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Is Tom Brady in the Same Class as Joe Montana?

Is Tom Brady boarding the train in the same class as Joe Montana? (Photo courtesy of Yahoo! Sports)

Maybe it was because he had just thrown for only 226 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders — his first game of the season under 300 yards passing with fewer than 60 percent completions.

Maybe he was still feeling bashful after throwing four interceptions in last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Whatever the reason, on the day Tom Brady passed Joe Montana for career passing touchdowns, Brady said, “I’ll never be in Joe’s category.”

Is Brady’s self-assessment correct? Despite always being compared to Montana for his postseason success and moving ahead of Montana into ninth on the all-time list for career passing touchdowns, does Brady come up short in comparison to Montana?

The Numbers

When you take a look at the numbers, Brady measures up pretty comparably to Montana. Brady now has 274 career passing touchdowns to Montana’s 273. Brady’s 36,071 career passing yards fall short of the 40,551 yards racked up by Montana, but at this rate, by season’s end that may no longer be the case.

Their completion percentages are nearly identical – 63.8 for Brady, 63.2 for Montana. Brady has only 108 interceptions compared to 139 picks for Montana. Their passer ratings are separated by just 3.4 points – 95.7 for Brady, 92.3 for Montana.

Mind you, those numbers don’t take into account that Brady has played in 44 fewer games than Montana, and he still has at least a few good years left in him (stay away from his knee, Bernard Pollard). It’s hard to claim that one is better than the other, but based on the numbers, the two quarterbacks certainly seem to fall under same category.

If you compare individual seasons, those line up pretty similarly as well. Brady’s standout season was obviously 2007, when he threw 50 touchdowns to only eight interceptions while completing 68.9 percent of his passes, for a 117.2 passer rating.

In 1989, Montana threw for 26 TDs and 8 INTs with a 70.2 completion percentage, for a 112.4 passer rating. In terms of passer rating, those both rank in the all-time top five. Over his career, Brady has two seasons where he finished with a passer rating over 100, while Montana has three seasons of a 100+ passer rating. Not too shabby.

Beyond the Numbers

Even with all the statistical similarities, a look beyond the numbers shows that, in the end, Brady doesn’t stand in the same class as Montana in the all-time NFL QB rankings.

Brady made the best case against himself after Sunday’s win, saying, “We throw the ball a lot more than they threw it back then. It’s much more of a passing league now than it’s ever been.” Historical context makes a difference (just ask the 2011 Red Sox), and the success of today’s NFL teams rests much more heavily on the talents of its quarterbacks than any other position.

Over his career, Brady has averaged almost 33 passing attempts per game, while Montana threw only 28 times on the average Sunday. Montana had two seasons in his career where he attempted over 500 passes. Brady already has done so six times (including one season where he attempted 601 passes).

Even though Brady and Montana seem to be similar quarterbacks, Brady benefited immeasurably by today’s style of play, especially with the pass-first, run-never philosophy of the New England Patriots offense.

Finally, it comes down to championship pedigree. Both are the only players to win both the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards multiple times. Both quarterbacks have outstanding postseason success: Montana went to the postseason 11 times in his 12 full seasons as a starting quarterback (going 16-7), while Brady has been to the playoffs eight times in nine full seasons as a starter (his record is 14-5).

But here’s where Brady falls short: Super Bowl titles. Montana has four Super Bowl victories (a perfect 4-0, he never lost upon reaching the big game) to Brady’s three (and no, it does not make me feel any better that David Tyree no longer plays in the NFL).

If Brady hoists that Lombardi for the fourth time, then maybe he’ll be considered in the same class as Montana.  But until he does bring that fourth Super Bowl title back to New England, Brady will always be right when he says, “I’ll never be in Joe’s category.”

Besides, Joe Montana didn’t get such sweet nicknames like, “The Golden Great,” “The Comeback Kid,” and “Joe Cool” by doing commercials for Uggs.

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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