It's sometimes hard to believe it's been a full decade since Tom Brady took over as the starting QB of the New England Patriots. It feels like yesterday that I was watching an NFL game in Week 2 in 2001 on CBS, when CBS had an in-game break of the Pats-Jets game that showed a clip of Mo Lewis' vicious hit towards the sidelines on Drew Bledsoe that nearly put Bledsoe out of commission.
It's funny to think what that one moment in NFL history created.
First of all, Mo Lewis was a great LB, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection who is considered one of the greatest linebackers of the '90s. Outside of Jets fans, people now remember Mo Lewis for the hit that started the Brady era and the Patriots dynasty.
Second of all, Drew Bledsoe was a good QB. Never truly a great QB, in the same tier as guys such as Elway, Favre, Marino, Young, Aikman etc., but a guy that put up a high volume of passing numbers despite his complete lack of mobility in the pocket.
Instead of being remembered as the guy who led the Pats to their second Super Bowl appearance in '96 against Green Bay and a guy who is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, he'll be remembered as the guy whose injury paved the way for one of the greatest QB's of all time, Tom Brady.
I don't need to go into detail about Brady's story. You've already heard it enough times on ESPN and the NFL Network: sixth-round pick in 2000, fourth-string QB to start the season for the Pats behind such stalwarts like Michael Bishop and John Friesz.
It only makes this story that much more amazing.
From reading the topic title, I already know what people are thinking. How can you consider Tom Brady the greatest of all time? People with cite Joe Montana as being a better a clutch QB and a better winner. Some people will say Tom Brady wasn't even the best QB of his generation, with Manning holding a 4-2 advantage in MVP awards. Old-timers will bring up Unitas and Graham.
You may even get the occasional nod to Elway and Marino—although this was much more frequent in the late '90s and early '00s after their retirements; it's cooled down since then—but by the time Brady's career is over, I truly believe Brady will be considered the greatest QB of all time, only being paralleled by the great Joe Montana.
Since Brady has took over as the Pats' starting QB in 2001, the Pats have never had a losing record. The worst record that they have had since Brady took over is in 2002, when they were 9-7. Eight of the nine years Brady has started, the Pats have made the playoffs. Ditto for Division Titles. He led the only team to ever achieve a regular season record of 16-0, falling one game short of achieving perfection when the Patriots lost to the Giants at the conclusion of the 2007 season.
The only QB in history with that kind of resume for winning is Joe Montana. Both never had a losing season as starting QB's (Montana's 3-6 record in the strike-shortened season of '82 is not counted).
His individual records are countless. Most passing TDs in a regular season. Largest TD to INT differential in a single season. Highest TD-INT ratio in a career. Fewest starts to achieve 100 wins as a starter (131 games). Highest single-game completion percentage in a postseason game.
Most completions in a Super Bowl (career and single game). Most consecutive pass attempts without an INT (338 in 2010 to present), NFL record for most consecutive wins in postseason play.
Tom Brady's winning percentage as a starting QB is the highest of all time.
When it comes to popular comparisons to Brady for GOAT, the names usually include Montana, Marino, Elway, Manning, Graham, Unitas and occasionally Steve Young.
Graham and Unitas played in completely different eras. It's hard to compare guys of the modern era (late '70s-present) to guys of Unitas' and Graham's era. They played in a run-dominated football league before the advent of high octane passing attacks.
Steve Young, as great as he was in the '90s, has only one Super Bowl win, and did not have the same peak as far as length wise is concerned as the other greats in NFL history.
Marino has no Super Bowl victories—whether that's largely his fault or not—made one Super Bowl appearance and has since had his career passing records broken by Brett Favre. Even though he was known as a clutch QB, he never had any truly defining clutch moments in the postseason.
Elway was widely considered the second greatest QB of all time at his retirement. He held the record for most fourth-quarter comebacks (since broken by Favre) and was second in basically every major passing category to Marino.
Elway is hurt in this argument (this coming from a diehard Broncos fan) by his stats being dwarfed when it comes to single seasons by Montana, Brady, Favre, Marino, Manning etc. and his three Super Bowl losses before ending his career with two rings.
Manning, for all of his great statistics in the regular season, is hurt by the fact that he has one Super Bowl, with another Super Bowl appearance in which the Colts lost largely due to his interception to Tracy Porter in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 44. With Brady breaking his single-season TD record and holding the career advantage in passer rating, Manning's only real advantage now lies in the MVP department (4-2).
Which finally brings me to Joe Montana. Montana is the Gretzky of the NFL. He is the MJ of the NFL. Montana had better clutch moments than Brady has had in the Super Bowl when he led the game-winning TOUCHDOWN drive against the Bengals on a 92-yard drive where he went 8-for-9 for 97 yards and threw the game-winning TD to John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining. Montana was 4-0 in the Super Bowl (Brady is 3-1) and Montana never threw an INT in four Super Bowl appearances (Brady has thrown one in four appearances).
Which brings me to my conclusion. As of this writing, there should be only two guys in the running for GOAT at QB: Montana and Brady.
Despite Montana's impeccable record in the Super Bowl, by the time Brady's career is over (he'll be 34 by the start of the season), he will be considered better than Montana. Brady has the advantage in winning percentage, fourth-quarter comebacks, statistics (Brady holds numerous single season records and will have surpassed Montana in every major career stat) and is tied with Montana in MVP awards.
Montana has the advantage in overall Super Bowl resume: 4-0 to 3-1; 11 TDs and zero INTs to seven TDs and one INT.
When all things are considered at the end of Brady's career, the stats, the Super Bowl resume, the ability in crunch time and the supporting casts, Tom Brady should be considered the GOAT at QB. One more win in the Super Bowl would cement it.