Tom Brady Game Manager vs. Tom Brady Superstar

January 23, 2012 | Thyrl Nelson

They say that hindsight is 20/20, and usually that seems to be true; when it comes to NFL football however that may not be entirely the case. I was surprised for example at the level of clarity and evenness of callers today on the MobTown Sports Beat in the immediate aftermath of the Ravens stunning disappointment, in many cases from the very same callers at times beside themselves even after Ravens wins this season. That said I was even more surprised over the degree to which Joe Flacco was celebrated for a statistical win over Tom Brady albeit in a team loss. Those who saw yesterday’s performance as a surprise or an anomaly in the Joe Flacco experience clearly haven’t been paying close enough attention along the way. Flacco didn’t do anything on Sunday that he hadn’t shown himself capable of before, and therefore shouldn’t have done much to change anyone’s perception of him one way or the other in a single performance against a less than mediocre defense.

Hindsight though is funny that way.


In addressing the other inconvenient truth (that the Super Bowl is still being played regardless of the Ravens’ inclusion or lack thereof) and perhaps in still trying to get over whatever Patriots hate had pervaded my system in the lead up to the AFC title game, I opined with several guests that if Tom Brady should come up short in getting his 4th ring this time, his career might begin to be seen as a reverse Elway of sorts. They weren’t seeing the connection, but hear me out.


John Elway after all went to 3 Super Bowls as a bona fide superstar, yet still got reluctant recognition as one of the all-time greats because of his inability to win one of them. As his career was winding to a close Elway, a shell of his former self, managed the Broncos to two more Super Bowls and victories therein riding the crest of a prolific running game and a stout defense. Having claimed those two titles Elway rode off into the sunset, legacy cemented as one of the all-time greats…period.


Brady on the other hand, took the Patriots to the Super Bowl and won it in 3 of his first 4 campaigns while playing to the strengths of a capable running game and stingy defense. Throughout his three Super Bowl runs the Patriots balance was close to 60%/40% passing to running production. Also throughout that run the defense was top notch. Brady’s numbers were consistent along the way holding steady around 3600 yards per season with about 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Meanwhile the Patriots were in the middle of the league in passing and total offense.


In Brady’s first Super Bowl campaign, he went a collective 60 for 97 for 572 yards 1 TD and 1 int. and added a rushing TD. Drew Bledsoe threw for as many TDs as Brady in about one half of the Steelers game that post-season. All of the Patriots dramatic drives and victories were sealed by field goals not touchdowns and the only second half TD the Patriots scored in three playoff contests came courtesy of a blocked field goal attempt.


The second run was more of the same with no 2nd half Patriots TDs in the two games leading to the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl itself, a coming out party of sorts for Brady with 354 yards and 3 TD in his first multi-touchdown playoff game was again won on a late field goal.


In 2004, the Patriots passing offense went over 4000 yards under Brady for the first time, and the unlikely superstar was born. Prior to Brady’s assault on the record books, beginning in 2004 peaking in 2007 and seemingly reborn once again, he was the undeniable catalyst in the reversal of Patriots’ fortunes and therefore as deserving of accolades as much as any of the Pats’ lunch pail brigade. After 2004 and with all of the passing marks and awards that have followed Brady has morphed into the unquestionable superstar, but since doing so has failed to get back to the pinnacle that the lunch pail version of Brady and the Patriots once seemed to enjoy as their birthright. Somehow though, as with the legacy of Elway both before and after his Super Bowl wins, we’ve now meshed the two separate experiences into a single collective point of view on each player’s career arc.


Maybe the league has changed since then, but before we simply accept that, let’s also acknowledge that we’ve been anointing the NFL as “now a passing league” for the better part of a decade and thus far the results are mixed. You could offer up the 2006 Colts, the 2009 Saints and 2010 Packers as examples that it’s happening, but to do so is also to fail to acknowledge the stout defense the Colts began playing in those 2006 playoffs or their efforts on the ground as driving most of that playoff push. It would also fail to acknowledge the inexplicable nature of the 2009 Saints to stop passing games in the red zone or their propensity to create turnovers and it’s also a convenient omission of the fact that on credentials alone the Packers defense outperformed their offense last season.


Maybe this time Belichick and Brady are so far ahead of the curve that it still hasn’t fully materialized yet. Maybe they’ll trounce the much more balanced looking Giants in a couple of weeks and continue to perpetuate the notion that wide open passing is the way to go in today’s NFL. For now though we must acknowledge that Brady like Elway is undefeated in Super Bowls as a game manager and winless as a superstar on whom his team is counting to win games instead of simply losing them, with another trial balloon set to be floated in a couple of weeks.