After 20 years in the arena, Tom Brady is no longer the best. Patrick Mahomes is. However, Brady isn’t ready to say his farewell.
Some would call it a passing of the torch. Others realize the torch has already been passed.
Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, the Greatest of All Time and the greatest of our time, square off for the fourth time in three seasons on Sunday as the Kansas City Chiefs host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will almost certainly be their final meeting.
The 25-year old Mahomes is on pace to win his second MVP award and lead the Chiefs to a second-straight Super Bowl. The 43-year old Brady looks more and more like a 43-year old Brady every week.
If you need evidence these two quarterbacks are heading in exact opposite directions at this stage of their careers, look no further than the final two games of Week 11:
Sunday Night Football: The Chiefs need a comeback drive with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter to defeat the feisty Las Vegas Raiders. Mahomes carves the Raiders defense up so swiftly and thoroughly on a 7-play, 75-yard drive that there’s no meat left on their carcass when a wide-open Travis Kelce catches a game-winning touchdown.
Monday Night Football: The Buccaneers need Brady to execute his 48th career game-winning drive with 2:32 left in the fourth quarter to defeat the Los Angeles Rams. Brady’s fourth pass of the series sails five yards beyond the reach of tight end Cameron Brate and into the hands of deep safety Jordan Fuller.
A game-winning touchdown. A hope-quashing interception. Mahomes’ time is now. Brady’s time has run out.
Now, Internet Law requires us to reverentially recite a litany of Brady’s past accomplishments before criticizing him in any way, lest we offend his legion of worshipers who have been conditioned for a generation to believe he’s some sort of immortal demi-human warrior prince. So let’s get that out of the way now:
Brady is a champion among champions! He belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Mount Rushmores! It’s downright miraculous he can still play at his ever-advancing age!
What’s more, Brady’s still a top-10 quarterback! Well — (counting on fingers) Mahomes/Russell Wilson/Aaron Rodgers/DeShaun Watson/Ben Roethlisberger/Matt Ryan/Lamar Jackson (despite his slump)/Derek Carr and Ryan Tannehill (for the last two years)/Drew Brees (outplayed him head-to-head twice) — definitely a top-15 quarterback.
Though really, Philip Rivers is playing about as well as Brady, and Matthew Stafford would look great with that supporting cast, and Josh Allen and Kyler Murray are ascending, and we would have to start talking about guys like Justin Herbert if we are looking past 2020 at all …
OK, Brady is definitely, absolutely a top 20 quarterback.
After all, he’s thrown 25 touchdown passes and “just” nine interceptions, while surrounded by the greatest supporting cast money can buy, while getting the kid-glove treatment from referees who still apply the Tuck Rule to his fumbles and call pass interference whenever a defender bumps into a receiver swerving to retrieve one of Brady’s deep flutterballs.
What other quarterback could lead his team to the top of the Wild Card chase given absolutely ideal conditions? Jared Goff? Kirk Cousins? Dak Prescott or Jimmy Garoppolo when healthy? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But still: how dare we argue with six rings and three MVP awards?
Sarcasm aside, Brady remains a capable NFL starter, and that indeed is remarkable at his age. But if he was wearing a Cousins or Garoppolo jersey, we would all chuckle at his victories over the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Chargers and rip him for multi-interception praftfalls against the New Orleans Saints and Rams. He’s making withdrawals from his legacy at this point, not deposits.
Mahomes, meanwhile, keeps cementing and expanding his reputation as a quarterback who leads his team to victories instead of being led by them, a reputation he galvanized over the course of his first three meetings with Brady.
Mahomes-vs.-Brady I in the 2018 regular season was a 43-40 masterpiece that played out the way such shootouts are supposed to. Brady, the old sheriff, used precision and experience to guide the Patriots to a 24-9 lead. Mahomes, then a still-erratic upstart looking to make a name for himself, overcame early mistakes to lead a daring comeback with sudden touchdown strikes.
Then Brady won the day with a cool-and-collected drive that ended with a game-winning field goal at the final gun.
The plot outline of the 2018 Mahomes-vs.-Brady II playoff rematch was the same, but the details were very different. The Patriots again took a lead, then lost that lead to Mahomes heroics, then prevailed in the end. But Brady threw two interceptions and relied heavily on his running game to generate points.
Mahomes was the one looking like Gary Cooper in High Noon, facing the heavies down all by himself. The Patriots were still the better team, and they went on to win the Super Bowl. But there was little question who the better quarterback was on that day.
Mahomes-Brady III last season wasn’t pretty, nor was it as close as the 23-16 final score of the Chiefs victory makes it look. Brady threw for just 169 yards, one touchdown, one interception and took three sacks. His running game couldn’t help him. His defense couldn’t help him enough.
The Chiefs and Patriots would not meet in the 2019 playoffs, because while Mahomes led weekly epic comebacks, Brady threw an ugly last-minute pick-6 to ice a 20-13 first-round loss to the Tennessee Titans.
That was the end of the trilogy; roll the credits.
But Tom Cruise still looks OK in Mission Impossible sequels, classic rock bands with 15-piece backup ensembles still draw crowds, and Star Wars dragged the Emperor out of oblivion when they couldn’t come up with a cooler villain. And Brady can still win games with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown (and a great defense, a stalwart offensive line, lots of big-name running backs, etc.) surrounding him, so it’s time to milk the IP for all it’s worth.
Brady could win Sunday’s matchup with a lot of help from his friends. And heck, the Super Bowl could turn out to be Mahomes-versus-Brady V.
But the Buccaneers we saw on Monday night and in both meetings with the Saints aren’t getting anywhere near the Super Bowl. The first defense that can consistently pressure Brady in the playoffs will do what the Titans did to him last year. And if the 43-year old Brady is not much better than Cousins, who will we compare the 44-year old Brady to? Nick Foles? Late-career Eli Manning? This Y.A. Tittle photograph brought to life?
Mahomes-versus-Brady IV is going to be competitive and fun, and a “changing of the guard” storyline is always compelling. But the guard has already changed.
The future belongs to Mahomes. And he has already locked up the present as well.
Published at Fri, 27 Nov 2020 15:00:27 +0000