Tom Brady has made 346 appearances, 344 starts, since being drafted in the 2000 NFL Draft. He is the only non-specialist to hit these marks, and by Week 3 of the 2021 season, he will set the NFL record for regular-season appearances by a non-specialist. He has re-written the passing record books. Brady already holds the passing touchdown record, and he is likely to set the yardage and completion records in 2021. He has enough accolades to fulfill three Hall of Fame careers with his seven Lombardi trophies, three MVP Awards, three All-Pro selections, and 14 Pro Bowl nods. Let’s look at how Brady broke football.
How Brady Broke Football: Age
Brady is one of 69 players to play in his age-40 season. For most, it is the end of the line. Only 12 of the 69 made the Pro Bowl, and only two made All-Pro teams. Brady is the only player ever to make multiple Pro Bowls in his 40s, and it should probably be three. Additionally, he is the only non-specialist to earn All-Pro honors. At age-40, he won the MVP. At ages 41 and 43, he lifted Lombardi trophies.
Since turning 40, Brady has a 97.6 passer rating, higher than his career average, and 125 passing touchdowns. Additionally, he has thrown for 17,622 yards, over 4,400 per season. He is second in both stats in the regular season, and first in both across the regular season and playoff games. He led the NFL in passing yards at age-40.
How Brady Broke Football: Down-to-Down Consistency
From 2001 to 2019, the New England Patriots were third in third-down efficiency and first in fourth-down efficiency. In those seasons, 89 total teams cracked a conversion rate of 44%. Brady’s Patriots did it seven times, adding an eighth season at 43.7%.
Sure, these numbers can be skewed by the distance, but for nearly 20 years, Brady quarterbacked a hyper-efficient offense on a down-to-down basis. Whether it was finding the open man beyond the sticks or checking to a run play, Brady was as efficient as any quarterback in the NFL, and he did it repeatedly. These were not the sexiest of throws, but they are a large reason for the Patriots winning six Super Bowls, nine AFC Championship Games, and 17 AFC East crowns in Brady’s 18 seasons as a starter. Defenses cannot cover every inch of grass, and no one was better than Brady at taking these gaps.
He may not have the once-in-a-generation arm talent of Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but his ability to dissect defenses on each play is a work of art. Brady has played football as if it was chess. Other quarterbacks had flashier moves, but Brady made move after move. When an opposing defense cracked, Brady was there to capitalize more times than not.
How Brady Broke Football: Year-to-Year Consistency
From 2001 to 2019, the Patriots scored the most points in the NFL. The defense had its fair share of points scored (82 touchdowns, third-most in NFL), and Brady was flanked by a handful of strong running backs. New England even had a strong pair of kickers in Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski (second-most in NFL)but Brady threw for 541 touchdowns and added 22 on the ground. In 2000, the Patriots ranked 25th in scoring. In 2020, the Patriots ranked 27th in scoring. With Brady at the helm, the Patriots never finished lower than 12th in scoring, finishing in the top 10 in 17 of 18 seasons, including nine straight seasons in the top four from 2010 to 2018. Is this an apples-to-apples comparison? No, but it does underscore the floor that Brady brought to Foxborough.
Brady led the top-scoring offense thrice (2007, 2010, 2012) and the top-total offense thrice (2007, 2012, 2017). Even with the Buccaneers in 2020, Brady guided the third-ranked scoring offense and seventh-ranked total offense. Although, he did have the services of several former Pro Bowlers.
Brady will be returning to the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021. 2020 was a renaissance of sorts for Brady as he rifled 40 touchdowns for the first time since 2007. He had the benefit of 610 attempts, but his 6.6 touchdown percentage was his best since 2010 and was ranked sixth in the NFL. He had his highest passer rating since 2017 and highest QBR since 2016.
In the playoffs, Brady added 10 more passing touchdowns with a passer rating that ranks fifth among Brady’s playoff runs (2004, 2017, 2011, 2004).
Brady could be looking at extending his incredible career deeper into his 40s. By Week 1 of the 2021 season, Brady will be 44. More accolades will come in 2021, but Brady will be looking to add an eighth ring in February of 2022.