Brady vs Montana

After the thrilling, improbable and unprecedented comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI many people, especially those in the state comprising New England, believe that the case for Tom Brady as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is closed. Seven trips to the Super Bowl with five wins and four Most Valuable Player honors seem to only cement their argument right?

Not so fast.

Let’s take a minute to compare and contrast the career path of Tom Brady to the quarterback most often used as the standard against whom all quarterbacks are measured- Joseph Clifford Montana, Jr. It’s very difficult to make direct comparisons based on statistics, as many folks like to do. The reason for this is simple; the rules under which Brady has spent his career are vastly different from those conditions under which Montana played. For instance, the passing game of today’s league is much more wide open – receivers can’t get hit five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, can’t get hit when they’re going up for a ball and considered “defenseless”.

In Montana’s time, these rules were not in place, nor were the rules that were put in place specifically to protect quarterbacks (one actually put into effect after Brady himself was injured and lost for the season after a low hit by the Kansas City Chiefs’ Bernard Pollard in the opening game of the 2008 season).

To put this in perspective, Dan Marino had a five thousand yard season (5,084 total) in 1984, when he also threw for 48 touchdowns. The next time someone threw for at least five thousand yards was Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints in 2008. The next time someone threw as many touchdowns was in 2004 when the then-Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 49. Since 2008, there have been eight 5,000 yard passing seasons (five by Brees, one each by Manning, Brady and the Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford). The touchdown record has been broken twice as well; once by Brady in 2007 when he threw for 50, and Manning took it back with the Denver Broncos in 2013 as he set the bar at 55.

In comparison, Joe Montana’s highest touchdown total, 28, ranks tied for 134th best all time. As far as passing yards go, his 3,944 in 1990 for the San Francisco 49ers clocks in at 172nd all time, over 1,500 yards behind Peyton Manning’s record of 5,477 (also in 2013). So the stats are out, using this as a comparison is faulty logic.

What then, can be used as a gauge of their skills in a head to head matchup? Several of the people I talked to- all Patriots fans- immediately pointed out that Joe Montana was surrounded by Hall of Fame players at every position. So I looked into that because based on how good those teams were, it seems plausible. The reality? Montana had exactly ONE Hall of Fame offensive teammate with whom he shared the field, that, of course, being Jerry Rice. On defense? He had two: Linebacker Charles Haley (the first player to play on five Super Bowl-winning teams) and defensive lineman Fred Dean.

For Brady, the argument is a little more difficult because his career is still ongoing, but he has played with some players who are definitely Hall of Fame bound. Ty Law for one, Randy Moss for another, Darrell Revis for a third. Now let’s look at some of the borderline players he’s had, like Rob Gronkowski, who is certainly on track to be a Hall of Famer if he can just stay healthy. Julian Edelman seems like he can make a case as he continues to rack up impressive seasons, although Wes Welker was certainly on track but injuries derailed him as well. So that’s essentially a toss-up. Richard Seymour was dominant for several seasons. Brady also had a defensive front that included players like Tedy Bruschi and Vince Wilfork, who by themselves might have been above average players but when they were all put together, they were dominant enough to shut down “The Greatest Show on Turf”- Kurt Warner’s Rams.
So what comparison can I make next?

The strength of their competition would be my next determining factor, and here is where it gets very interesting. Now some folks will say that a win is a win but I disagree. A win against a good opponent is better than a win against a team that isn’t very good. The Patriots have racked up a whole lot of AFC East titles during Brady’s time, but here is a list of the quarterbacks that they’ve faced in the division with the number of games played since 2001 when Brady became the full-time starter:

Miami Dolphins Games
Ryan Tannehill 77
Jay Fiedler 44
Chad Henne 31
Chad Pennington 20
Gus Frerotte 15
Matt Moore 15
Joey Harrington 11
AJ Feeley 8
Cleo Lemon 8
Ray Lucas 6
Trent Green 5
Brian Griese 5
John Beck 4
Daunte Culpepper 4
Sage Rosenfels 2
Tyler Thigpen 1

New York Jets Games
Mark Sanchez 62
Chad Pennington 61
Vinny Testaverde 31
Geno Smith 30
Ryan Fitzpatrick 27
Brett Favre 16
Brooks Bollinger 9
Kellen Clemens 9
Bryce Petty 4
Quincy Carter 3
Michael Vick 3
Greg McElroy 1

Buffalo Bills Games
Ryan Fitzpatrick 53
Drew Bledsoe 48
JP Losman 33
Trent Edwards 32
Tyrod Taylor 29
EJ Manuel 17
Kyle Orton 12
Kelly Holcomb 8
Alex Van Pelt 8
Rob Johnson 8
Thad Lewis 5
Brian Brohm 2
Jeff Tuel 1

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between these teams. And several of these quarterbacks actually played for the Patriots as well, most notable Drew Bledsoe, whom Brady replaced after an injury. While the Dolphins seem to have found a stable quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, neither the Jets nor Bills seem to know in which direction they’d like to go. This gives Brady and the Patriots a huge advantage – stability both at the quarterback position and the coach. Only three other quarterbacks have started aside from Brady in his entire tenure; Matt Cassell in 2008 when Brady missed all but the beginning of the season opener, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissette this past season while Brady was suspended. Other than that, it’s been Brady under center at the beginning of every game.

So how does Montana stack up in this department? As you can see, there was about the same amount of stability and consistency among the quarterback position during Montana’s run. You also see a little bit of overlap with the teams as well, not as much as during Brady’s time, but Brady has been playing since 2001; Montana played with the 49ers from 1979- 1990. He was on the team in 1990 and 1991 but played only one game combined. So Brady has had a more sustained career which again is a product of the rule changes that protect quarterbacks as well as Brady’s commitment to an extremely healthy lifestyle. Not a knock on Brady by any means, but he’s had advantages and opportunities due to the advances in science and training technology that simply didn’t exist when Montana played. Here are the quarterbacks and their games for Montana’s division from 1979-90.

Los Angeles Rams Games
Jim Everett 64
Vince Ferragamo 44
Pat Haden 21
Dieter Brock 15
Steve Bartkowski 6
Steve Dils 5
Dan Pastorini 5
Bert Jones 4
Jeff Kemp 1
Jeff Rutledge 1

Atlanta Falcons Games
Steve Bartkowski 80
Chris Miller 32
David Archer 23
Scott Campbell 11
Mike Moroski 7
Turk Schonert 5
Hugh Millen 3
Erik Kramer 2
June Jones 2
Jeff van Raaphorst 1

New Orleans Saints Games
Archie Manning 43
Bobby Hebert 41
Dave Wilson 31
Ken Stabler 22
Richard Todd 14
John Fourcade 11
Steve Walsh 11
Bobby Scott 1
Guido Merkens 1

So as you can see, their situations were actually very similar; neither was in a situation where their most frequent opponents struggled to find the quarterback consistency they themselves enjoyed. So how do you evaluate them head to head? Here’s the thing: there really is no reason to do it; it’s a generational thing. Nobody could compare to Montana during his playing days and Brady’s closest competition, Peyton Manning, hasn’t had nearly the same success despite putting up better stats. Again the Super Bowl victory argument is invalid as well. To illustrate this point I asked the same group of people who they thought the best defensive player of all time was, and I got a variety of responses. I heard Deion Sanders, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Some of these folks are the same who swear Brady is the greatest of all time because he’s got five rings, but none of those folks applied the same criteria to defense, because nobody thought Charles Haley was the greatest defensive player despite that fact.

Personally, I don’t think that either of these players can be compared, because they both achieved incredible success, but did it in different ways. They were both quarterbacks who were the faces of their franchise and transcended the position, even as others around them threatened to make their style of play obsolete, or that there would be a new style of play that would revolutionize the game; Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense, Run ‘N Gun, quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham or Donovan McNabb who used their legs as much as their arms to advance the ball down the field. In my opinion, they are each the greatest of their generation. I’d no sooner compare them to each other than I would to Bart Starr or Red Grange.

It’s impossible to compare players from different generations to each other because the game is so different in each era. Put it this way, in the 80s when Montana spent the bulk of his career, the average NFL offensive lineman was 6’ 4” and 272 lbs. Tom Brady is 6’4”, 225, roughly the same size as Lawrence Taylor (6’3”, 245). Montana was 6’2”, 205, roughly the size of today’s defensive backs. Based on the stats, facts, and figures I’ve provided, I think I’ve proven that there can be no practical comparison between these two and determine once and for all who the GOAT is. One thing I think everyone can agree on is that these two are in a class by themselves, and shouldn’t be compared to each other, or anyone else for that matter. RahallAFC EastNew England PatriotsNFC WestNFLRecent PostsSan Francisco 49ersbrady vs montana,Joe Montana,NFL,Super Bowl,Tom BradyAfter the thrilling, improbable and unprecedented comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI many people, especially those in the state comprising New England, believe that the case for Tom Brady as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is closed. Seven trips to the Super Bowl with five wins...