In the history of the National Football League, there has only been one quarterback over the age of 40 to lead their team to the playoffs. That was Brett Favre (40 years, 99 days) in a 2009-2010 NFL playoff game where his Minnesota Vikings beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-3. That game remains the only time a quarterback over the age of 40 has won a playoff game.
That seems likely to change.
On August 3, 2017, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady turned 40 years old. While the history of elite NFL quarterbacks would have us believe that Brady will soon retire, see his numbers and production decline, and likely never win another playoff game, I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe it, and I’ll tell you why.
History would tell us that the 199th overall pick in the sixth round of the NFL draft would never win five Super Bowls. History would tell us that there is no way that a quarterback’s stats would actually increase after he hit the age of 35. History would have us believing that there is no way any team could come back from being down 28-3 with 2:07 left in the 3rd quarter and win the Super Bowl.
Yet, Tom Brady has done all of these things. The man defies history and predictability.
The New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in one of the biggest steals in the history of the NFL. He was somehow left undrafted until the 6th round of the 2000 draft. When he was drafted, the Patriots already had their franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe, and Brady was slated to be a backup for a good chunk of time.
In his first year as a Patriot, Brady played in one game, attempted three passes and completed one. The 2001 season promised to be more of the same for the former Michigan Wolverine until everything changed on September 23, 2001.
In the second game of the season, against the New York Jets, Drew Bledsoe took a hit that forever changed the course of football history. The hit — that almost killed Bledsoe — saw the former first overall pick in the 1993 draft eclipsed by the 199th pick of the 2000 draft.
Tom Brady made his first NFL start the following week against the Indianapolis Colts (led by Peyton Manning, his future rival). He also got his first (of 208…so far) victory by a score of 44-13. The Patriots would finish the 2001 season 11-5, and go on to beat the “Greatest Show on Turf” in the St. Louis Rams. This game earned Brady his first Super Bowl ring and his first Super Bowl MVP. Brady would lead the Patriots to two more Super Bowls over the next three years, all the while keeping up consistently impressive passing statistics.
Brady’s greatest season to date is one that lives in legend and in infamy in New England. 2007 was the year that Brady transcended the ranks of good quarterbacks to truly great quarterbacks. He completed almost 70% of his passes, threw 50 touchdowns (while only giving up 8 picks), passed for 4,806 yards, won all 16 of his regular season games, and collected his first NFL MVP award.
This season should’ve settled the greatest quarterback of all time debate. But thanks to the luckiest play in Super Bowl history, the New York Giants beat the Patriots by a score of 17-14, and Brady was left with a blemish on his otherwise striking resume.
After the shocking defeat by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, Brady and the Patriots were dealt another crushing blow. In the first game of the 2008 season against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady took a big hit to the knee which resulted in him tearing his ACL and missing the remainder of the season.
These back-to-back moments of adversity could have been it for Tom Brady. He could’ve thrown in the towel, taken his accolades and gone home.
But no, that is just not how Brady operates.
He came back in 2009, and put up another season with better than average numbers, led his team to the playoffs (something he has done in every season he’s played since 2002, not counting 2008), and continued to be mentioned in talks of the greatest of all time.
Consistency in play year after year is what makes a quarterback great. But there are few quarterbacks that can sustain that consistency deep into their 30s — let alone their 40s.
Some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time have called it quits before hitting the age of 40, have moved on from their longtime franchise homes, and had started to see a decline in their performance. Joe Montana retired at the age of 38, after leaving San Francisco and spending two years in Kansas City. Brett Favre retired at 41; he left the Green Bay Packers after 16 seasons and played for three more years with the Jets and Vikings. Peyton Manning retired at age 39, after winning a second Super Bowl despite an inconsistent final season with the Denver Broncos. Terry Bradshaw retired at the age of 35, Troy Aikman at 34, and John Elway at 38.
Tom Brady is 40 and getting ready to start his 18th NFL season.
History would tell us that this is it, this will be his last season. History would have us believe that there is no way he hangs with the young talent in the NFL right now. History tells us that Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers are lying in wait to take his throne. But history is about to be proven wrong yet again. Tom Brady doesn’t follow the historical trajectory of the NFL greats.
In the past five years since he turned 35, Brady has put up some of the best numbers in his career. In each of these seasons he has lead his team to at least the AFC Championship game, and twice won the Super Bowl. Since he turned 35.
Brady and the Patriots have a combined regular season record of 62-18, and a postseason record of 9-3. In each of the past five seasons Brady has passed for over 4,000 yards (the exception being this past season where he missed 4 games due to suspension), has a completion percentage over 60 every year, and a touchdown to interception record of 156-37. These numbers are numbers you find when someone is in the prime of their career, indicating that the 40 year old Brady is still in the peak of his career.
The most telling numbers come from the 2016 season, when a 39 year old Brady led the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl victory with him on the field. Brady was absent in the first 4 games of the season, serving his ridiculous Deflategate suspension. But in the 12 games he played, he put up a record of 11-1, threw 28 touchdowns while only giving up 2 picks, completed 67.4% of his passes for 3,554 yards. His numbers were some of his best since his 2007 NFL MVP season.
This alone would be enough to convince me that he’s still got time left in him, but his performance in Super Bowl LI is what sealed the deal for me completely. The Patriots found themselves in a 25 point hole with 2 minute left in the third quarter. In the thousands of games that have been played in the NFL to this point, only seven times has a team come back from a 25-point deficit. Tom Brady being Tom Brady led the Patriots back to win the game, setting new Super Bowl records in the process, with 43 passes, and 466 passing yards (246 of which came in the fourth quarter alone), and collecting his 5th Super Bowl ring.
All of this being said, it feels like Tom Brady is here to stay and play for at least another few years. He always says that he’ll play until he sucks, and that doesn’t seem to be in the cards at least in the immediate future.
I am not naïve enough to think that Tom Brady will play until he’s 48 (the record for oldest quarterback, George Blanda), but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a 43 year old Tom Brady leading the Patriots out of the tunnel in Gillette Stadium in a few years.
I think that we would all be remiss to bet against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. I even think it’s highly likely he hasn’t won his last Super Bowl, and he definitely has not seen his last playoff victory.
The New England Patriots and Tom Brady return to action Thursday September 7th against the Kansas City Chiefs.