GREEN BAY, Wis. — He has done it again, impressively and emphatically. Given a new challenge, a new team, a new season in his 40s, Tom Brady has proven himself to be the best of his generation and the best that has ever been.
But is he the best that ever will be?
Welcome to your Super Bowl 55 storyline.
The marquee will say Kansas City versus Tampa Bay for the NFL championship, but the chatter will be Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes for all the marbles and future accolades.
“Being able to go up against one of the greatest, if not the greatest quarterback of all time, in his 150th Super Bowl, is going to be a great experience for me,” Mahomes joked after Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
No, the Chiefs quarterback is not ready to compare resumes with Brady just yet. Mahomes has about 15 more seasons and another half-dozen Super Bowls before anyone can seriously have that conversation.
But here’s the thing:
Do you doubt that he can do it?
Watching Mahomes today is like seeing Brady in the early hours of his career. Actually, Brady was never this good. If the Chiefs beat the Bucs on Feb. 7, Mahomes will be the first quarterback in history to wear two Super Bowl rings before his 26th birthday. Brady didn’t do that. Joe Montana didn’t do that. Peyton Manning didn’t even come close to that.
Mahomes completed 21 of 30 passes for 255 yards and no interceptions last week against Cleveland, and that was just a warmup. In a 38-24 victory Sunday against the Bills in the AFC Championship, he was 29-of-38 for three touchdowns, no interceptions and 325 yards. And that’s while playing with a case of turf toe and coming off a concussion.
The truth is, Mahomes is more elusive, more athletic, more creative than Brady ever was in his prime. And considering Brady is old enough to be Mahomes’ father — seriously, he’s got 18 years on him — it’s probably not fair to compare them head-to-head right now.
And yet none of that means the Super Bowl is a foregone conclusion.
Because Brady’s career was not built on statistics or video highlights. His genius has always resided on the scoreboard. He is the quarterback who knew what it took to win, whether that was playing in the defense’s shadow or flinging the ball 50 times a game.
Do you seriously think it is a coincidence that Tampa Bay had one playoff victory on the road in the franchise’s first 45 years before Brady came along and led the Bucs to three consecutive road victories in the past 16 days?
“Just absurd what Tom Brady has accomplished in his career,” Houston defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted after the Bucs’ victory on Sunday. “Undisputed greatest of all time. Not even remotely debatable.”
Winning is a skill, like any other. The Bucs gained fewer yards in 2020 than they did in 2019 but still scored 34 more points and won four more games. Why? Because Brady didn’t turn the ball over and put them in position to win.
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The Bucs also outscored the Chiefs this season, but they are not going to win Super Bowl 55 by setting Brady up against Mahomes in a shootout. And they’re not going to win by turning the ball over the way they did Sunday against the Packers.
Tampa Bay’s best hope is to limit the number of offensive possessions the Chiefs get. And to do that, they’re going to need to control the clock and run the ball even more than they did in Green Bay. Or, at least, use a shorter, more ball-control passing game.
The early odds from betonline.ag have the Bucs as a 3½-point underdog in the Super Bowl. Which is similar to the odds Tampa Bay was facing against Green Bay in the NFC title game. A victory for Tampa Bay is not out of the question.
The Bucs, after all, have a better defense than Kansas City.
Who knows? Maybe history will show they have a better quarterback, too.