- With Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh—combined with injuries and losses across the league—Brady not only led New England one step closer to securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but he also likely locked up the NFL MVP award.
This was the kind of drive that’s become almost routine for Tom Brady: a 77-yard, 70-second touchdown march in the final 2:06 against the Steelers. Brady’s first pass of the drive was tipped and almost intercepted. But from there he threw strikes to his top target, Rob Gronkowski; subtly moved and stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure when needed; and capped the drive with a critical pass to Gronkowski for a two-point conversion that put the Patriots up by three with 56 seconds to play. It would end up being the game-winning drive.
The wild ending to New England’s 27–24 win against Pittsburgh left most NFL fans debating the eternal question, “What’s a catch?” But when the dust settled on the most important game of the 2017 season, two things were true: 1. The Patriots are in position to earn home-field advantage through the playoffs, and 2. Brady, barring something bizarre, is going to be this year’s MVP.
Perhaps the most remarkable statistic of Brady’s career is that he’s won 2.5 times the number of Super Bowl rings as he has MVP awards. And, he’s won more Super Bowl MVPs than league MVP titles. Since 2001, when Brady became the Patriots’ starting quarterback, he has been named MVP just twice, in ’07 and ’10. That’s at least somewhat surprising, especially when you consider that Brady has led the team to 15 division titles, more than any other quarterback, plus the No. 1 seed in the AFC six times. By comparison, when Peyton Manning retired in 2016, he’d won MVP five times.
The MVP is a regular-season award, voted on by a panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league, after the final game of the regular season. So, in a season like 2016, Falcons QB Matt Ryan’s 4,944 regular-season passing yards and 38 touchdowns won him the regular-season MVP, while Brady’s rally to overcome a 28–3 deficit and win Super Bowl LI earned him Super Bowl MVP (Brady also missed four regular-season games for the Deflategate suspension).
In some ways, the award’s default description is outstanding individual performance by a quarterback on a winning team. But if you’re truly looking at most valuable, it’s something of a head-scratcher that Brady hasn’t won the award more often during the most successful run an NFL quarterback has ever had. Just like that game-winning drive in Pittsburgh, the sustained success he and three-time Coach of the Year Bill Belichick have had for nearly two decades is so routine that the voting results indicate they have to clear a higher bar to be considered for postseason superlatives. More accurately, perhaps, they may even undercut each other’s chances: The “Brady has Belichick” argument, and vice versa.
Back to this season. If Carson Wentz hadn’t torn his ACL in Week 14, he’d be a leading MVP candidate. If the Seahawks hadn’t lost two big games in December, Russell Wilson, who has accounted for all but one of the Seahawks’ 34 offensive touchdowns, would, too. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who was on pace for more than 1,800 yards before injuring his calf against the Patriots, was in the conversation before getting hurt (though in my opinion, it’s difficult to vote for a receiver as most valuable, when in almost every case the team would have a tougher time replacing its QB than the receiver).
Which brings us back to Brady. He leads the NFL in passing yards (4,163), is third in passing touchdowns (28), is tied for third in passer rating among current starters (104.0) and has a 28:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s not the new young quarterback who has elevated his own play—and in return, that of his team—to a new tier. Instead he’s the 40-year-old doing what now seems ordinary for him: Making it work with whatever pieces he has around him.
Other than his All-Pro tight end, Gronkowski, Brady has a hodge-podge of skill position players. He lost his best and most reliable wide receiver, Julian Edelman, to a knee injury in the preseason. The Patriots tried expending resources to bring in other players for him to throw this year, but Brandin Cooks has been inconsistent and Phillip Dorsett has been an afterthought. The Patriots rank in the top 10 in the NFL for most passes dropped, per Pro Football Focus. No matter what has changed, the results have stayed the same: The win against the Steelers marked the seventh straight season Brady has won at least 11 games.
There have only been four players who have won the MVP at least three times: Manning, Jim Brown, Brett Favre and Johnny Unitas. There are still two games left in the season, but just like the Patriots and home-field advantage, it’s a fair bet Brady wrapped up the MVP Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.