Last night, NFL Network broadcast the final segment of the “Top 100 Players of 2011.” Rounding out four of the top five were Baltimore’s Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning as the runner up. It should come as no surprise that the top player of 2011 (voted on by NFL players and coaches) was reigning league MVP, Tom Brady.
Brady had a monster year, throwing 36 touchdowns with a 65 percent completion rate. Brady also finished the season with 3,900 yards, a 111 passer rating, and a mind-boggling 9/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In fact, Brady attempted an NFL-record 338 passes without being intercepted, obliterating Bernie Kosar’s record of 308. Although Tom Brady will probably never touch his overall video-game-like numbers from the 2007 season, many would argue this past year was his second best as a professional quarterback.
He was ranked No. 21 in NFL Network's “100 Greatest Players of All Time” and that was before this past season. If Brady’s 2010-2011 numbers were included, he would easily have catapulted into the top 10. While it is settled that Tom Brady was the best player in football last year, as voted by his peers, the never-ending debate about his overall place in history continues. Is he really the greatest ever?
Let’s preface this by acknowledging the fact that Tom Brady has some company in this argument; Peyton Manning. Manning is and always has been a statistical freak; he probably owns half the offensive and/or quarterback records in NFL history. And yes, Brady hasn’t consistently registered numbers as gaudy as the ones Manning has put up in his career, but they are still pretty damn good.
Let’s not forget Brady’s immaculate playoff record and the fact that he won three Super Bowls before his 28th birthday. This past season, he became the fastest quarterback to notch 100 career wins, while setting the NFL record for most career touchdowns (229) without having thrown 100 career interceptions (threw his 100th and 101st INTs Week 2).
For years Brady didn't have superstar targets like his rival Manning. His top receivers included the likes of Troy Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch, David Givens and Kevin Faulk out of the backfield. If you tallied up the Pro Bowls these receivers/runningback went to, you would have one (Troy Brown in 2001).
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, had the luxury of being paired up with future hall of fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison since the beginning of his career. He later played with contemporary NFL greats such as Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. These three players combined for 14 Pro Bowl appearances.
It’s a known fact: quarterbacks often need great receivers to put up great stats, and I'm not disputing that. Peyton Manning is one of the best QB's to ever play this game. But just look at what Tom Brady has accomplished before the arrival of Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007.
He won three titles, was elected to three Pro Bowls and very quickly became one of the faces of the NFL and an ambassador of the game. When he got his new weapons in 2007, Brady unleashed hell on opposing defenses. He broke countless individual, franchise and NFL records, including 50 touchdown passes en route to a historic 16-0 season.
In 2011 the Patriots offense reinvented itself, drafting a pair of rookie tight ends—Rob Gronkowski out of Arizona and Aaron Hernandez from Florida. For a while the first-years were able to play in a no-pressure environment, often being the third or fourth option on passing plays behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
However, just hours after thrashing the Miami Dolphins, 45-3 on Monday Night Football, Bill Belichick traded disgruntled superstar receiver Randy Moss back to the Minnesota Vikings where he started his career. Most quarterbacks would crumble under the pressure of having to integrate two rookie tight ends into an offense that just lost its primary deep-threat.
Not Tom Brady. In fact, he embraced his new targets, making them look like veterans on the football field. Rob Gronkowski finished the season with 10 touchdown receptions.
After reacquiring old friend and former Patriot teammate Deion Branch on October 11, Brady’s offense continued to dominate despite the fact that they didn’t have a true receiver who could take the top off a defense. The Patriots adapted well to the loss of Randy Moss, returning to the “dink and dunk” type offense which was used by the prolific Super Bowl championship teams.
It was with this offense that Tom Brady broke several more franchise and NFL records, while securing his second NFL MVP award after being selected unanimously by sportswriters (first time one player has received all 50 votes).
At the end of the day, Tom Brady has his fans and lovers (mostly in New England) and he has his bashers and haters. Hate him or love him, it’s hard to deny the fact that he truly is one of the all-time greats. There is very little doubt in my mind that by the end of his career Tom Brady will be regarded as the single greatest quarterback in the history of the game.
A native of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Aashish is a lifelong fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. He graduated Wellesley High School in 2008, and is currently a senior at the University at Buffalo in Amherst, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @aashish1989.
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