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QBs for the ages: How does Tom Brady compare to Fran Tarkenton?

A weekly feature charting Brady in his mid-40s versus the final three seasons of history’s greatest quarterbacks.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass while being pressured by Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos (31) during the third quarter of Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass while being pressured by Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos (31) during the third quarter of Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Sep. 26|Updated Sep. 26

Yes, Tom Brady is the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards. And touchdowns. And almost every other passing statistic. But what is remarkable — what sets him apart from most athletes in most sports — is that he is still playing at 45 and still performing at an elite level.

To put that in perspective, we’ve come up with a list of history’s greatest quarterbacks as a comparison. Each week, we’ll look at the final three seasons of a different quarterback versus what Brady has done with the Bucs in, presumably, his final three seasons.

It’s not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, because there are differences in eras and most quarterbacks are retired long before 45. But it does give you an idea of how rare it is to see a player still dominating while holding off middle age.

Brady vs. Tarkenton

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton (10) takes a snap from under center during a 1976 game against the New York Giants in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton (10) takes a snap from under center during a 1976 game against the New York Giants in Bloomington, Minnesota. [ AP ]

The set-up: He made six Pro Bowls in his first dozen years in the NFL but didn’t reach the playoffs and had only two winning seasons. His fortunes, and reputation, took a turn on his second stint with Minnesota in the mid-1970s. Tarkenton took the Vikings to three Super Bowls in four years, losing to Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland. By the time he retired, Tarkenton had passed Johnny Unitas as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards.

The end: Tarkenton was a rarity for his generation. While most quarterbacks of that era saw their numbers decline dramatically in their 30s, Tarkenton seemed to get better. He made the Pro Bowl at age 36, led the league in completion percentage at 37 and threw for a career-high 3,468 yards at 38.

Tarkenton

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, shown throwing a pass during a 1978 game, had passed Johnny Unitas as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards by the time he retired.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, shown throwing a pass during a 1978 game, had passed Johnny Unitas as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards by the time he retired. [ JIM MONE | AP ]

Years: 1976-78

Ages: 36-38

Completed 755 of 1,242 passes with 51 touchdowns and 54 interceptions for 8,163 yards and a 75.7 passer rating. Was 24-12 as a starter.

Brady

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) organizes a third-down play during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers in Tampa.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) organizes a third-down play during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Brady in Week 3: He’s got a sore finger on his throwing hand and giant holes in his receiving corps. Even so, Brady looked sharper in a 14-12 loss to the Packers than he did in Tampa Bay’s victories the first two weeks of the season. He was mostly on target and had to dodge a much fiercer pass rush than the first two weeks. Brady took the Bucs on an 89-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes but couldn’t get the offense lined up in time for a potential game-tying, two-point conversion and took a delay-of-game penalty.

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Years: 2020-22

Ages: 43-45

Has completed 953 of 1,432 passes with 86 touchdowns and 25 interceptions for 10,622 yards and a 101.2 passer rating. Is 26-10 as a starter.

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