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Tom Brady has given Tampa Bay a season unlike any in NFL history

John Romano | Before the playoffs begin, we should probably take a moment to appreciate the quarterback’s unprecedented performance.
Bringing in Tom Brady was a statement for the Bucs in 2020. He wasn't just directing the offensive huddle, he was also signaling a new chapter for a franchise coming off more than a decade of losing.
Bringing in Tom Brady was a statement for the Bucs in 2020. He wasn't just directing the offensive huddle, he was also signaling a new chapter for a franchise coming off more than a decade of losing. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 2
Updated Jan. 2

TAMPA — Sometimes, it’s best to take a step back from the noise and the hype.

We’ve become so addicted to hot takes and instant analysis that we’ve forgotten what it means to be thoughtful. To be measured and nuanced. To look at an issue from every angle and come up with a dispassionate judgment.

Take, for instance, the 2020 season of Tom Brady. It’s fair to say we’ve all jumped to conclusions at different moments, both good and bad. But after careful consideration of all the evidence, the analytically proper depiction would be:

Wowza!

Honestly, what other evaluation is possible? You might quibble with his deep passes and near misses, with his slow starts and maybe a few interceptions, but those complaints are borne of unrealistic expectations and not obvious shortcomings.

The bottom line is this: Brady just obliterated a century-old baseline for 43-year-old quarterbacks in the NFL and put up the best numbers of any starting quarterback in nearly a half-century of football in Tampa Bay. And that’s after changing teams during a pandemic and not getting a single preseason snap.

So, yes, “Wowza!” fits, although you might prefer “Holy crap!”

“Oh, totally exceeded (expectations). With having such a limited practice, we went to New Orleans (in the opener) still learning words,” coach Bruce Arians said. “When a quarterback calls a play he should have a picture in his head, and I don’t think that happened until November.

“I think right now when he calls a play, the picture is in his head and he’s playing really, really well. He’s exceeded (expectations). His leadership is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Peyton Manning is the only thing close.”

Sunday against Atlanta, quarterback Tom Brady will top the record of Brett Favre (298) most starts in a career.
Sunday against Atlanta, quarterback Tom Brady will top the record of Brett Favre (298) most starts in a career. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

This isn’t the end, of course. The playoffs are still to come, and Brady seems committed to playing in 2021 as well.

But the regular-season finale feels like an opportune moment to stop and appreciate what we are witnessing since Brady is scheduled to start his 299th game on Sunday against the Falcons, surpassing Brett Favre’s NFL record.

To put that in perspective, that’s more starts than Joe Montana and Joe Namath — combined. More starts than Steve Young and Bob Griese — combined. More starts than Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach — combined. Those are all Hall of Fame careers, by the way.

That speaks to Brady’s durability, but even more to his continued production.

Granted, he’s not the best quarterback in the NFL today. Heck, he may not even be in the top five, and that’s one of the reasons his season has been so difficult to evaluate. We want to measure Brady against our memories of his prime, and that’s an unreasonable curve for anyone.

Brady has had stretches of inconsistency and he’s extremely susceptible to teams with an effective pass rush. But you could say that about most of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

The truth is Brady still manages a game as well as anyone. He reads defenses and gets rid of the ball quickly. Mostly, he wins. That has always been what set him apart from everyone else.

He was never a freelancer like Favre and he doesn’t scramble like Russell Wilson. He could throw deep, but he wasn’t going to be confused with Ben Roethlisberger. For Brady, the numbers were always secondary to the trophies.

He’s not the only reason the Bucs are a playoff team for the first time since 2007, but Tampa Bay has gone from 32nd in the NFL in turnover percentage in 2019 to fourth in 2020. That’s a remarkable improvement and an obvious testament to Brady’s stewardship of the offense.

Now that the calendar is closed on 2020, it’s fair to say the Bucs got what they wanted from Brady in the regular season. He set franchise records for touchdown passes and passer rating and, if Tampa Bay beats Atlanta, he will be the first Bucs quarterback with 11 wins in a season.

And, not to belabor the point, he’s 43! Edgerrin James had an entire career, retired and waited 10 years before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he’s 42!

“It’s a special thing, and that’s what makes him a special guy,” said offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. “He’s a very unique guy. Not a lot of guys are built like him, not a lot of guys are even capable of doing the things he can do. Shoot, I can’t do them right now and I’m a couple of years younger than him.

“He’s been preparing for this moment for so long, it’s no shock to him, to be honest with you. He’s been preparing to play this long for a while now. So, he’s done everything he can possibly do to give him that opportunity to play like this, at the age he’s at.”

The playoffs still beckon, and ultimately that will determine whether the Bucs made the prudent choice to turn the franchise over to a quarterback with such a limited future.

But for now, through the end of his first regular season, Brady has given Tampa Bay a season for the aged.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

Blowing out candles and throwing TDs

Tom Brady is one of only a half-dozen quarterbacks in the modern NFL to have taken snaps at age 43 or older, and he’s the only one to be a full-time starter. Brady’s 2020 season exceeds all the others combined. Here are the numbers for every quarterback who played after their 43rd birthday.

Tom Brady (43), Tampa Bay

Completed 375-of-569, 36 TDs, 11 INTs, 4,234 yards with a 10-5 record

Vinny Testaverde (43-44), Carolina

Completed 96-of-175, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 981 yards, 2-4 record

George Blanda (43-48), Oakland

Completed 68-of-135, 12 TDs, 12 INTs, 955 yards, 0-0 record

Steve DeBerg (44), Atlanta

Completed 30-of-59, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 369 yards, 0-1 record

Warren Moon, (43-44), Kansas City

Completed 15-of-34, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 130 yards, 0-1 record

Doug Flutie (43), New England

Completed 5-of-10, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 29 yards, 0-0 record

Tampa Bay’s 11-win dash

Tom Brady could be the first quarterback in Bucs history to win 11 games as a starter in a single season if Tampa Bay beats the Falcons in the regular-season finale. The Bucs used multiple quarterbacks when winning 11 or more games in 1999, 2002 and 2005. Here’s a list of the biggest single-season winners in franchise history.

Tom Brady, 2020

Completed 375-of-569, 36 TDs, 11 INTs, 4,234 yards, 101.0 rating, 10-5 recored

Brad Johnson, 2002

Completed 281-of-451, 22 TDs, 6 INTs, 3,049 yards, 92.9 rating, 10-3 record

Doug Williams, 1981

Completed 238-of-471, 19 TDs, 14 INTs, 3,563 yards, 76.8 rating, 10-6 record

Shaun King, 2000

Completed 233-of-428, 18 TDs, 13 INTs, 2,769 yards, 75.8 rating, 10-6 record

Trent Dilfer, 1997

Completed 217-of-386, 21 TDs, 11 INTs, 2,555 yards, 82.8 rating, 10-6 record

Josh Freeman, 2010

Completed 291-of-474, 25 TDs, 6 INTs, 3,451 yards, 95.9 rating, 10-6 record

Doug Williams, 1979

Completed 166-of-397, 18 TDs, 24 INTs, 2,448 yards, 52.5 rating, 9-7 record

Brad Johnson, 2001

Completed 340-of-559, 13 TDs, 11 INTs, 3,406 yards, 77.7 rating, 9-7 record

Jameis Winston, 2016

Completed 345-of-567, 28 TDs, 18 INTs, 4,090 yards, 86.1 rating, 9-7 record