Three-time Super Bowl champion. Two-time Super Bowl MVP. 2005 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Owner of the highest quarterback rating and completion percentage of all time for a Patriot. Tom Brady's aforementioned accomplishments were all first-time feats for a New England Patriot quarterback. As such, it may only be a matter of time before the 28-year-old is recognized as the best quarterback in the history of the franchise. Now in his 6th and perhaps most impressive year yet, Brady is putting up big numbers while climbing the Patriots' record books.
With an impressive win against Tampa Bay in week 15, Brady and the Pats (9-5) are surging at the right time. Several key pieces have come into place in recent weeks to help New England, but Brady has been excellent all season and that cannot be overlooked. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Brady has already put up a career high in passing yards (3888). Bledsoe is the only other Patriot quarterback to top that number, but he has done so three times (4555 in 1994, 4086 in 1996 and 3985 in 1999). A tough 667 yards separate Brady from Bledsoe's best mark of 4555. In all likelihood, Brady will finish the season somewhere in between Bledsoe's 4086 and 4555.
For arguments sake, Brady's numbers, as good as they are, do not justify him being the greatest quarterback to ever play in New England. Drew Bledsoe and Steve Grogan remain at number one and two in all-time passing yards (29,657 and 26,886 to Brady's 17,813). Bledsoe, Grogan and Vito "Babe" Parilli still top Brady's touchdown pass numbers (166, 182, 132 to Brady's 120). But Brady is in only his sixth season since coming into the NFL. Since taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2000, Brady has started 85 consecutive games for New England and doesn't appear to be slowing down. On his current pace, he will likely shatter most New England quarterback records. Still, it is necessary to look at former Patriot greats to get perspective on his accomplishments.
It is also only fair to consider a few Patriot QBs to be in the same class as Brady. Drew Bledsoe (29,657) is the high-time leader in passing yards. Grogan (26,886) is second, and Parilli (16,747) is fourth. Tony Eason is fifth (10,732) and Jim Plunkett is sixth (9,932). None of these quarterbacks led New England to a championship, but they were all stars in New England (Bledsoe earned a ring in 2001 with Brady at the helm).
In his six seasons with the Pats, Eason owned a QB rating of 80.6. That is the second highest rating in Patriots history behind Brady's 88.6. Eason also owns the highest Patriot passer rating for a season. He finished the 1984 campaign with a 93.4 rating. Brady's 92.6 rating in 2004 is the second highest mark in Patriots history.
Babe Parilli started 94 games for the Pats between 1961 and 1967. He is ranked fourth, after Brady, on the Patriots all-time passer list. His only remaining record is for a franchise-high 31 touchdown passes in 1964.
Steve Grogan was a Patriot his entire career from 1975-1990. The 16 years was the longest anyone has ever been a Patriot. Second on the all-time passing list, Grogan is still the Patriots all-time leader in touchdown passes thrown (182).
Jim Plunkett threw for 9,932 yards as a Patriot from 1971 to 1975. Not bad, but his 87 interceptions and only 62 touchdowns just isn't good enough to justify a case against Mr. Brady.
Tom Brady's efficiency is unmatched by any of his Patriots predecessors. His career 62.0 completion percentage and 88.6 quarterback rating are by far the best in Pats history. In 2001, Brady completed 63.9 percent of his passes, establishing a Patriots record. He has 120 career touchdown passes to only 64 interceptions. Grogan, Parilli and Plunkett all threw more career picks than touchdowns. Although Bledsoe and Eason found their teammates more often than their opponents, (Bledsoe had 166 TD's to 138 INT's and Eason had 60 TD's to 48 INT's), they still weren't nearly as efficient as Brady.
Brady is also a proven leader and team player. This year, Brady has targeted 12 different receivers for 23 touchdown passes. The twelve different touchdown recipients are the most ever for a QB in the NFL. The previous record of 11 different targets was shared by Brady (2002), Sammy Baugh of Washington (1947), Dan Marino (1985 and Vinny Testaverde of Baltimore (1996).
Brady has always been one to distribute the ball evenly around the field. Deon Branch has emerged as the team's number one threat, but everyone is getting touches. He doesn't look for Branch every time. He will find Kevin Faulk out of the backfield, or Ben Watson streaking across the middle or Givens dashing down the sideline. Whoever is open, Brady finds them. His efficiency extends to his yards per pass attempt. His 7.89 yards per pass attempt this year is a significant improvement to his career 7.09 mark.
Undoubtedly the most impressive statistic on Tom Brady's resume is three Super Bowl victories in the past four years. Almost as impressive are his two Super Bowl MVPs. There lies the big difference between Tom Brady and many other great quarterbacks. No matter how talented or statistically great an athlete is, if they fail to win the big game, their careers are questioned. Peyton Manning is the best example of an active record-breaking quarterback who has yet to take his team all the way. Dan Marino will always be considered one of the best ever at his position. But if someone, like Brady, puts up comparable numbers and wins perhaps an all-time high five Super Bowls, Marino will surely take a back seat. An athlete's success is ultimately measured in their ability to win. Brady has done so three times. Bledsoe is the only other Patriot to get to the Super Bowl.
Great players don't always have great leadership skills. The Boston Bruins recently watched their best player, Joe Thornton, get shipped to San Jose. Thornton was the Bruins' franchise player, the centerpiece to an up-and-coming squad. But in seven years, Thornton took the Bruins past the first round of the playoffs only once. Now he's playing hockey on the West Coast because he didn't show the intangibles that Brady displays game after game.
Brady has shown his ability to win the big game under tough circumstances time and time again. He has already led 21 fourth quarter come-from-behind or tie-breaking victories. In week three against Pittsburgh, Brady was 12-12 in the fourth quarter on his way to leading the Pats to an OT win. He has led the Pats on game-winning drives in each of the last three Super Bowl victories in the fourth quarter. He has never lost a playoff game (9-0). He is 7-0 in overtime. He is 22-2 in games decided by a six points or less. Brady is big time.
Tom Brady has what you cannot teach; the innate ability to be a game-breaker. It is for this reason that he will go down not only as one of the best Patriots in history, but one of the best athletes in the history of Boston sports. As of now, Brady's career record is 57-19. His .750 winning percentage is the best in NFL history since the beginning of the Super Bowl Era (1966) among quarterbacks with at least 40 starts. Behind him are Roger Staubach (Dallas, .746), Joe Montana (San Francisco and Kansas City, .713) and Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia, .709).
Brady is in good company and leading the pack.
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