Tom Brady has been here before. Participating in the playoffs, with a ticket to the conference championship on the line, the future Hall of Famer again did what he does best: make the plays when it mattered the most, and ultimately lead his team to victory. That team may look different this season, but the result remains the same.
Even in Tampa Bay, Brady keeps adding to his status as the greatest quarterback to ever grace the gridiron. Now, he is headed to his 14th conference title game.
The first 13 of those obviously came while he was still with the New England Patriots. After Mo Lewis helped elevate Brady to the Patriots’ starting role to replace an injured Drew Bledsoe early during the 2001 season, he led the team on an unprecedented run of success: 13 AFC Championship appearances — including eight straight between 2011 and 2018 — and six Super Bowl wins in a 19-year span was never seen before.
However, there were always those who wanted to dispute Brady’s status atop the quarterback mountaintop. Be they opinionated sports talk hosts on nationally syndicated television, writers who attempted to stir controversy for clicks, or simple internet trolls, their battle cry was always the same: “Brady is a system quarterback!”
Matt Cassel’s 10-5 record as a starter in 2008 was seen as proof. Or Brady only accomplishing all of his historic achievements with one organization.
The last few weeks as well as Sunday night’s divisional round playoff game over the New Orleans Saints once again showed that this line of thinking was never rooted in fact, but merely in a mix of emotion and/or ignorance. Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 30-20 victory, and even though he did not play his best statistical game was able to get the job done when he needed to against an opponent that beat his new team twice in the regular season.
Along the way, Brady kept torching the arguments used by his detractors.
Just looks at the Patriots in Year One after the future Hall of Famer. While the debate is never can never be as simple as looking at a single individual, using the same method employed in the “Even Cassel went 10-5!” argument shows that Brady’s role in New England’s success simply cannot be understated: New England went 7-9 this season, struggling to field a competent offense at times.
A lack of skill position talent, difficult salary cap situation and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic all obviously cannot be ignored. However, using facts has never been the strong suit of those trying to attack Brady and his status as the GOAT; so why use them now when you can simply point at the Patriots’ record without him and thus go back to the same line of argumentation as those pointing to Cassel’s 2008 season?
Him only playing winning football in New England — as if that was his fault for some reason — also is no longer a relevant line of debate. Sure, the Buccaneers failed to win the division title in his first year with the team, but he played a major role in lifting them from a state of perpetual irrelevancy to Super Bowl contenders. Brady did all that while playing with a new supporting cast and in a system much different than what he had with the Patriots.
Ever wonder why Brady took so many deep shots this year? That’s part of how Tampa Bay runs its offense, with the structure of reads — high-to-low versus New England’s low-to-high — a radical shift. The 43-year-old, however, did not budge. Despite some initial growing pains he kept forming a familiarity with the new scheme.
This process has apparently worked well, and now allowed him to lead the Buccaneers to their first NFC title game since the 2002 season. Back then, Brady himself was in his first full year as the Patriots’ starting quarterback with one Super Bowl ring on his fingers.
Now, he owns six of them and is in a position to maybe add a seventh. Along the way, he keeps proving his increasingly small number of doubters wrong. And the ridiculous “Is Tom Brady a system quarterback?” debate keeps going down in flames.