By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Comeback-ologist
We should probably drop that G.O.A.T. argument now.
What if we told you there was a quarterback in the last seven years that won two league MVP awards, won 78.4% of his regular season games, and had a 101.8 passer rating with a 203:63 TD-to-INT ratio? He led three of the 10 highest scoring teams in NFL history in that span.
Then what if we told you that same quarterback in the postseason had a 7-6 record (.538), 0-2 in the Super Bowl, lost two home playoff games by 26 points and had an 87.1 passer rating with a 27:17 TD-to-INT ratio? Finally, in those three historically high-scoring seasons, he lost in the playoffs by scoring only 14, 21 and 17 points (the 14 and 17 represent season-lows).
That is not a fictional quarterback at all. That is Tom Brady from 2005 to 2011.
Known as a “clutch winner” since early in his career, Brady won three Super Bowls and his first 10 playoff starts. But things have gone much differently since the last Super Bowl win, which is now eight seasons ago.
No longer has Brady been able to consistently pull out playoff wins, or even perform admirably in these games as he’s increased his regular season standards to much loftier levels.
Brady had a very uneven game in Super Bowl XLVI. With high expectations, he got off to as bad of a start as any quarterback ever has in the Super Bowl, helping the Giants register a safety on his first drop back with an intentional grounding in the end zone penalty.
But then Brady warmed up and would eventually complete a Super Bowl-record 16 straight passes. At one point, he was 20/23 with two passes batted at the line, and the intentional grounding.
That also means Brady finished the game 7/18 with an interception in the rest of the second half. They weren’t all bad passes, as a few were dropped; most notably a difficult catch Wes Welker failed to pull in late in the game. It doesn’t help when Rob Gronkowski is maybe 50% of his usual self.
For all the talk about Brady’s ability to take over a game with New England’s potent no-huddle offense, Brady only used it on ten plays, which just so happened to come during their two touchdown drives.
But this game also exposed the flaws that still exist in Brady’s game after all these years.
First, it’s the fact that he’s more susceptible to pressure getting to him in the pocket and making his level of play deteriorate more than usual. The Giants didn’t always get much pressure, but the few times they did, it was usually very successful in throwing Brady off his game.
The problem Brady has here is his lack of mobility to extend plays. When the Giants pressured Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith in the previous games, those quarterbacks rushed for 66 and 42 yards, respectively. They could move well enough to create positive plays for their teams. Brady doesn’t have the same ability, and in this game, he never scrambled once.
Then there are the tight throws into coverage. We saw Eli Manning make several of these in the game, including the biggest play: 38 yards to Manningham. They don’t all have to be deep balls, as Manning also gunned an 8-yard pass in to Victor Cruz in the fourth quarter in a tight window.
These are the types of throws that need to be made some times to have success. The Patriots do an incredible job of spreading the field with five good options to throw to, and no team does a better job of creating mismatches and getting receivers wide open.
But every quarterback is going to have plays where things don’t work, and they have to find that tight window to throw into, and Brady has not done a good enough job at that.
Chad Ochocinco had the longest gain of the night for New England; a mere 21 yards. In Brady’s five Super Bowls, his longest pass plays of the game have been 23 (Rams), 52 (Panthers), 27 (Eagles), 19 (Giants 2007), and 21 (Giants 2011) yards.
Brady has thrown 9 TD passes in his five Super Bowls. The distances on those plays are 1, 2, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 8, and 12 yards. The last came Sunday night to Aaron Hernandez.
In the two Super Bowls against the Giants, Brady is 0/13 with an interception on passes thrown 20+ yards. The Patriots rely on yards after the catch to get explosive plays, which isn’t always easy to do. Sometimes you just have to sling it.
Getting explosive plays makes scoring points easier, and it can help offset some of the ill effects of having awful starting field position like the Patriots did in this game (average drive was at the 16.1 which is even worse than the 2009 Colts in Super Bowl XLIV).
The 1st and 10th highest scoring teams in NFL history should be able to score more than 14-17 points against what are two of the worst statistical defenses to ever win a Super Bowl. But that’s what has happened in these two New England losses to the Giants. If Brady's not going to scramble and he's not going to make coverage throws, then he's just making it easier on the defense to defend him and his offense.
Brady should go down as the best short-ball passer in NFL history, but until he starts delivering the tougher throws, he’ll remain idolizing the likes of Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Because he's not it.
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He is currently not welcomed in Denver, New England, Green Bay, and San Diego. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.