When Tom Brady took the field for Super Bowl 53, he already
had more NFL titles than any quarterback in history. He’s had that distinction
for two years; what he did this past February 3rd
simply added to
his legacy. He’s won six, and no other QB has even played
in that many.
Only two other quarterbacks in the history of the league,
Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman, have won three Super Bowls in five seasons or
fewer. Brady’s done it twice
. Draw a
line down the middle of Brady’s 17 NFL seasons, and he’d have two
Hall of Fame careers, complete with three championships in each. His win in
Super Bowl 53 eliminated what little doubt was left as to who is the greatest
quarterback in NFL history. He’s lapped the field. The debate is over.
More specifically, it ended the debate for everyone except
those in the Joe Montana camp. Brady has put so much distance between himself
and the rest of the league that it’s no longer feasible to toss out Peyton
Manning (2-2 in Super bowls), John Elway (2-3), Aaron Rodgers (1-0), Dan Marino
(0-1), or even Aikman (3-0). And although Bradshaw has four rings, and won them
in the space of just six seasons, faster than Montana or Brady, his name is
almost never mentioned with the all-time greats, because the Steeler teams of
the 70s were known for their defense. Bradshaw threw for just 96 yards in his
first Super Bowl, and completed fewer than 10 passes in each of his first two. During
the Super Bowl 51 postgame show, Bradshaw himself referred to
Brady as “The greatest quarterback”
. This leaves Montana alone to contend
with Brady for GOAT status.
Unlike Bradshaw, Montana overwhelmed his opponents with
offense. He perfected the art of the comeback, and seemed to thrive in
pressure-packed situations. What’s more, he too was a perfect 4-0 in Super Bowls.
That Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl might just be the
most-repeated fact in the QB GOAT debate. And there’s a good reason for that,
too—it’s the only leg you have left to stand on.
If you’re one of the people still insisting that Montana was
better than Brady, you’re not basing that on stats, and that much isn’t up for
BRADY VS. MONTANA:
TWO-MAN STATISTICAL JAM
Statistically, Brady destroys Montana. He’s got 30,000 more
yards, 240 more TDs (almost double Montana’s total), 80 more wins, and his win
percentage is 100 points higher. And while it is true that Montana’s passer
rating was five points higher in the playoffs, it’s also true that the Patriots
average 27.3 points per game in the playoffs with Brady at QB, vs. only 21.3
for Montana’s offenses.
“No fair,” you say. “Brady has played in almost twice as
many playoff games as Montana. Of course his stats will be better.”
Do you think it’s just dumb luck that Brady has had such a
long career? Have you ever read up on the insanely strict diet he maintains?
His year-round training? And not just any old training, by the way, but
training that’s specially designed to protect him against the extreme physical
toll that football takes on the body? Tom Brady has gone above and beyond to
keep himself in peak physical condition long past the age when most
quarterbacks, including Joe Montana, have lost their effectiveness and retired.
Why doesn’t he deserve credit for that?
This is a landslide. Brady’s numbers are off the charts,
especially in the postseason. Montana doesn’t come close, nor does any other
quarterback in the history of the league.
If you’re taking Montana over Brady, your argument begins
and ends with his undefeated record in Super Bowls, and even that holds no
Try this thought experiment:
QB DeShaun Watson was one-and-done in the playoffs this year. He lost a Wild
Card game to the Colts, managing a total of 7 points for the entire game. Rams
QB Jared Goff, on the other hand, won the Divisional Round and
the Conference Championship before losing in the Super Bowl. Who had the better
Go and ask your friends. Ask 1,000 people if you want. Find
me one person who can build a logical argument that Watson had a better playoff
year than Goff. It’s not possible. Yet this is exactly the type of argument you
make when you tell me that Montana is better than Brady.
What if Goff wins the Super Bowl next year, and Watson wins
it the year after that? Would Watson have the advantage because he “never lost
the big one”, even though he got crushed in an early round two seasons before,
and Goff didn’t? Do you really believe that losing earlier is better than
The entire pro-Montana logic rests on the concept that he
played best when the games mattered most, as evidenced by his 4-0 record in
Super Bowls. But it’s a funny thing about Super Bowls: You have to win a
Conference Championship to play in one—and Montana is only 4-3 in Conference
Championships. And the losses weren’t pretty.
In the 1983 NFC Championship against Washington, Montana led
the Niners back from a 21-0 deficit to tie the game. But then, after a late
Redskins field goal, Montana inexplicably ran the ball 15 yards up the gut on 1st
down, with 36 seconds left and no timeouts—a massive mistake. That play, and
the subsequent throw-away to stop the clock (QBs didn't spike in those days), cost him 22 seconds and
effectively ended the game.
In his last two Conference Championship games, both of which
he lost, Montana’s offense failed to reach 14 points either time, and he threw only
one TD pass over the two games. In the latter of the two, a 30-13 loss at
Buffalo, he completed a grand total of nine
passes for 125 yards.
There was a Super Bowl berth on the line in all three of
these games. Why the poor performances? I thought he was unbeatable when the
games mattered! Exactly what are we saying here—that the Super Bowl is important,
but the game you have to win to get
to the Super Bowl isn’t? This
logic doesn’t pass the smell test.
Incidentally, Brady is 9-4 in Conference Championship games,
meaning that he’s only lost one more than Montana, despite playing in almost
twice as many.
While 4-0 might beat 6-3 when it comes to baseball games in
April, we’re talking playoff football here. The mere fact that Brady played
in nine Super Bowls means he won
more than twice as many big games as Montana did. Failing to get to the Super Bowl isn't better than getting there and losing. In this context, 6-3 beats 4-0
the same way that 6 gold medals and 3 silver beats 4 gold and no silver.
If you support Montana as the GOAT, I need you to explain
something to me.
How is it that, in three straight playoff games between 1985
and 1987, Mr. Clutch had three one-and-done losses, and was held to zero touchdowns
(not just zero TD passes, but zero offensive
), while being outscored
Of course, to be fair, the three games only covered eight
quarters for Montana. He left the 1986 Divisional Round game, a 49-3 loss to
the Giants, with an injury around halftime. The following year, in the third
quarter of the Divisional Round vs. Minnesota, trailing 20-3, Montana suffered
the ultimate humiliation—being BENCHED for his backup, Steve Young, who
promptly led the 49ers to three touchdowns.
“Brady had three straight playoff losses as well, from 2007
to 2010,” you say. Yes, true. But of course, the first of the three was a Super
Bowl (SB 42), so we aren’t talking about three one-and-dones like we are with
Montana. And while Brady was, naturally, outscored, it was by a count of 78-49,
which, while not stellar, is a damn sight better than 65-9. Brady’s games were
competitive, hard-fought losses; Montana was utterly destroyed three times in a
row—in the prime of his career.
And of course, Brady was never benched for anyone.
I never hear Montana fans mention The Streak. They never
talk about it at all. It’s as if the only playoff games that matter for Montana
are Super Bowls; no other games are discussed, and all subpar performances, no
matter how inept, are completely dismissed.
Explain to me how a man you say is the greatest ever to play
his position gets manhandled this way in three consecutive postseasons. I’ll wait.
Brady’s never had a playoff collapse anywhere close to the
one Montana had from ‘85 to ‘87.
Montana’s pristine Super Bowl record doesn’t just apply to
wins—he’s also never thrown a pick in a Super Bowl—and Montana fans aren’t shy
about reminding us.
Here’s the thing, though: Montana only attempted a total of
122 passes in his four Super Bowls, whereas Brady has attempted over three
times that many, and more than half that number in one game alone (SB 51). But
sometimes, a chart is worth a thousand words:
Wow. Looks like Montana has Brady beat by a whole two
passing attempts! That definitely
offsets Brady’s two extra Lombardis!
Oh, and by the way, that “no interceptions” thing ought to
have an asterisk, after this
Despite the above, Brady has thrown a total of six INTs in nine
Super Bowls, which is on pace for 11 in a 16-game season. While this stat isn’t
nearly as much of a revelation as people pretend it is, I can’t rightly give Brady
the edge on this one when Montana never threw a pick.
As I always say, quarterbacks don’t play against other
quarterbacks; they play against defenses. This is why I’ve always hated the Quarterback-A-outdueled-Quarterback-B
hot takes that people throw around. But still, it’s a lot easier to win a Super
Bowl when the opposing quarterback can’t get out of his own way.
Quarterbacks had a really bad habit of stinking up the place
when they played against the 49ers in Montana’s day. Exactly one QB, Ken
Anderson, had a decent game (95.2 passer rating) vs. Montana’s 49ers in a Super
Bowl, and even he was down 20-0 before he scored a point, and threw an
interception on his own side of the field with a little over 5:00 remaining,
handing the 49ers a field goal which put his team down by two scores and
effectively ended the game.
The quarterbacks got worse from there.
In Super Bowl 19, Dan Marino’s Dolphins actually led the
49ers, 10-7, in the first quarter. The lead lasted exactly 4 minutes and 11
seconds. Marino’s offense had 9 drives after that, which included:
-1 field goal;
-6 punts (5 of these drives were 3-and-out, and 3 totaled negative yardage);
Miami also kicked a field goal with 4 seconds left in the first half, but it
came immediately after a San Francisco fumble, and Marino’s offense didn’t even
take the field beforehand.
Yes, Marino would go on to a Hall of Fame career, but he
didn’t earn it that day. His passer rating was a 66.9, which, while abysmal,
was the second best ever for an opposing QB in a Montana Super Bowl.
Super Bowl 23 was the one and only game in which Montana
actually had to mount a comeback. He threw a TD pass to John Taylor with 34
seconds left, which at the time was an unimaginable thing—that is, before Tom
Brady made it as routine as the National Anthem.
Luckily for Montana, Boomer Esiason, the Bengals’
quarterback that day, put on one of the most putrid Super Bowl performances in
history, completing 11 of 25 passes for 144 yards, 0 TDs and an INT, good for a
46.1 passer rating (for reference purposes, if every pass thrown is incomplete,
the quarterback’s passer rating would be a 39.6). The Bengals’ one touchdown
that day came on a kickoff return; beyond that, Esiason’s offense managed 3 field
goals for the entire game, and Montana still needed a last-ditch drive to win
At this point, you’re probably reminding me about Super Bowl
53, in which the Rams were held to 3 points for the entire game, and Brady too
needed a late touchdown to win. But the comparison fails for a number of
reasons. First, the Patriots’ touchdown came with 7:00 remaining in the game,
and the Patriots would add another field goal on the next drive to put the game
away. Second, unlike Super Bowl 23, the Patriots never trailed at all, let
alone in the last minute of the game. Third, Stephen Gostkowski missed a very
makeable 46-yard field goal in the first quarter, which, as we found out,
would’ve been the game-winning points, even had there been no 4th
And lastly, it says a lot that Tom Brady had to play in nine
Super Bowls before you found one that even vaguely matched Montana’s fourth.
Which brings us to the granddaddy of them all, the Super
Bowl performance so foul that those in attendance should’ve demanded their
money back—even the 49er fans: John Elway in Super Bowl 24.
Elway’s totals: 10 completions, 108 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs. One
drive of more than six plays. Ten of 13 drives ended in a punt or a turnover,
and Elway lost the time of possession battle by 19 minutes
And this might be my favorite stat of them all: a 19.4
passer rating. A man has to work
to be that bad. They should’ve replaced Elway with the winner of the 10th
grade punt, pass and kick competition!
Yes, Montana hung 55 points on Denver that day, but there
aren’t many quarterbacks who would’ve lost that game.
All told, Montana’s competition was mainly nonexistent
during his Super Bowl runs, whereas Brady faced top-notch talent nearly every
Clearly, Brady was playing against professionals; Montana
I’ve developed a new stat called Go-ahead Percentage (GAP),
which I’ll be rolling out in an article after this one (why is it that, now
that the season has ended, I’ve turned into a one-man Football Weekly
?) GAP measures QB performance in potential go-ahead
drives in the 4th
quarter and OT, and is calculated like a batting
average (# of times successfully taking the lead / total opportunities). It’s expressed
in three decimal places (.xxx).
Joe Montana had a total of nine such go-ahead opportunities
in the playoffs, and converted five of them, for an incredible .556 average (interestingly,
both Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson both have an identical 5-for-9 playoff
figure). Exactly one of Montana’s go-ahead playoff scores was in the Super
Bowl. The only QBs other than Brady who have topped Montana’s 5 are Eli Manning
(6) and Drew Brees (8).
Brady’s got 8 in Super Bowls alone.
That’s 8 out of 10, by the way, for an insane .800 Super
Bowl GAP. I suppose you could argue that Montana’s 1-for-1 amounts to a 1.000
average, and that he’s therefore better, but that would kind of be like your
wide receiver throwing one pass for a TD, then bragging about his 158.3 passer
rating. Do better.
In the playoffs overall, Brady is 18-for-26 in GAP opportunities,
for a ridiculous .692 average, over 130 points ahead of Montana.
Montana is well-known for his late-game heroics, but the
numbers are clear: Brady’s had far more clutch opportunities, and he’s converted
them at a far better rate than Montana. It’s not close.
In the Brady vs. Montana battle, one man benefitted greatly
from a dominant defense. But it wasn’t the one you think.
It’s a common gripe for Patriot haters to say, “Brady only
wins because of his defense”. They know that Belichick has a reputation as a
defensive mastermind, and, well, they just assume
that that’s why the Patriots win. But they’re wrong.
Yet again, the conventional wisdom is way off base. The
truth is the exact opposite of what you’ve been saying. Prepare to have your
Yeah, you read right. The 49er Super Bowl defense allowed fewer
points than Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and the rest of those guys who,
oh, I don’t know, might be the greatest defense in the history of the National
Football League or something.
And the Patriots? Why, even when we average in their stellar,
three-point performance from Super Bowl 53, they still allow almost seven more
points per game than the
As if the 22+ points per game wasn’t enough, the Patriot
defense also has a nasty habit of allowing late scores in Super Bowls. Have you
ever wondered why Brady has needed so many Super Bowl comebacks in the first
place? Perhaps this will clear it up:
Yes, Montana was a great quarterback, and maybe he would
have won some or all of those Super Bowls without that dominant defense. The point
is, Brady won more Super Bowls than Montana, even as the Patriot defense
allowed one gut-wrenching 4th
quarter TD after another, including in
every one of the three Super Bowls that Brady lost.
Notice that those 4th
quarter scores were all touchdowns
, too—not a field goal in the
bunch. When the Patriots cave, they cave big.
The evidence is clear. Montana was carried by a lights-out
defense; Brady wasn’t.
WHY DO WE CALL
THEM “BRADY LOSSES”, ANYWAY?
You can learn a lot from studying people’s word choices.
Read the angry tweets after Tom Brady hoists a Lombardi
Trophy. Inevitably, it’s referred to as a “Patriot win”. But let the Patriots
lose one, and it’s a “Tom Brady loss”. It doesn’t matter how it happened. Brady
could throw for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns, and lose 105-104, and all the blame
would be heaped on him. Similarly, when Brady’s offense came storming back from
25 points down against Atlanta in SB 51, in one of the biggest comebacks, not
just in Super Bowl history, but in NFL history overall, yep, you guessed it:
Another “Patriot win”.
Let’s look at these “Brady losses” that some people say
prove that he’s inferior to Joe Montana:
Super Bowl 42:
Brady was under duress for the entire game, as the Giants defensive line was
able to get home rushing 4, allowing them to drop 7 men into coverage. Brady
said it was like throwing into a forest.
Despite the relentless pressure, Brady hit Moss for a touchdown with 2:42 left
in the game, then turned to his defense for a stop, ONE stop, to preserve an
undefeated season. Instead, they allowed a go-ahead touchdown with :35 seconds
left to play, leaving Brady with insufficient time to answer.
Super Bowl 46:
Another Giants game, and almost a carbon copy of the one four seasons before.
Again, Brady’s offense found a way to carve out a lead, and needed one stop
from the defense. And once again, they allowed a go-ahead TD pass with under a
minute to play.
Super Bowl 52:
Despite breaking his own Super Bowl record, throwing for over 500 yards, and
racking up 33 points, the Patriot defense allowed score after score, leaving Brady
struggling to catch up. The Patriots did not make one single stop in the 2nd
half, allowing five straight scoring drives stretching back to the second
quarter. In fact, the Eagles scored on eight of ten drives overall for the
game, amassing 41 points.
Despite the onslaught, Brady actually took a 33-32 lead before,
you guessed it, the defense allowed a go-ahead TD with 2:21 left in the game,
and Brady was strip-sacked on the ensuing drive while in the act of throwing. Not
surprisingly, the strip-sack became a rallying point for every Brady hater with
a smartphone and a Twitter account. The 500 passing yards didn’t count. The Foxboro
High School-level defense didn’t count. It was a Brady Loss. Except it wasn’t.
It’s time for you to accept the truth: Tom Brady is the
GOAT. The fact that you root for another team, or that Brady looks like the guy
who gave you atomic wedgies in gym class, or that your girlfriend won’t stop
commenting about how handsome he is, has no bearing on the facts. It’s over.
You really need to learn to live with this, because we’ll
probably be having this conversation again.
Just about a year from now.