Tom Brady officially the GOAT 2.0
It took a loss to do it but Tom Brady finally won me over on Sunday.
I had the privilege of covering nearly every game in Brady’s first 19 years of remarkable career. His greatness was confirmed long before Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, but his crowning as a GOAT was not. At least not for those of us who have ever watched Johnny Unitas spin opposing defenses at a time when he not only had to call his own plays and work off-season shifts at the Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel Plant in Baltimore. to make ends meet, but also to absorb the kind of weekly beatings that would have been considered grievous bodily harm had they occurred in the street outside Memorial Stadium.
Unitas was the ultimate field general. He was the rugged face of professional football from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. He was the greatest quarterback in the history of the game in the same way that Jim Brown was the greatest runner who ever lived. These were non-debatable assessments.
As Brady began racking up Super Bowl titles and breaking records, he put his name in the GOAT conversation years ago alongside Unitas’ Sammy Baugh (whom they didn’t call Slingin’ Sammy for nothing in return), Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway and Peyton Manning. They’ve been the first wave of names whenever the conversation has turned to the greatest quarterback in NFL history, though some are loudly pleading for the inclusion of the underrated Roger Staubach and Otto Graham (10 title matches in 10 years, 7 championships).
Still, no matter how long Brady’s resume rose or whether supporters of the others argued, for those who’ve ever seen Johnny U operate, that was always where the list began. And finished.
The game has changed a lot since Unitas broke into the NFL in 1956 of course. It’s much more of a passing game now with the liberalized rules favoring attack so much that it has turned football into a glorified 7-on-7 passing drill rather than a fierce fistfight for yardage that he once was. It’s not the fault of players like Brady who have amassed passing stats that eclipse those of Unitas. It’s just a fact. But there were always other facts that pleaded Unitas’ case.
The first was in his day, the quarterback ran the game without a bed sheet. Unitas didn’t just help create the game plan, he was the one who not only executed it but called it. No voice inside the helmet told him what to call or what the defense tendency was in the situation he was facing. Either you knew what to call and why, or your team was cooked. No one knew what and why better than Unitas, who is credited with creating the two-minute exercise because he had better execution than a hangman.
After finishing the New York Giants to win the NFL’s first sudden death overtime championship game with two squirts of icy water through his veins that set up the game-winning touchdown, he was asked if he was concerned about an interception.
“If you know what you’re doing,” Unitas quipped, “you’re not throwing interceptions.”
Brady would later become a master of that as well and he had the same kind of cocky confidence, but he also had the benefit of a trainer’s voice inside his helmet whispering to him what to run and where to go with the ball. Johnny Unitas had to figure it all out on his own, which is damn hard to do.
Brady and today’s other top quarterbacks might have been able to do the same, but we don’t know that, and some of today’s great passers surely wouldn’t have been able to lead the game on their own, just as many could’t in the days of Unitas. It was what separated him from the pack. That and the fact that he was so clearly the toughest man in the valley.
You had to be tougher than rawhide to play Unitas’ NFL quarterback because the assault was legal and the battery was expected long after the ball was out of the quarterback’s hand. Rushing the passer was technically still a penalty, but unless an ambulance arrived it was rarely called.
Today, if you think of attacking the quarterback around the head, or the knees or a millisecond after he releases the ball or you knock him down with a little more exuberance than the combinations that lead the ‘The quarterback protection agency called NFL arbitration can tolerate it’s a penalty and sometimes an expulsion. This allowed for productive longevity at the post and allowed for the accumulation of passing distances that, in some ways, are comical.
Because of these differences, Unitas remained the measuring stick by which I judged all quarterbacks. He directed the game better, threw the ball more accurately and withstood dozens of assaults a year better than any man had ever experienced. Simple as that, but over the years Brady won seven championships, went to 14 conference championship games and broke all passing records, the distance between them grew shorter until finally, in a dramatic loss that may have been his last match, Tom Brady went from GOAT LITE to GOAT 2.0.
No quarterback has won more than Brady, especially when it mattered most, which is after Thanksgiving. That’s when champions are born and cheats fade away. Brady’s teams are 112-31 after Thanksgiving, a .783 winning percentage. In January and February, which are mostly playoff periods, he is 43-15, .741 winning percentage. Win account.
Yet what mattered most on Sunday was his old-school, steel-eyed Unitas-style resistance to the near-unfettered onslaught of the Rams’ raucous defense. For four terms Brady, 44, had his ass kicked, to use a non-football term to describe a beating.
Playing without four of his best receivers, All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs and at times without Wirfs’ backup after an ankle injury demanded that Wirfs’ backup backup try without much luck to slow the rush to Von Miller and Aaron Donald’s pass. , Brady kept lifting off the ground. He’s been sacked three times, pressured 17 times and too often forced to pitch with little time to settle and few goals to pursue. That, coupled with early struggles in his defense, left Brady and the Buccaneers trailing 24 points, 27-3, midway through the third quarter of what had become a beating.
He didn’t care.
Faced at times with having to use backup tight end Cam Brate as a slot receiver, Brady began to rally his troops. He urged them. He begged them. He cajoled them. And when he finally led them to a field goal, then a touchdown, then another touchdown on a perfect 55-yard throw to Mike Evans that cut Los Angeles’ lead to seven, he inspired them. and struck fear into the hearts of the Rams. because they knew what was going on.
“All the times I played against Tom Brady, I knew that any lead we had was uncertain,” Von Miller later said.
Miller was right. When the defense clawed the ball back from Brady after forcing another turnover, Brady brought them into the end zone to tie the game at 27-27 with 42 seconds left, capping an unanswered 24-point streak .
Brady had led 39 comebacks from double-digit deficits in his 22-year career, including six in the playoffs. Was it the last?
In the end, it wasn’t because Brady never had the chance. The Rams rallied for a last-second field goal that sent them into a showdown with the San Francisco 49ers for the right to go to the Super Bowl as Brady slowly made his way down the South Zone tunnel at Raymond Stadium James, his head down. Beaten but not tilted.
When asked later what the future held for him and whether he was considering retirement, Brady gave the kind of response expected by those who had spent years with him.
“I thought I would win,” he said. “It’s kind of my mentality. Always go out and try to win. Give my teammates the best chance to win.
What he had done again in the worst conditions. Beaten, under-equipped, aging, his feet rarely able to secure themselves firmly beneath him, Tom Brady showed at least one other person that, Unitas or no Unitas, he was the GOAT.
“He always says he has something to prove, but what more can he do? asked teammate Lavonte Davis. “It’s the GOAT. He did everything he could. »
Sunday wasn’t quite enough, but it wasn’t his fault. He was far from his best for much of the afternoon, but he still finished with 329 yards and a touchdown pass when he needed it most to revive his faltering fortunes. team. He got the Bucs to level with a depleted roster under old-school duress. He played, frankly, like Unitas and then spoke the harsh truth as Unitas would have.
“Obviously we showed a lot of fighting but at the end of the day you lose a game, you lose a game,” Brady said.
Maybe his team did, but he didn’t. He conquered a follower of Johnny Unitas by showing that he was more than a great smuggler in a passing era. He’s a tough-nosed old man who refuses to lose. He had, as those who played with him about Unitas said, simply ran out of time.
That’s what you do when you’re the GOAT. Or in Brady’s case, GOAT 2.0.