The New England Patriots are enjoying a more laid-back practice schedule this week, after earning a postseason first-round bye with their 28-0 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Some say quarterback Tom Brady's performance this season makes him the choice for league MVP. Is he also the choice for the best QB in NFL history?
A Different Game
A postseason bye was once a long shot for the Pats. They lost two of their first three games this season. But by mid-December, at least according to some statistical measures, Brady was having one of the best seasons for any quarterback in NFL history. ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss says it's a long way from having a great season to being crowned the best ever.
"The first thing I think about is best ever and how big that is and how do you compare a QB from this era to the '60s, to the '70s? Because the game is obviously so different, so that’s the first thought," Reiss said. "And then the second thought is, you know, there’s a lot of good quarterbacks playing right now, as well, so is he even the best right now?"
"How do you compare a QB from this era to the ’60s, to the ’70s? Because the game is obviously so different."Mike Reiss, ESPN
Brady's rivals include Peyton Manning, who came back from multiple neck surgeries to lead the Denver Broncos to a 13-3 record. The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees set the mark at 54 for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass. And newcomers Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) and Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) led what's been called the best rookie quarterback class since 1983. Luck and Griffin, last year's first and second overall draft picks, respectively, would have to wait at least a decade before consideration for best ever. Still, Reiss says, they won't have the same motivation as Brady.
"The fact that he’s never forgotten, 'I was the sixth round pick, 199th overall, people didn’t believe in me then, I have to keep proving myself each day,' even now as a QB who’s at the top of his game, at the top level."
In the frigid parking lot in front of Gillette Stadium recently, the Ganglani family — father Sam, daughter Samantha and son George — huddled around a roaring fire. The Ganglanis have owned Pats season tickets for 20 years, since Samantha was 5 and George was 3. Father and daughter don't have any doubt that for the past decade they've been cheering for the best quarterback in the league.
"Yes, he’s certainly better than those Manning brothers."
"We have special names for the Manning brothers."
"Yeah, I don’t think they’re allowed on National Public Radio, unless you have a bleep going."
George Ganglani offers a more "scientific" approach.
"I can’t really comment on Brady because I’m still trying to get through reading all of the records that he’s broken and I’ve only made it to about page five," he said. "So there are a few more pages we need to get through but then I’ll be able to see if he’s really the best."
New Rules Protect Quarterbacks
It's true. The list of Brady's career highlights is very long. But look at most of the NFL records for quarterbacks and you'll find players from the past decade dominating the lists. Since 2004, the league has changed the rules to protect quarterbacks and encourage scoring. That's a point Mike Fay, from Wilmington, can't help but concede.
"Oh, absolutely, and to tell you the truth, you can’t compare Tom Brady to guys that played in the '60s," Fay said. "You just can’t. It’s two different leagues. It’s OK, it’s what the game is, but you go back in time, those guys had to fight for their lives all the time, every game, every play."
Fay pointed out some of the other differences between Brady and the quarterbacks who came before him.
"So you take a guy like Y.A. Tittle, right? The New York Giants QB? Just look at him after he played a game. Bald head, right? Old man, bloody. Brady would never look like that. He’d never get on the cover of GQ like that!"
During Sunday's drubbing of the Dolphins, fans huddled in the frozen stadium threw snow in the air every time the Pats scored. The home team celebrated more offensive marks, including setting a new record for the most first downs in a season in NFL history.
After the game, Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick focused on how the team will prepare for the playoffs. Another Super Bowl bid would go a long way toward securing Brady's place in NFL history. But ESPN's Reiss says the quarterback's place in Patriots history is already well cemented.
"We can definitively say that Tom Brady is the best QB in Patriots history," Reiss said. "The difference with Tom Brady is three things: Super Bowl ring No. 1, Super Bowl ring No. 2 and Super Bowl ring No. 3, which the Patriots had never won before."
Brady and the Pats begin their bid for Super Bowl ring No. 4 on Jan. 13. Depending on the outcome of this weekend's games, the Patriots will face the Texans, the Ravens or the Colts.
This program aired on January 3, 2013.