By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Everyone’s sick of it by now, and everyone’s heard it a million times, to the point of being numb. Nevertheless, this vigilant reporter will for the final time shout from the rooftops to exclaim an indisputable but unbelievable truth: Tom Brady, at the age of 44, played football at a level that has never and likely will never be properly respected, digested, or comprehended.
More succinctly: Tom Brady isn’t human.
The quarterback on Sunday capped off his age 44 season with a bang, throwing for 326 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed 29 of his 37 passes (78.4 percent) and posted a cool 130.4 passer rating in a 41-17 victory over the Panthers.
Suffice it to say, Brady was unaffected by the Antonio Brown sideshow that dominated the sports conversation this week.
Now it’s time to compile all of Brady’s season stats and show where he ranked among all NFL quarterbacks.
He threw 43 touchdown passes. In that category, he ranked first in the NFL. He had two more than Matthew Stafford, five more than Justin Herbert, and six more than a trio of QBs — Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes — who tied for fourth with 37 TDs.
Tom Brady, as a reminder, is 44 years old.
He threw for 5,316 passing yards. In that category, he ranked first in the NFL. Herbert was the only other QB who topped 5k on the year, clearing the mark by 15 yards.
He also led the league with 485 completions, 42 more than second-place Herbert.
Brady also won 13 games — one of just two QBs to do that this year.
He also ranked seventh in passer rating (102.1), and his 12 interceptions were tied for 14th-fewest in the league. (Brady also set a new single-season NFL record with 485 receptions, passing Drew Brees’ mark of 471. Admittedly, with the sheer volume of passes thrown by Brady, and with the extra game on the season, this one’s just not overly exciting.)
Whether or not he wins the MVP this year remains a debate. Aaron Rodgers was rather spectacular for Green Bay, winning 13 games and throwing 37 touchdowns to just four interceptions. With 119 fewer completions, 1,201 fewer yards, six fewer touchdowns, and one fewer game played, Rodgers doesn’t have the volume stats of Brady. But the TD-to-INT ratio is sure to sway some voters.
At the same time, the fact that a 44-year-old man just led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns while starting every single game for an entire NFL season might make for a compelling counterargument. Again, that’s a feat that’s been somewhat disregarded, as football fans can only hear “Tom Brady is old” so many times before tuning out and further mentions of his age. It works to dampen the awe that would generally be required by what’s taking place.
Fortunately the CBS broadcast helped crystallize what this crazed quarterback has done over the past two seasons:
That’s … preposterous.
But Brady’s been great not just compared to other old quarterbacks, and not just compared to quarterbacks playing in 2021. He’s been great compared to … Tom Brady.
While the extra game obviously helped, Brady just put down the second-highest single-season touchdown total of his entire career with 43. The only time he’s thrown more was in the historic 2007 season, when he threw 50 (at the age of 30).
The 43 touchdowns also tie him for the ninth-most touchdown passes in a season by anyone in NFL history. Yes, the extra game. But … again, he’s 44 years old, and nobody else used the extra game to throw for 43 touchdowns this year, did they?
He also set a new career high with the 5,316 passing yards. The only other time he had ever topped 5,000 yards was in 2011, when he was 34 years old.
That year, he carried an offense that leaned heavily on the passing game. This year, the Bucs likewise lean heavily on the passing game … which is a ridiculous thing to say for a team that employs a 44-year-old quarterback as its starter.
It’s all … more than a little nuts.
Yes, the 17th game is going to lead to less amazement and celebration of the season that Brady just had. At the same time, staying healthy and productive at age 44 in the NFL is a feat unto itself. Considering how few men have even tried to play at that age, let alone thrive at that age, it shouldn’t be forgotten in the story of Brady’s 2021 season for the Bucs.
Ultimately, though, Tom Brady is Tom Brady, so it’s what he does in the postseason that will be remembered more. The Bucs tied for the NFL lead in wins with 13, and they enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, and they have a very favorable first-round matchup with Philadelphia. Still, the injuries — at running back and receiver on offense, and all over the defensive backfield on defense — and some hiccups over the course of the season do create some reasonable doubt whether Brady and the Bucs can repeat as Super Bowl champions (thus becoming the first back-to-back champs since Brady and the Patriots did that 17 years ago — SEVENTEEN YEARS — ago). The odds of winning any Super Bowl are low, the odds of winning a second straight Super Bowl are even lower, and the odds of winning a second straight Super Bowl with a 43 and 44-year-old quarterback are incalculably low.
So, if the odds hold, Brady and the Bucs will bow out some point between now and Feb. 13. (Don’t count them out though. Don’t be a fool.) When they do ultimately lose, people will undoubtedly look at Brady’s year and say, “Well, that’s cool and all, but he didn’t win the big one.”
Dear reader, the aforementioned vigilant reporter asks you but one favor: Don’t do that.
In terms of respecting the historic performance that just took place, in terms of witnessing another season from the best to ever play the position, and in terms of simply admiring an incredible athletic feat that’s never even come close to being done before and is unlikely to ever happen again? You’ve simply got to marvel at what Tom Brady did this season.
When compared to his contemporaries, he was outstanding. When compared to history, he was literally unbelievable. And compared to his own GOAT-worthy career, he was as good — if not better — than ever.
If you can’t take a moment to appreciate and marvel at that, then you just might have to find a new sport to follow. This thing was — and is — special.