Legacy? Sure, we can talk about Tom Brady's legacy. Obviously, when you look at the way Brady carried the Patriots to the Super Bowl and the way he played Sunday, he added quite a bit to his legacy.
Wait. Are you saying you think Brady damaged his legacy Sunday?
Sometimes I wonder if people watched the same game I did. Brady completed 27 of 41 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw one interception, when he underthrew a deep ball to Rob Gronkowski. (A healthy Gronkowski probably would have knocked that ball down if he didn't catch it, but Gronkowski had an injured ankle.) And Brady took a safety when he threw another deep ball to nobody from his own end zone.
But overall, these facts should not be in dispute: Brady took an otherwise nondescript Patriots team to the brink of a championship, and he played well Sunday. At the end of the first half, he completed 10 of 10 passes and drove the Pats 98 yards for a touchdown. He broke the Super Bowl record for consecutive completions.
Quarterbacks have played worse than Brady played Sunday and won Super Bowl MVP. One of them was Tom Brady: In his first Super Bowl, he completed 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, and he won the game's MVP award.
Somehow, that game helped establish Brady as a winner while Sunday's game brought his reputation into question. Part of this is timing. When Brady led the Patriots to that first title, it was his first year as a starter and simply by winning the game, he exceeded the expectations. Now we measure Brady against our image of what he was, or of what Joe Montana was. But it still isn't right.
Look: I understand that a quarterback's job is to win games, not pile up stats. It's what our football culture demands, and this has helped Brady's reputation much more than it has hurt it over the years. But in our rush to talk about legacies and measure careers against each other, we're losing sight of this: A quarterback cannot win a game himself. Other players matter.
Did Eli Manning outplay Brady Sunday? Well, Manning was great, and his numbers (30 of 40 completions, 296 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, no intentional grounding penalties that led to a safety) were better. But Manning also had an easier task than Brady in almost every way.
Manning has better receivers -- Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham might be the best trio in the NFL. He got to face the absolutely horrendous Patriots pass defense. In an average game against the Patriots this year -- an AVERAGE game -- quarterbacks completed 24 of 38 passes for 293 yards. The Giants' pass defense was bad this year too, but I think it's fair to say the Patriots' pass defense was worse. And I think it's pretty clear that the Giants' pass rush is better than New England's. If we can't agree on anything else, we can agree on that.
True, Brady only led his team to 17 points. But New England had the worst field position I can ever remember for a Super Bowl team. The Pats started on their own 6, their 29, their 20, their 2, their 21, their 17, their 20, their 8 and their 20. The Patriots played the entire game uphill.
Manning also led his team to the game-winning score, while Brady failed to do so. But you have to look at circumstances there, too. Manningham made an incredible catch on a sideline route as he got hit. Wes Welker dropped a pass that he normally catches; it was certainly not Brady's best throw, but it was an easier catch than the one Manningham made, and Welker beat himself up for it afterward.
When Brady needed to go 80 yards in the final 57 seconds to win the Super Bowl, his first two passes were dropped. That made a difficult task almost impossible, but it also set up the best clutch play that either quarterback made Sunday: on fourth-and-16, Brady escaped the rush and found Deion Branch for a first down.
Did Brady complete a bunch of passes downfield? No, he did not. But have you seen his roster? His leading receiver is 5-foot-9 Welker, a possession receiver. His second-leading receiver is a tight end. His third-leading receiver is another tight end. His fourth-leading receiver is another 5-9 guy, Branch, who is 32 years old.
Good players, all of them. But who in that group seems like a deep threat to you? Bill Belichick answered this question last summer: Nobody. That is why he acquired Chad Ochocinco -- he was supposed to be that deep threat. Unfortunately Ochocinco is neither deep nor a threat.
I'm not saying Brady was better than Manning or that this was the greatest performance of his life. But he played very well in a Super Bowl, for a team that, top to bottom, is not as talented as the Giants. Yes, I know the Pats won 13 regular-season games and the Giants won nine. But that was largely a function of schedule (New England didn't beat a team with a winning record until the playoffs) and the greatness of Brady and Belichick.
Brady was supposedly trying to stake his claim as greatest quarterback ever in this game. After all, Joe Montana has that title now, and he won four Super Bowls, so if Brady could win his fourth ... and hey, there is your claim. This storyline was largely a media creation -- two years ago, in the lead-up to that Colts-Saints Super Bowl, there was a lot of talk about whether a Colts would win mean Peyton Manning was the greatest quarterback ever. But it was a fun media creation.
If you think Montana was better, that's fine. Montana was phenomenal. But if we're going to discuss it, we should at least point out that Brady has been sturdier than Montana, and that midway through Montana's career, the 49ers added the best receiver in history to a contending roster. Jerry Rice did not make Joe Montana; Montana was an alltime great before Rice showed up. But I think it's fair to say Wes Welker is no Jerry Rice.
I enjoy those debates, and I don't have a dog in the fight. I grew up during Montana's peak, and I have watched Brady with admiration as an adult and I can't really argue against either of them. But when a quarterback plays as well as Brady did Sunday and it supposedly hurts his legacy because his defense couldn't stop the other quarterback ... well, that's when I shake my head. You can argue that Brady is not the best quarterback ever. Just don't use this Super Bowl as your evidence.