After watching him for five NFL seasons, there is a lot to admire about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He is unselfish. He has a better arm than he got credit for when he played at Michigan. He executes intelligent game plans much as Joe Montana did when he starred for the 49ers--that is to say, with rare misjudgments.
As for the recently completed season, only one dumb play by Brady comes to mind, and he learned a lesson from it. In Miami on Dec. 20, the Patriots were trying to preserve a 28--23 lead late in the game. Facing a heavy rush on third-and-nine from the New England 21, Brady tried to sidearm a pass to tight end Daniel Graham. But Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor got his hands on Brady, and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo intercepted. Miami scored a touchdown four plays later and won 29--28.
Brady believes that play helped the Pats win the Super Bowl. In the second quarter of a scoreless game, New England had third-and-seven at its 41. As Eagles defensive end Derrick Burgess closed in, Brady saw Graham get open as he had against the Dolphins. "I thought, Should I try to shovel it to him?" Brady recalled last Friday. "But I'd gotten careless with that Miami play, and I learned from it. So I took the sack. If you ask me, that was the best decision I made in the Super Bowl. I think I matured a lot as a quarterback this year. You have to know when you can make a play and when you shouldn't."
The NFL's awards are based on performance in the regular season only, so a guy like Brady gets cheated when MVP talk comes up because he doesn't produce eye-popping stats. But, in leading the Patriots to a 17--2 overall record and their second straight league title, Brady is SI's NFL Player of the Year. He had a career-high passer rating of 92.6, and in the playoffs against the Colts' Peyton Manning, the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Eagles' Donovan McNabb, Brady threw no interceptions, while his counterparts combined for six.
Watching the Pats, you can become lulled into thinking that Brady is more game manager than game winner. That would be a miscalculation, as his two most important throws of the postseason illustrate: 1) In the AFC title game, he launched a deep strike to wideout Deion Branch for a 60-yard touchdown, breaking open a tight game; 2) Just before halftime of the Super Bowl he looked everywhere but to his right, then zipped a touchdown pass to wide receiver David Givens along the right side of the end zone to tie the score.
Brady hates being compared with Montana, his childhood idol (box, below). "Comparing me to Joe Montana is apples and oranges," Brady says. "What I admired was how he always made the play his team needed to win. After he'd gone to Kansas City, I remember watching a Monday-night game against Denver. Joe was driving the Chiefs near the end of the game, and we all knew how it was going to end: Joe Montana was going to win that game for his team--and he did."
That's the sort of thing people are saying about Tom Brady. After only five years.
After five seasons of their respective NFL careers, Pats quarterback Tom Brady was 27 years, six months old and Joe Montana (right), who broke into the league in 1979, was 27 years, seven months. Brady is 3--0 in the Super Bowl; Montana was 2--0 at the same point. Here's how they stack up in other statistical categories.
First five years (regular season)
First nine playoff games