I can't resist.
I've seen this argument trotted out one too many times to sit idly by and let it go unaddressed simply because those of us who respect what Tom Brady has done are bored by it.
And, trust me, it is a boring assault on his legacy.
By now, everyone knows the story.
Tom Terrific went down in the opening frames of the 2008 season. Matt Cassel stepped in and seamlessly guided the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record—good for a first-place tie atop the American Football Conference East and a mere tie-breaker away from a postseason berth.
A stellar season to be sure and all the more so because Cassel hadn't started a football game since his days in high school.
Despite being a back-up to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinhart at USC without ever netting a single start, the new Pats QB shook off the rust and butterflies to bring the team back from the brink. He jumped into some enormous shoes and made almost everyone forget about the best quarterback in the National Football League.
Along the way, he tossed for over 400 yards in consecutive games—something even Brady has never done.
Cassel led New England to wins over the Kansas City Chiefs (the game that saw Brady injured), New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills (twice), Miami Dolphins (the eventual division winner), Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, and Arizona Cardinals.
He dropped contests to the Fins, San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers. No shame in splitting with two healthy division rivals, dropping two roadies against playoff teams, and getting rolled at home by the Super Bowl champs.
Matt Cassel exceeded everyone's expectations and almost did the unthinkable, deliver a Tom-Brady-less New England franchise to the Second Season.
So, the story goes, this proves that Tom Brady is the product of his environment.
He is just another good signal-caller in the perfect situation, getting the credit for the genius of Bill Belichick and the brilliance of his supporting cast.
After all, even a guy who hadn't started a real football game in seven years could hop right in and not miss a beat. If Matt Cassel can do it, anyone can just sit behind the protection of a superb offensive line and toss the ball up to Randy Moss, et alia.
The real secret to the Patriots dynastic run is the defense, anyway.
Complicating matters are the facts that (A) almost all of the above is undeniably true; and (B) Tom Brady hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game for 15 games, three quarters, and the playoffs.
Once he comes back, this will all be moot. Until then, I'll point out why it's already an incredibly tedious line of "logic:"
1. Being a "system quarterback" is hardly damning criticism.
Joe Montana was a system QB in that he benefited greatly from his offensive scheme and the players around him. So was Steve Young, John Elway, and every other great player behind center who ever played the game.
Football is a team sport—nobody does it alone.
Individual greatness is predicated on team greatness. How is this still a sticking point?
2. Tom Brady didn't have that system for his Super Bowl runs.
Let's pretend for a minute that Matt Cassel filled in perfectly for Tom Terrific. So what?
If I recall correctly, the only Super Bowl Brady has lost was the one he played in with this current cast of characters on offense.
So, yes, maybe Cassel's performance proves any good QB can slide into the Patriots system and post fabulous numbers while winning ballgames he should win. I think we probably already had a strong suspicion that was the case.
But such has never been Tom Brady's firmest selling point.
3. The argument presumes Matt Cassel is a chump.
This is the part that really gets me. For some reason, just because Cassel hadn't started since high school, he must be some stiff.
Uh, it's not like he was riding the pine at Northeast Middle Valley A&M State. Cassel was watching two Heisman Trophy winners at USC. That hardly makes him chopped liver even if Leinhart has been woeful thus far in the pros.
Furthermore, has not Kurt Warner cobbled together an increasingly Hall-of-Fame-worthy career after bagging groceries?
Hasn't Jeff Garcia come from the netherworld of football to make several Pro Bowl appearances?
Didn't Steve Young do the same and become one of the greatest QBs of all-time?
Shoot, even Tom Brady wasn't all that and a bag of chips when he first set cleat to field in the NFL. Yet look at him now.
While starting experience is helpful and ultimately necessary to starting success, I'm pretty sure Cassel was still practicing.
Isn't the saying practice makes perfect? I don't remember it being starting makes perfect.
4. Matt Cassel did not do a flawless impersonation of Tom Brady.
If "system QB" means that any good player can duplicate what the original QB did, then I fail to see how Cassel's '08 performance proves anything about Brady.
Look back at those wins and losses—tell me where the idea comes from that the picture gets no better with Brady.
Again, Cassel did an incredible job filling in for one of the most irreplaceable snap-takers in the League. None of those wins is that unusual and neither are the losses.
I know Matt put up very nice numbers—I said it before and I'll say it again, stats are not what Tom Brady is about. He is about winning the tough games and it says here he wins at least two of those five that Cassel's Patriots lost.
I'd wager the two wins would come from the Jets/Fins/Bolts triumvirate. However, Brady has a habit of outplaying Peyton Manning and his version of the Pats are damn difficult to beat at home, even for the mighty Steelers (although I'm gonna chalk this up as a loss even if Brady were behind center—the game wasn't even close).
Regardless, what makes Tom Brady special is the same thing that made Joe Montana so special—Brady succeeds when other quarterbacks fail.
This is a team that finished the first undefeated 16-game regular season in 2007. He was the NFL's Most Valuable Player and the Patriots won the AFC East without company. His squad made the playoffs and were the champions of the AFC.
Tom Brady and New England came one Super Bowl win short from joining the Miami Dolphins as the only other NFL team to finish an entire campaign without a loss.
So...tell me again how 11-5 with a longer offseason hurts Tom Brady?