Rodgers (37) 51,245
5. Matthew Stafford (33) 45,109
In terms of young stars with the possibility of one day topping 80,000 passing yards, the 25-year-old Deshaun Watson has 14,539 yards, and Patrick Mahomes (also 25 years old) has 14,152 yards. Health and longevity are no guarantees, obviously, so either of those quarterbacks averaging something like 4,700 yards for the next decade and a half is far from a certainty.
And while the idea of Brady breaking the record in Foxboro is merely a possibility at this point, it will be interesting to see how and if the Patriots organization acknowledges it during a game. Football fans surely remember the Saints stopping a game mid-drive to celebrate Brees’ setting of the record, a moment which included the deliverance of the world’s worst certificate.
Considering Brady amassed 74,571 of his career passing yards with the Patriots, one would have to imagine that the moment would be commemorated in some way by the home team … especially if it could potentially slow down a Buccaneers drive.
What’s also interesting about the opportunity for Brady is that Peyton Manning had a nearly identical scenario when he was setting the all-time passing yards record back in 2015. Manning returned to Indianapolis as a visiting quarterback for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. He needed 284 yards to pass Brett Favre for the all-time record, and he got up to 281 yards. He had a chance to set the record in the fourth quarter, needing just three yards to get there, but he threw an interception — his second of the game — and the Broncos never got the ball back.
It all made for spectacular theater, but it cost Manning his fairy-tale moment.
We’ll see whether or not Brady seizes his opportunity on Oct. 3, in the nationally televised game against the Patriots. If he does, it will add a historical layer to what is already guaranteed to be an unforgettable evening in Foxboro.