When the name Tom Brady comes up, there is one memory I’ll always think of first. It’s not a Super Bowl, Ugg slippers, or a controversy. It’s a random week five game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. It’s actually a singular moment that stands out in my mind.
This game was a big deal to me. The chance to beat the Pats and Tom Brady (and my buddy David Schultz) is an opportunity that comes around every four years. It was New England’s turn to play at home. The Cowboys came to compete hard on this Sunday in October.
It was one of those games where Dallas was out playing them, but only maintaining small leads. The Cowboys offense was sinking in the red zone as the Patriots held them to field goals multiple times.
The real action began here. There was five minutes left, and New England had the ball down by three points. Even in 2011, my fear of Brady was intense. You know this is where he sticks it to you. I was shocked and elated when the Cowboys held them to a three and out. They have picked off Tom twice today, sacked him three times, and now this? Wow! They have to take advantage.
Dallas has the ball with 3:36 to go. A couple first downs and this baby is in the refrigerator. First down. DeMarco Murray gets tackled in the backfield for minus two. Second down and twelve. Minimum Dallas needs to throw a screen pass here. Instead, Murray on the ground for minus one. Tony Romo melted down the week before vs Detroit, and the coaching staff got gun-shy. Sitting on a lead in the NFL is telling the football Gods you would like to lose. Playing that way against Bill Belichick, you are begging to lose.
This was the moment. I KNEW the game was over. It was now third and 13. Dallas still had the ball and the lead. Time was running out. I just KNEW the game was over. The Cowboys were not going to throw for sure now. Even with all that still had to take place……I just KNEW it was over. Brady is not going to let them off the hook again. Zero chance.
Third down. False start Dallas. Run for a few yards. Punt. Brady now has the ball on his team’s own 20 yard line. There is 2:31 left to play. This defense that had played rugged all day, was about to be burnt toast. There was no deep mystery here.
Then it happened. It was like an episode of Batman from the 1960’s. Pow! Sock! Wham! Tom was 8-9 passing on the drive for 79 yards. It’s like he was taking a walk in the park. Finally, the dagger came in the form of an eight yard touchdown pass with a measly 27 seconds on the clock.
Cowboys fans had their hearts broken on that play. I started dealing with it twenty minutes earlier. Tom Brady is so great, you can assume he will do difficult things easily.
It’s summer, and it’s time to break down NFL schedules for each team once again. I’m amazed how it’s loosely thrown around that some team’s have “brutal schedules” and some have “easy ones.” I remember just over a decade ago hearing ESPN’s John Clayton say, “the most important keys to a season are quarterback play and your teams schedule.” Really? QB play maybe. Your schedule? This isn’t college bro. These are not 200 teams where the levels of play can be so drastically different. These are the 32 best football teams in the world. Everyone is looking for that inch to expose you. Worst to first shocks nobody anymore. Even within a season, franchises can change month to month in how they are performing. I love the guy that is proud his team is number 3 in “the power poll.” That’s a completely meaningless tool. It’s a weak copycat of college polls to generate discussion.
There is always a little variance, and some schedules turn out to be more or less of a climb. Not all challenges in the NFL are equal. They are however painted on the same canvas of difficulty. Maybe your team had to play someone at the time they were their hottest. Maybe they have three road games in winter cities come December. Did they have to play Tom Brady twice? Is there an extra awesome division that year? Did they have to play a group that just got all their injured guys back? Life happens. It’s 2018, and the NFL is the ultimate league of parity. Everyone has a chance. If you are attached to a pro football team…you get it. There are NO WEEKENDS OFF. The Cleveland Browns were 0-16 last year. I thought they played hard. Seriously. They are more of a threat to any NFL squad, than Idaho State is to Michigan.
The difference between a 7-9 team, and a Super Bowl champion might be four players and twenty total plays. It’s hard to win games in the National Football League. As a kid in the mid eighties, it seemed there were more dominant teams. Player movement was less frequent and chemistry had more of a chance to grow. I could look at the 1984 49ers or the 1985 Bears schedules and guess my way through it. You try to figure out the league today? Not happening. Stop saying your NFL team’s schedule is hard. They ARE ALL HARD.
The New England Patriots just played their typical “this is anybody’s game” type Super Bowl. It was another classic, and this time the Pats fell short. You’re sick of Tom Brady winning? I can appreciate that. You took joy in him losing Super Bowl 52? Most have your back. The amount of shade being put in Brady’s direction is over the top. Rob Parker shouted, “this clearly takes away his greatest of all time label.” Shannon Sharpe claims “this loss was 75 percent Brady’s fault.”
Trying to re adjust where this QB ranks historically is a bad look. I think he came out of this game, a greater player. Tom threw some bad balls, sure. He also dropped an overthrown pass that will bother him for the rest of his life. The crucial fumble at the end? That was a product of the game. The Eagles made an incredible play. That was zero percent on Brady.
This performance was about heavy lifting. His defense gave him very little help. No player ever had 500 plus yards, three scores, with zero picks and lost ANY game. Tom carried his team to simply having a chance.
You do realize the greatest quarterback debate is over right? I can buy that you prefer someone else. It’s true others have played the game as well, and several close to as well. Brady doesn’t have Elway’s arm and leg strength. He doesn’t have Marino’s release or Aaron Rodgers fluid skills.
Joe Montana played football just as good as Tom does. Joe was equally as surgical, and moved like a ballerina. Brady has been Montana like, for much longer. In the impossible world of ranking players, I moved Tom past Joe as the “GOAT” Thanksgiving day 2015.
In review, number 12 was just the MVP of the NFL at the age of 40. He was down 10 in the fourth quarter of the championship game to the best defense in the AFC. The result was his 27th playoff win. Perspective? Over a combined 32 seasons, legit Hall of Famer’s Dan Fouts and Warren Moon combined for six post season victories.
The year ends with Tom’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. I’d guess his performance was a record-breaking, disappointing “9.3”. Once the Patriots took the lead, you were sure they would win. Hail Mary on the last play? You were scared to death! We have seen Brady pull off clutch gems on the biggest stage so often, it’s become a habit to think he will come through. He lost? I know.
How does the loss affect his legacy? He’s on a different level. Tom Brady can now be considered the greatest football player of all time. I understand the game is diverse. Brady did not dominate in the way Jim Brown did. Tom will never be the best player ever at two positions like Deion Sanders. Jerry Rice was perfect. Larry Allen could bench press over 700 lbs. and played like it. How good were Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, and Lawrence Taylor at football? Walter Payton was elusive, powerful, and maybe the best running back ever. He could also block, kick, catch, return kicks, tackle and throw. I understand the game is diverse.
Tom Brady is as good as all of them. His resume is better. He plays the most important position in the ultimate team sport. His job is to win football games. In an era of player movement and parity, this guy kind of owns the league. He’s not Michael Jordan, but he sits at the same table. You thought Sunday hurt Brady’s legacy? Sorry.
The New York Giants (2-9) have benched Eli Manning for the rest of the year to look at younger players. This has caused quite a stir, and a reason for everyone to judge Manning’s career. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, my job is to “hate” Eli. I truly have thought of his interceptions to put myself to sleep a few times. I can picture each pick, like cute little sheep.
From a family of football royalty, it comes across like Eli has always been fighting through shadows. He doesn’t have the skills his father had. The only time he has ever been better at football than his brother Peyton, is right now.
Who has ever thought of him as top three QB at any point? Top five? Bueller? This guy is very hard to rank among the best that ever played.
Manning has three seasons of disgusting interception totals (20, 25, and 27). He would turn the ball over and have this mopey expression that would annoy Giants fans to no end. I can see him unsnapping his chin strap to a chorus of New York boo birds as he walked to the sideline. Tiki Barber said he would follow a young Manning off the field yelling “posture matters”!
Eli is very good. He is tough, durable, smart, and above all clutch. Some will claim “Eli threw a couple lucky passes to win his two Super Bowls.” That’s garbage!
In the 2007 post season, he beat a Cowboys squad with 13 Pro Bowlers on the road. Number ten then out clutched Brett Favre in extreme temperature in Green Bay.
Manning then played a huge role in the biggest NFL upset of my lifetime. That Patriots team came in 18-0, and WOULD HAVE been considered the best single season team of all time.
Eli won a second ring and Super Bowl MVP a few years later. Let’s not under do that his teams beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady TWICE when it mattered most.
This guy is a class act. He will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. First ballot? Probably not…Eli Manning a weird level of greatness.
This is an award always slanted towards offensive players that touch the ball. My 2015 NFL MVP’s:
#5- Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers)– Brown is a route improviser, and an elite special teams guy. He played over one quarter of the year without Roethlisberger, yet compiled 136 catches and 1,834 yards. The 5-10, 180 pound Brown has become the most productive, and maybe best receiver in the game.
#4- Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)– Good for you Carson Palmer. Coming off an ACL tear at age 35, he answered with his best showing in the pros. He led everyone in total QBR (82.1) and yards per attempt (8.7). He played in all 16 games and won 13 of them. Palmer is now, arguably, one of the 30 best quarterbacks over the last three decades in the NFL.
#3- Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)– Wilson has taken an already established game to another level. The knack for making the timely play remains and he’s showing off more skills in the passing game. He led the league with 110.1 passer rating and he casually rushed for 553 yards. He is a star whose all time status is on the rise. Russell’s leadership and play making spear head a scary as they come 10-6 team.
#2- Tom Brady (New England Patriots)– Brady spit on “deflategate” this season. His play over a large portion of the year was only a reminder he’s much closer to the greatest ever than a cheater. Tom rolls out of bed and goes 36 to 7 in touchdown to interception ratio, racks up 4,770 yards and gathers his 13th AFC East crown. He performed to this level with many injuries on the offensive side of the ball.
#1- Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)– That annoying swagger he has when he is whipping your team, is the fuel that led to a league best 15-1 record. Cam used to be a little high and low throwing the ball, now he’s hitting third down and 23 with precision. His 35 touchdowns to 10 picks are nice. Factor in his 10 rushing scores and 14 straight victories, Cam Newton is the clear 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player.
I’m only rating the quarterbacks that I have seen play near or at their best in my time watching football. These will only be players from the mid 1980’s to 2015. I saw the great Dan Fouts for example (Jim Plunkett, Danny White, Joe Theismann), but will not include him in this ranking. I did not see him enough or at his best. Active players on this list remain in position to climb it. These are the 30 best quarterbacks I’ve watched play in the National Football League as of February 2015.
JUST MISSED THE CUT: (Bernie Kosar, Dave Krieg, Matt Hasselbeck)
#30– RUSSELL WILSON (Active) Three years ago I would not have guessed Wilson would have got my attention this early in his career. He has a knack for making plays at the right time. After throwing an interception to lose the Super Bowl, I would trust his attitude and self security to bounce back more than any player in pro football.
#29– MATTHEW STAFFORD (Active) Stafford has left me with some painful memories burning the Cowboys late in games. He gets rid of the ball at all kinds of odd angles. His banner season to date was 2011 where he passed for 5,038 yards and 41 scores.
#28– MATT RYAN (Active) His first pass a professional was a 62 yard touchdown. Ryan has been a star caliber player since and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In only seven seasons he has 27 game winning drives.
#27– MARK BRUNELL (1994-2011) Mark was a mobile lefty who was sneaky good. He helped his Jaguars upset the Denver Broncos in the 1996 playoffs and was also part of a team that won a post season contest 62-7. Brunell played in three pro bowls.
#26– MICHAEL VICK (Active) Vick is the most dynamic runner to have ever played QB in the NFL. It seemed like he could run for eight yards on accident. For a short period of time, I thought Michael was one of the 10 best players in the entire league.
#25– ANDREW LUCK (Active) Andrew was a lock for stardom from day one. He’s bright, hungry, and has powerful legs. It is obvious he can make every throw and is a team first guy.
#24– RICH GANNON (1987-2004) Rich was a solid QB before he exploded for 105 touchdown passes over four seasons as an Oakland Raider. He ran the west coast offense beautifully and is the only athlete to ever be the player of the game at the Pro Bowl in back to back seasons.
#23– JOEFLACCO(Active) Flacco is a nice deep ball thrower who has already proven his big game credentials with 10 playoff wins. In his 2012 world title run he tossed 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
#22– PHIL SIMMS (1979-1993) Phil was part role player part star. His 22-25 passing performance in Super Bowl 21 remains the standard for completion percentage. It seems forgotten he was 11-3 as a starter before getting hurt in 1990. He set the table for another New York Giants championship.
#21– BOOMER ESIASON (1984-1997) Boomer was the first guy to use the no huddle offense for consistent stretches. He had a cool play fake where he would crouch low. Esiason helped the 1988 Bengals win the American Football Conference and he was named the NFL Most Valuable Player.
#20– RANDALL CUNNINGHAM (1985-2001) Randall was one of the most exotic talents to step on a field. He was an MVP Caliber player as a dual threat at the end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Cunningham was at the top of his game as a pass first player a decade later leading the explosive Minnesota Vikings inches from an NFC crown.
#19– TONY ROMO (Active) Romo’s ability to escape defenders and extend plays is all time great. Tony was named “NFL Offensive Player of the Month” for December in 2009 and 2014. Even Romo’s biggest critics praise his toughness.
#18– PHILLIP RIVERS (Active) He annoys you if he’s against you, and you would love him if he was yours. Rivers is full of grit and competitive juice. Over his time in the NFL he has been the best of the second tier QB stars. He has quietly been building a resume that has a chance to become Hall of Fame worthy.
#17– DREW BLEDSOE (1993-2006) The Patriots had made the playoffs six times in 33 years before Bledsoe arrived. In his first five years they made the post season three times including a trip to Super Bowl 31. He stepped in for a hurt Tom Brady in the 2001 AFC Championship game to make help ensure his presence was felt in this modern New England dynasty.
#16– STEVE MCNAIR (1995-2007) Steve had a stout presence in the pocket and threw the ball with ease. He worked around lack of practice due to injuries better than anyone.
#15– DONOVAN MCNABB (1999-2011) McNabb rolling to the right on third and seven was a scary sight. He was an intelligent and crafty playmaker. He carried offensive units most of his career.
#14– ELI MANNING (Active) Manning was the most difficult player for me to rank. He is the owner of two of the sharpest post season runs in league history. Beating the 18-0 Patriots was the top upset of any NFL game in my lifetime. Eli is almost more clutch than he is good.
#13– WARREN MOON (1984-2000) Moon was not drafted by an NFL team so he tore up Canada instead. Even after losing years due to discrimination, Warren Moon lit up the National Football League. He was the smooth operator of the Houston Oilers run and shoot offense in the early 1990’s. He had a loud clear cadence and embarrassed those that doubted him by finding a permanent home in Canton Ohio.
#12– JIM KELLY (1986-1996) Jim played in the K-Gun offense in which he called his own plays. He was linebacker tough. Losing in four consecutive Super Bowls is an amazing, under respected achievement by his Buffalo Bills teams.
#11– KURT WARNER (1998-2009) Kurt was 1-2 in Super Bowls but owns the three highest passing yard efforts in the games history. Getting the Arizona Cardinals within a couple of minutes of a world title ensured his prominent place among passers.
#10– BEN ROETHLISBERGER (Active) Fans tend to mention that Ben played poorly in his first Super Bowl victory. They forget that he led the Steelers to three straight playoff road wins. During that stretch he completed 68% of his passes to go with seven touchdowns and one pick. “Big Ben” also made a game saving tackle at Indianapolis in the Divisional round.
#9– TROY AIKMAN (1989-2000) Legendary broadcaster Pat Summerall loved to gush over Aikman’s accuracy. Troy could throw the deep out with his eyes closed. He sacrificed his stats for footballs best running game. It paid off with three rings, a Super Bowl MVP, and a 13-4 record as a playoff starter.
#8– DREW BREES (Active) The Saints were in Dallas Thanksgiving day 2010. The Cowboys were up 27 to 23 with three plus minutes remaining. My stepdaughter texts me, “Cowboys are gonna win.” I wrote back, “Three minutes is a lifetime for Drew Brees.” Drew completed a 55 yard pass, followed by a 12 yard touchdown to win the game 30-27. Some guys are just too good to ever let you get comfortable.
#7– AARON RODGERS (Active) Aaron carries himself with the appropriate arrogance for his job description. He’s agile, with an accurate whip for a right arm. In the 2015 post season he led his team to victory on essentially one leg. As a move to throw talent, Rodgers is the best I’ve ever seen play the position.
#6– BRETT FAVRE (1991-2010) Brett was entertaining television. He had the enthusiasm of a young child and the swagger of Han Solo walking into a bar fight. Favre was a gunslinger to the core and earned the recognition of being an iron man. Counting the playoffs, Brett played in an incredible 321 straight games.
#5– DAN MARINO (1983-1999) Nobody had a cat quick release like Dan. He also manipulated the pocket with the best of them. NFL Films co creator Steve Sabol said, “Watching Marino in the pocket was like watching a great matador. With just a little bend of the waste, a jab step forward, a step back, he could avoid the horns.”
#4– STEVE YOUNG (1985-1999) What Dan Marino was to yardage and touchdown passes, Steve Young was to completion percentage and passer rating. He was a superior athlete who had no peer regarding clean, efficient play. Steve was consumed with the mental test the game of football provided. In the end he received an A plus.
#3– PEYTON MANNING (Active) Manning has made himself the face of preparation and in-game chess play. The five time MVP gets sacked less than any QB who has played. Peyton is smashing the NFL record books. You know you are unbelievable at football when you have 70,000 passing yards, 530 touchdown passes, a world title, and fans say you need to do more.
#2– JOHN ELWAY (1983-1998) Before winning consecutive rings to end his career many people claimed John was a “choker.” What I saw was a guy carry three pretty good Denver teams to Super Bowl losses while being the best clutch player in the AFC. Elway had the strongest arm I’ve seen and could throw the ball 50 yards across his body to the opposite side of the field.
#1– JOE MONTANA (1979-1993)& TOM BRADY (Active) This tie is not a cop-out on my part or an excuse to mention 31 quarterbacks. The selection is perfect for me right now. Montana has always been the clear-cut best QB of my lifetime. The morning of Super Bowl 49, I had Tom Brady a close second. After Tom’s dynamite fourth quarter, and taking home his fourth World Championship, I feel Brady deserves to be categorized as Joe Montana’s equal. Joe moved much better than Tom. Brady has been more durable and prolific. Joe played on slightly better, more dominant teams. Tom won big over a longer window of time with a higher variety of teammates. Joe was cool and Tom was fiery. They were the same guy from the neck up and the two best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen play in the National Football League.
This years NFL MVP takes on a little more interest than most years. No player ran away with it and several guys deserve mention. To win this honor you need to have played for a team with a winning record. It’s an award slanted towards rewarding offensive skill position players. The following rankings are only for performances and circumstances in the 2014 NFL regular season. My 2014 NFL Most Valuable Player’s:
#12– Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers ) He has a nice hesitation step, and skips like a rock on water. Bell’s 1,361 yards led the AFC and are the most ever recorded without a fumble. Le’Veon carried the Pittsburgh offense down the stretch with his versatility. His 83 catches glued the Steelers offense together.
#11– Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks) Lynch has become the model power back of his generation. He sets the offensive tone for the defending world champions. When “Beast Mode” gets loose on long runs his team and fans get jolts of energy. Marshawn made more trips to the end zone (17) than any other player.
#10– Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) He visualizes himself having success on the field, and I keep seeing his positive results. Wilson has a knack for making timely plays. He reeks of intangibles and self security. To be 16th in overall rushing is impressive. His 7.2 yards per carry average was by far the best among the leading 40 rushers.
#9– Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) The future Hall of Famer keeps carving teams up. Big Ben continues to shed defenders and is getting the ball out quicker. He set a Steelers record with 4,952 yards to go with 32 touchdowns to just 9 picks. In back to back victories over Baltimore and Indianapolis Ben put up a stunning 12 touchdowns, 862 yards, and zero interceptions.
#8– Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) The 5-10, 180 lb. Brown just torched pro football. His 129 catches are second most in league history and his 1,698 yards are sixth. Brown adjusts nicely to deep balls and makes nice concentration grabs. In the Division title game Antonio scored on a 71 yard punt return and a 63 yard TD catch with three minutes left to seal the deal for the Steelers.
#7– Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) Luck is full of heart, brains, and leg strength. He’s like the coolest nerd ever. Andrew won 11 games for the third straight year. Luck topped everyone with 40 touchdown passes and 10, 300 yard plus outings.
#6– Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos) The story line regarding Manning this season ended up being about his advanced age, the slippage of his velocity, and some late year bruises. All he did was win 12 games, and throw for 4,780 yards and 39 touchdowns. He’s still the games best conductor and can almost think the ball to guys. When it comes to the way Peyton is judged, he is a victim of his own success.
#5– DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys) Murray put on a show of endurance and toughness in 2014. The team was deliberate giving DeMarco the ball and he responded by having a record-breaking season. His 392 carries and a franchise high 1,845 yards were the identity of this years Dallas Cowboys. He added 12, 100 yard games and made the NFL All-Pro First Team. Murray playing five days after hand surgery was inspiration to his team blowing out the Colts to win the NFC Eastern crown.
#4– Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys) Romo played his finest ball in 2014. He led the NFL in QBR, passer rating, completion percentage and was 12-3 as a starter. Tony was by far the best quarterback in second halfs, on the road, and in December. His 133.7 passer rating in December was the highest total in the history of the month. He’s now embarrassed a league that did not draft him.
#3– Tom Brady (New England Patriots) After getting beat down by the Chiefs in week five, a large portion of the media yelled out that Brady was done and the Patriots had not provided him with adequate help. All Tom did is lead his team to seven straight wins that started off with a touchdown ratio of 18-1. The bridge to the season was built, and once again the AFC road to the Super Bowl goes through New England. Tom Brady is a football legend, who is not done chasing the title of “greatest ever.”
#2– J.J. WATT (Houston Texans) A defensive player on a non playoff team must crash this party. Watt is the best defensive lineman since Reggie White. It’s fair to say his current level is not just being the best pro player on D, but the best in the league every Sunday. J.J. is a grid iron warrior who can do it all. He finished the campaign with 20.5 sacks, 5 fumble recoveries and 5 touchdowns.
#1– Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) Rodgers reminds me that you want your pilot, surgeon, and QB to be cocky. His 38 touchdowns to 5 interceptions speaks for itself. The Packers finished undefeated at home behind his 25 TD’s and zero picks. Coming back from a calf injury in the season finale to beat Detroit for the NFC North title was a good look. Rodgers is the best skill position player in football. In the end, he was the easiest player to justify as my 2014 NFL MVP.