As a longtime Michigan fan, I have enjoyed watching Tom Brady for a while and in my eyes he can roughly do no wrong. Other people, like Tom himself and Rich Cimini, disagree on occasion. Rich, specifically, notes that since winning his first 10 playoff games and three Super Bowls, Tom has only been ‘average’ with a 6-5 record and a 24 to 16 touchdown-interception ratio. He then goes on to question Brady’s clutchness and the general quality of his play the past few playoffs. That seemed kind of ridiculous. So here are some numbers.
First, let’s start with some general statements. If Tom Brady is ‘not as great as advertised’, he must have one hell of a PR firm because his career is pretty ridiculous. On Sunday Brady will appear in his fifth Super Bowl; only two players have more. If he wins it’ll be his fourth, tying him for the QB record and placing him behind Charles Haley for the most wins ever. If he wins MVP, and it’s hard to imagine him not if the Pats win, he’ll tie Montana for most Super Bowl MVPs ever. He should pass Kurt Warner’s record for most career SB passing yards regardless of the outcome. If he manages to throw four touchdowns, which is unlikely but not impossible, he’ll tie Montana for most career SB touchdowns. He already holds the records for completions in a game (tied with Brees) and career completions. If Super Bowl records are any piece of quarterback quality, and in terms of general perception they are, Brady is one of the best ever.
But we can also look at how he’s played in those first three Super Bowl runs compared to how he’s played since. After all, that’s what makes Rich say Tom has just been average. As opposed to Rich, who broke off his records partway through one playoff, I’m going to compare Brady’s first 9 games to his most recent 12. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to think that he changed dramatically after the first week of the playoffs in 2005, after all. Here are Brady’s stats in his first 9 games, all of which were wins and included three Super Bowls: an average of 21.1 completions on 33.8 attempts for a 62.5% completion percentage and 6.4 yards per attempt, 216.8 yards per game, 1.2 touchdowns against .3 interceptions for a 3.7 ratio, and he tossed in two rushing touchdowns. Now here are his last 12 games, in which he has a record of 7-5 and one lost Super Bowl: 23.5 completions on 37.3 attempts for a 62.9% completion percentage and 6.8 yards per attempt, 254.8 yards per game, 2.1 touchdowns against 1.3 interceptions for a 1.6 ratio, and he tossed in one rushing touchdown. So in general, Brady hasn’t changed much at all in the most recent years besides having more of everything. He’s been asked to pass more, so he has more yards, touchdowns, and interceptions as a result. His touchdown to interception ratio has gone down, to the extent that’s a good indicator of anything, while his completion percentage has gone up a tick and his yards per attempt has increased.
Since Eli has been getting a lot of attention, we can compare Brady’s lean years to Eli. Manning has played 10 games since 2005, which coincides with Brady’s Super Bowl break. The Giants are 7-3 in those games, which might appear to give Eli the leg up on Brady’s 7-5. Eli is averaging 18.9 completions on 31.6 attempts for a completion percentage of 59.8% and a yards per attempt of 7. So he’s been passing less and a little less accurately but getting bigger plays out of those passes compared to Brady. He averages 222 yards per game, which is between Brady’s two numbers. And he has 1.6 touchdowns to .8 interceptions for a ratio of 1.5, which is just at/below Brady’s ‘subpar’ streak. The Giants have lost two fewer games than the Pats in this period, mostly because they haven’t made the playoffs as much (they have 3 ‘one and dones’ to go with two good streaks whereas the Pats have 2 ‘one and dones’ but have won at least one game 4 other times), but Eli hasn’t been asked to do as much as Brady nor put up obviously better stats.
So in general it doesn’t look like Brady really changed much from his Super Bowl years to the past few seasons. His interceptions are up, but all of his stats are up. It’s hard for me to say what an ‘average’ playoff quarterback is like, because I can’t search for something like that easily on football-reference, but Tom’s ‘bad’ years seem pretty comparable to Eli Manning’s postseason career, and he has a 7-3 record and seems to be the current poster boy for clutch play. While the Patriots haven’t won any Super Bowls since 2004, I think it’s a stretch to say that it’s because Brady has fallen off his game. Cimini admits this a bit at the end of his article when he says that some of the issue can be attributed to changes in the defense, but his headline really says it all. And really, can you name any current quarterbacks who wouldn’t kill to have Brady’s career? If they ran the past six years over again, I don’t think there are many teams that would pass on having him as their QB.