“Facts don’t care about your feelings. And neither do I.” (Ben Shapiro)
A Legacy – Deflated!
This isn’t about whether Tom Brady is a cheater who got what he deserved; I’ll let others beat that horse. No, this is about something else. As I look at the NFL standings today and see the Patriots at 3-1 and atop the AFC East (again) I can’t help but smirk, one of those annoying smirks that I hate in others. With their 2nd and 3rd sting at QB, New England still looked like one of the best teams in the NFL. This is why I wanted Brady out for four games, far more than whether I thought he was guilty or whether Square Jaw overreached as commissioner. I wanted more proof of how extremely overrated Brady is.
There is no ‘i’ in team. But there are two in “They’d still win”.
It worked out about as well as I could have hoped. I really thought they’d go 4-0. I’ll take 3-1. Playing the Patrtiots without Brady doesn’t give opponents a huge advantage. No matter what Bills coach, Biff from Back to the Future, says. If everyone thought they could take down the Brady-less PATs, three teams were wrong, including an otherwise 3-0 team that got to face NE’s 3rd string guy making his first ever start and lost by four touchdowns. Tom Brady has won 77% of his starts in his NFL career. In 20 games, his back ups–all starting their first NFL games of their careers–have won 70% (14-6).
This is historically true as well. Steve Young was awful in Tampa Bay to start his career: 3-16 record, 11 TDs vs. 21 ints. Then he goes to SF and violà! 10 TDs vs. 0 Ints his first season and goes on to become a Super Bowl winner and Hall of Famer. In 1976, 4-time Super Bowl champ Terry Bradshaw missed 6 games with injury and his back up went 6-0 without throwing a TD pass in any game. Even my man Manning rode the back of a now winning franchise to win his 2nd SB ring. Siemian and Oswieler have won games in Denver. Paxton looks good too.
Team matters. Franchise matters. After the Pats started 3-0, Scott Van Pelt profoundly stated that it didn’t seem to matter who NE started at QB, that they’d still win. And it’s time to break the myths that QBs are the key to winning. The facts on Tom Brady’s career shatter them. Let’s look at them one at a time:
Myth 1: He wins more, with less.
Perhaps you have seen the meme where it shows how many future HOFers Brady has had as his weapons vs. how many Manning had. Manning had more so obviously, Brady has been rubbing two sticks together to win 4 SB’s while Manning and his zippo could only get 2.
Interestingly, Brady won more SB’s throwing to Givens, Branch and Troy Brown than he has throwing to Gronk, Moss and Welker. Why is that? Could it be that having HOF weapons on offense isn’t all it takes to win a Super Bowl? Brady 01-04 won more with less than Brady 05-14. Maybe this means “He” hasn’t won anything.
Myth #2: Players hit the QB lottery playing with him.
Players hit the lottery playing with New England, not with Brady. If you look at the stats of many of Brady’s weapons over the years who have played with other QBs and other franchises, you will see that they don’t have better stats with Brady. Deion Branch averaged 3.7 catches and 48 yards per game in NE and 3.7 and 46 in Seattle. Randy Moss was about the same stat wise with Brady as with Duante Culpepper, Jeff George and Randall Cunningham throwing to him in Minnesota. And if you think those short white receivers for NE owe Brady for making them look good, by all means go look at how Danny Woodhead has done in San Diego vs. how he did in New England. Skip Bayless once gushed about Brady that he took an unknown Wes Welker from the Dolphins and made him a 112 catch wonder in NE in 2007. “Who else could do that?” he asks. The very next year Welker had 111 catches with Cassel throwing to him.
Myth #3: Brady has nearly won Super Bowls in spite of his team.
Who could forget that huge Super Bowl drop by Wes Welker 5 years ago? Forgetting the pass was not good (Boston homer Bill Simmons, who sat at the 40 yard line at the game, described it with a word I cannot repeat here), people tend to overlook what my brother Ashley texted me after the game: Brady was throwing to a guy who was wide open.
People also said, “He dragged the 31st rank defense in the league to the Super Bowl that year!” That’s their yardage rank. They were 15th in scoring defense that year and gave up 20, 10 and 19 in the playoffs. Brady also had a 4th quarter interception in the Super Bowl and gave the Giants two points on a intentional grounding safety.
Myth #4: Brady made Belichik and was the key to New England turning around from 5-11 in 2000 to winning 3 of 4 Super Bowls.
It is a mistake to assume that I think Brady owes everything to Belichik who, indeed, couldn’t win a thing in Cleveland or his first year in NE. He doesn’t. No coach has ever won with two teams and nobody has won in Cleveland in 50 years.
But neither do I think Brady was the key to the turnaround. There were a lot of things that happened in 2001 that helped the Patriots turn from 5-11 to SB winners. Hiring Romeo Crannel was one. The Pats jumped from 17th in defensive scoring in 2000 to 6th in 2001. If you want to credit Brady for their amazing turnaround, you’ll have to explain to me why the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 01, 03 and 04 with the 6th, 1st and 2nd scoring defenses and didn’t make the playoffs in 2002 with the 17th scoring defense. Or why Brady was a much better QB statistically from 05 to 13 when he won zero Super Bowls than he was from 01 to 04 when he won three. People like to talk about these mythical “intangibles” QBs have but am I to assume Brady lost his intangible in 2005 and could not recover it for nine seasons?
The truth is Brady was just a good QB in 2001, not a great one. It’s the least impressive year of his career, easily. In the AFC Championship that year, Bledsoe played most of the game instead of an injured Brady and NE still won. The whole team came out together for the Super Bowl introductions. He threw for 145 yards in the SB and had to do very little most of the game. Yes, he had a great final drive, but if his defense doesn’t score 7 points, set up other scores for the offense and hold the high scoring Rams to 17 points, and if his kicker isn’t clutch, Brady is an afterthought.
When does Garoppolo get $60 million to go stink somewhere else?
Beyond the myths, there is one enormous reason why I think Brady is overrated and I can sum it up in two words: Matt Cassel.
In 2008 Matt Cassel–who had not started any football game at QB since high school–was forced into NE’s first game due to a Brady injury. He led them to an 11-5 season, throwing for 21 TDs, 11 Ints and 3,700 yards. Brady came back the next year, Cassel got a huge contract from Kansas City, and proceeded to go 4-11 his first year there with 15 TDs and 15 ints. And after four years he bombed out with them so badly some KC fans cheered when he got hurt in 2012. Since then he has been shipped around the league, playing back-up for four teams the last four seasons.
Here are some stats to consider:
Cassel with New England: 1.9 to 1 TD to Int ratio
Cassel with other teams: 1.2 to 1 TD to Int ratio
Cassel with New England: 63.4 Com. %
Cassel with other teams: 57.1 Com %
Cassel with New England: 11-5 record (69% winning %)
Cassel with other teams: 24-39 (38% winning %)
In addition to above, Cassel’s career high in yards per attempt and BY FAR his career highs in yards per game and QBR came in 2008 with New England. The conclusion, to me, is clear: Cassel looked like a true bona fide NFL starter in his only year starting with New England and has looked like second string (and at times like a bum) everywhere else he’s been. Reason, on this info alone, tells us that it is easier to play QB in New England than in other places in the NFL.
But, But, But!!!!
However, I have heard these counterarguments:
A. But he inherited a 16-0 team that set NFL records on offense and they were far worse.
This is, in some sense, true. But there are several other things to consider. First, the 2007 Patriots were 1st in the NFL in scoring offense and 1st in yards. The 2008 Patriots were 5th in scoring and 8th in yards. So it’s not like they were struggling on offense.
Secondly, this compares Brady in his 8th NFL season and 7th as a starter to Matt Cassel in his 4th NFL season and 1st as a starter and his first year starting at any level since high school. Let me ask you this: If Cassel had 6 extra years as a starter when he took over the 2008 Patriots, do you think he would have done better? Is it reasonable to conclude that Cassel with Brady 07 experience would have been a better QB in 08? Yes. Absolutely. What is that worth? A couple of wins? A few places on the offensive rank list?
All of a sudden the differences between Brady and Cassel are not as stark.
Lastly, this also ignores the fact that Brady came back in 2009, had the same weapons on offense as 07 and 08, had a better defense statistically than in 08 and went 10-6 and came nowhere close to setting offensive records. 08 Cassel is comparable to 09 Brady. To be fair, Brady had just come back from injury and that is the year NE lost Josh McDaniels. So I think Brady in a normal year would have been better. How much better? 12 wins? 13? That is really my theory on Brady for over a decade now: you take Brady out and put in a 1st year starting scrub and you lose a couple of wins. I would think the G.O.A.T would have more impact than that.
B. But they missed the playoffs!
This also needs qualifying. New England was 11-5 in 2008 (same record as their first Super Bowl year) and they are the only team in NFL history in the current playoff system to ever miss the playoffs with that record. Every other 11-5 team–as well as scores of 10-6, 9-7, 8-8 and and even a 7-9 team–has made it. They also tied for the division title that year and split with Miami in the season series and lost on like the 29th tie breaker and missed out on the wild card after like the 116th tie breaker to Baltimore. New England missed the playoffs in a seeing Haley’s comet like probability occurance.
Also to consider is that New England finished the season 4-0. In their last six games, they went on the road and beat the other division champ Miami by 20 points with Cassel throwing for 400 yards and then whipped eventual Super Bowl runner up Arizona by 40. They were getting hot. You would expect a first year starter to get better as the season went on. The longer Cassel was a starter, the better he and the team did and the less valuable Brady seemed.
C. But Cassel looked good with Kansas City in 2010.
There are a few problems with this rebuttal to me. First, you have to consider his whole Kansas City career to understand the point. He was average to terrible in three of four years in KC. Secondly, he was a third year starter in KC in 2010, compared to a 1st year starter in NE. I’d expect him to be a better QB at that point. Even with that, Cassel still had better stats in most categories in Year 1 with NE than in Year 3 with KC, TDs vs Ints being the exception. He also won more games in 2008 with New England.
Also, as mentioned, 2010 with Kansas City was an outlier statistically compared to the other three years he had with them. I think a couple of things explain why. First that was the only year he had Charlie Weiss as his offensive coordinator (Romeo Crennel was also the defensive coordinator…Crennel and Weiss were the coordinators for the first 3 Super Bowl wins in New England). Secondly, and related to that point, Kansas City had the #1 rushing offense in the NFL in 2010. That no doubt helped Cassel tremendously and in reality proves my point: if you surround a bad QB with a good team, they can thrive. First year starter Tim Tebow in 2011 had the #1 rushing offense behind him and had 12 TDs to 6 ints. Now he’s out of the league. In 2013 first year starter Nick Foles had the #1 rushing attack in Philadelphia and had 27 TDs vs 2 Ints. Now he’s a back up.
I think it’s safe to say that having the #1 rushing attack makes most QBs look a lot better than they are. Just like playing for the Patriots makes a QB look a lot better than he is. 2010 Cassel, with former Patriot coordinators and favorable team circumstances, proves my point.
There are 3 ‘i’s in Phillip Rivers!
Let me be clear that I think Brady is a good QB. I’m not really comparing him to Cassel or Garapollo. I think he could have good stats with most teams. But would he win with other teams or just be a Phillip Rivers type who has numbers but doesn’t win? Make no mistake, Brady’s exalted as the G.O.A.T. because he wins. With the same franchise that saw Cassel, Jimmy G and Brisket reel off 7 straight wins in games Brady could not play in.
Maybe Garoppalo will go on to be great somewhere else. But in the meantime, I ask: Would Steve Young have had the stats and wins if he’d stayed in Tampa Bay as he did in San Fransisco? Would Cassel have had more success if Brady had never come back and he was able to stay in NE from 08 to the present? Or, would Brady have 4 titles if he’d been drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars? How many QBs could have won in Denver last year? 25? I think the reasonable answers to these questions center around the QB not mattering as much as we think. And that means those guys who are ranked high because “They’re winners” are typically overrated.
Brady is by far the king of that bunch.
For a more balanced take where Brady’s career accomplishments are lauded in a Brady vs. Brees debate, please go here.