Why Brady has the advantage in Tom-vs.-Bill debate on who tipped Pats' dynasty
Was it McCartney or was it Lennon?
With Tom Brady’s departure from the New England Patriots, the debate can begin on a question that's been kicked around the past two decades: Namely, who was more responsible for the Patriots’ extraordinary success?
Was it Brady? Or was it his head coach, Bill Belichick?
In the end, it may be that it was neither. Or it may be that it was both, much as it was with the Lennon-McCartney argument. And in the end it may be that what Brady and Belichick discover is what John Lennon and Paul McCartney learned five decades earlier.
Neither is as successful without the other.
Yeah, I know, Lennon and McCartney sold a gazillion records apart, made mega-millions and were international celebrities, but they didn’t have the impact in the 1970s that they did with the Beatles a decade earlier. Sadly, the same will probably be true of the Brady-Belichick divorce, a breakup that drops the curtain on the most successful quarterback/coach combination since Otto Graham and Paul Brown.
Brady and Belichick were the Batman and Robin of the NFL. Only question is: Who was Bruce Wayne and who was Dick Grayson? More to the point, who demonstrated he was the more invaluable piece of that Dynamic Duo, the indispensable member of a partnership that was second to none?
And my answer is Tom Brady.
Here’s why: Look up Belichick’s record with and without Brady. With him, he’s 219-64 in the regular season. Without, he’s 54-63. With him, he appeared in nine Super Bowls, winning six. Without, he appeared in no Super Bowls. With him, he won 17 division titles. Without, he won none. With him, he went to 13 conference championship games, including eight in succession from 2011-18. Without, he went to none. With him, he’s 30-11 in the playoffs. Without, he’s 1-1.
But wait a minute. What happened in 2008 when Brady was sidelined with a severe knee injury in the season opener? Didn’t the Patriots go 10-5 with backup Matt Cassel? They did. Well, then, that not only demonstrated the coaching genius of Belichick but was proof positive that he ... not Brady ... was the oxygen that kept the New England dynasty alive, right?
First of all, nobody said it was all about Tom Brady … especially early in his career. Then, it was just as much about the Patriots’ defense -- if not more -- as it was a promising young quarterback who won three Super Bowls in four years.
But take a closer look at that 2008 team that was 10-5 sans Tom Terrific. The previous year it was 16-0, with Brady throwing a then-NFL record 50 touchdown passes. And while the Patriots won 10 times without him, they failed to win the AFC East and make the playoffs.
It’s the only time in the past 17 years both didn’t happen in the same season for New England.
That's not a coincidence. The only time New England failed to win the AFC East when Brady finished the year as its starter was 2002 ... when the Patriots tied for the division title and lost to the Jets by a tiebreaker.
One more thing: Following the 2008 season, Belichick dealt Cassel to Kansas City where, two seasons later, he was 10-5 and led the Chiefs to the AFC West championship and first playoff game in four years. Funny, but I don’t remember anyone mentioning the cching genius of Todd Haley that season.
Now let's turn to Brady’s three Super Bowl losses. When the Giants upset New England in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI it wasn’t because Brady couldn’t produce a game-winning drive at game’s end. It was because the Patriots’ defense couldn’t protect leads in the last minute of either contest.
Last time I checked it wasn’t Tom Brady who ran that defense.
Fast-forward to Super Bowl LII when the Patriots lost to Philadelphia. Seldom has Brady been more magnificent in a Super Bowl, throwing for three TDs and a Super Bowl-record 505 yards, breaking the previous mark he set the year before. But it wasn’t enough to win, and you know why? Because the Patriots’ defense leaked like Venice, with Nick Foles – yes, MVP Nick Foles – shredding it for 373 passing yards, three TDs and one touchdown catch.
It wasn’t Brady who assembled that defense. Nor was it Brady who decided to bench starting cornerback Malcolm Butler prior to the game, a mystery still unsolved.
So what’s new? The last 15 years of his career, Tom Brady has been asked … no, more like told … to carry the New England Patriots, and he did it as his head coach stripped him of weapons like Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and Hall-of-Fame receiver Randy Moss and rid the team of Hall-of-Fame cornerback Ty Law, Hall-of-Fame finalist Richard Seymour and someday Hall-of-Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Yet somehow, some way, Brady not only persevered; he flourished, becoming the most successful quarterback of the Super Bowl era. And he did it against all odds.
Quick, now, name me Hall of Famers on offense who were his teammates. Moss? He played with him for three-and-a-quarter seasons and never won a Super Bowl. OK, who else? Answer: No one.
Well, then, let’s pivot to the defense and talk about the Hall of Famers there. Ty Law? Check. Enshrined last year. Junior Seau? Please. He was a star in San Diego and finished his career in New England where, like Moss, he didn't win a Super Bowl. Richard Seymour? Nope, not yet, though he’s been a Hall-of-Fame finalist the past two years.
So let’s see: In Brady’s six Super Bowl wins that span 19 years as a starter there is – what? – one teammate in Canton? One? That's more than extraordinary. It’s preternatural. More than that, it’s a testament to the stature of the individual who conquered the NFL with a revolving door of teammates and turned little-known receivers like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman into bonafide stars.
Maybe that's why oddsmakers now make Tampa Bay more likely to win the Super Bowl (16-1) with Brady than New England (20-1) with Belichick. The Bucs haven't been to the playoffs since 2007 and finished last in their division 8 of the past 11 years.
Nevertheless, Brady will forever share center stage in Foxboro with Belichick, a coach universally regarded as the platinum bar in today’s game and maybe of all time. The two were herculean figures in a dynasty that refused to end, with one in command of the offense and the other in charge of the defense.
But if you’re asking me who was more responsible for their success – Lennon or McCartney – the answer is not as difficult as it is dissecting the Beatles. Give me Tom Brady. The numbers don’t lie.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF