Tom Brady is playing his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is also his first season in the NFC after 20 decorated years with the New England Patriots in the AFC.
It isn’t difficult to prove that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Most people who have followed the sport closely over the past two decades would know this. He’s thrown the most touchdowns in NFL history, he’s second on the all-time passing yardage list, he’s a three-time NFL MVP, four-time Super Bowl MVP, and six-time Super Bowl winner. No other quarterback in NFL history has more than four Super Bowl rings. He has been an inarguably elite quarterback for the majority of his career.
His statistical peak (and first MVP) came in 2007 when he threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns. His career peak came nearly a decade later in Super Bowl LI as Brady and the Patriots mounted an unprecedented comeback after trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3. Brady cemented his status as the greatest quarterback of all time when they went on to win that game 34-28 in overtime.
Since then, it has been a slow descent from the mountain top. Even though he and the Patriots won one more Super Bowl together in February 2019 (the lowest-scoring and maybe most-boring Super Bowl of all time), that win against the Falcons was the crescendo. The Chiefs were a coin flip away from getting to (and most likely winning) Super Bowl LIII instead of New England.
When Mahomes and the Chiefs finally got over the hump of beating Brady in the regular season in 2019 (third time’s the charm), it ultimately ended up being the tie-breaker to give the Chiefs a bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs en route to their Super Bowl LIV title.
At this point, the writing was on the wall. Brady knew that Mahomes was king of the AFC, so he exited the conference and headed to the NFC when hitting free agency for the first time in his career.
For all of the free agency hype that surrounded Brady and all of the other quarterbacks who were on the move in 2020, I never saw it as a realistic option for Brady to return to the Patriots or any other team in the AFC. One of the big rumors was that he would join the Los Angeles Chargers. Personally, I never took that rumor seriously. Did no one else consider the fact he would play Mahomes twice a year until he retired? Brady wanted no part of that. I'm convinced that the Mahomes factor played a part in his decision to join the Buccaneers.
Which leads us to this Sunday's game. Brady still couldn’t get away from Mahomes on his schedule. The Chiefs will play the Bucs in Tampa Bay. The Chiefs will get a glimpse of the stadium where this year’s Super Bowl will be held. The goal isn't just to win in Tampa this Sunday, but to win in Tampa in February as well.
Going into this season, a lot of folks elevated the Buccaneers to favorites in the NFC thanks to Brady and all of the clout he brought to town with him. So far, the results have been a mixed bag. He has thrown for more touchdowns, but his interceptions are up as well. Wasn’t that the main reason the Bucs moved on from Jameis Winston? Brady has not handled pressure well, and Tampa is clinging to a wild card spot at the moment. Things aren’t exactly playing out the way Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians or Brady himself had hoped. Despite the mixed results, they are a playoff contender and have a lot to play for this weekend.
While Mahomes has taken the reins as the top-billing quarterback in the NFL, the Chiefs are hoping to turn these next few years into a dynasty, much like Brady and the Patriots did his first few years in the league. Winning back-to-back Super Bowls and two league MVPs in his first three seasons as a starter would be unlike anything the league has ever seen. Brady, the greatest of all time, didn’t even win his first MVP award until his eighth season in the league (2007).
In those early years in his career, Brady himself wasn’t known for being the main reason the Patriots won those Super Bowls. Mahomes is widely regarded as the biggest piece to the puzzle and why the Chiefs are reigning Super Bowl Champions and favorites to get back there again this year.
While Mahomes will ultimately be chasing rings his entire career (Brady is still trying at age 43, hence bolting away from Mahomes and leaving the AFC for the NFC), what he’s doing on the field is something special. If Mahomes can maintain good health and play until he’s 40 years old, there’s no doubt he will be regarded as one of the best quarterbacks to have ever played the game.
Ultimately, fans and media alike look to championships to decide who sits atop the greatest-ever throne. Brady’s ascent to a nearly unanimous-GOAT conversation took 17 years. There wasn’t really a passing of the torch from Joe Montana to Brady since Montana retired five years before Brady arrived on the scene, and even after that, it was over a decade after Montana retired before Brady was regarded as the best quarterback in the league.
This is a unique situation. In basketball, we’ve seen Magic Johnson pass the torch to Michael Jordan, and then Michael Jordan passing the torch to Kobe Bryant, and then Kobe Bryant passing the torch to LeBron James. In the NFL, we saw the rise of a quarterback-driven league all at once in the early 2000s with an influx of talent like Brady, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, etc., all after Montana, John Elway, and Dan Marino retired. Brett Favre was probably the quarterback that bridged the gap from one generation of QB to the next.
Many thought Andrew Luck would be the next quarterback in line to take the torch from Brady but Brady wasn't ready to let go of the torch just yet and Luck headed for an early retirement.
There’s a new era of young quarterbacks taking over the league with all of those older quarterbacks either retired or on the brink of retirement. It's fun to see a passing of the torch in the NFL with a clear-cut leader of the pack in Kansas City’s own Patrick Mahomes. We're lucky to be watching greatness in real-time.
Enjoy what could be the final matchup between these two quarterbacks, unless they happen to meet in the Super Bowl. Brady may have chosen to close out his career in the NFC, but he won’t be able to hide from Mahomes and the Chiefs on Sunday.