Once In The Conversation With Montana, Pats' QB Now May Just Set The Standard

By Jason Keidel
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How do you explain the inexplicable?

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Any missive on Sunday night’s game has to morph into a two-part treatise on a great game/galling call, and legacies. Bill Parcells once said the pain of losing trumps the joy of winning, a mantra Pat Riley has often espoused. If that’s true, then Pete Carroll is probably hunched over some toilet for a while, sick with regret.

We know. We know. He should have run. And Carroll’s decision to pass will stain the Seahawks and haunt him for eternity. But even that decision adds to the mystery of these NFL playoffs.

Heck, I’m disappointed just because I called it 24-20, and it was 24-21 with three minutes left. I went from Rain Man to freezing rain and a car covered in ice on Monday morning.

Best answer I can summon for Seahawks fans is you can argue you never should have been there. You had to rely on the twin miracles of Green Bay’s gag to Jermaine Kearse’s impossible catch on the 5-yard line. Karma cuts both ways.

If the answer to winning the Super Bowl is handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch, who was wearing out the Patriots all game, and you eschew the obvious, then some deity deigned it. We can’t just dismiss it as stupidity because it’s too simple. The call is beyond our pay grade.

So let’s address something more tangible — Tom Brady’s legacy. Where is the iconic quarterback’s place in the pantheon?

We can now finally and forever say that Brady broke through that historical membrane between three and four Lombardi Trophies, which just made him part of a most holy trinity of quarterbacks.

So has he just passed his hero, Joe Montana, as the NFL passer nonpareil?

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You can make myriad arguments either way. Sure, Brady has thrown more Super Bowl touchdowns than Montana, but he needed two more games to do it. Also, Montana threw 11 touchdowns with no — as in zero — interceptions. Montana is still, and probably always will be, the best big-game quarterback in NFL history.

But Brady is now the most decorated quarterback the sport has ever seen. He’s lost two Super Bowls, but how is that worse than Montana losing to the Giants or Vikings in the playoffs? Bart Starr lost to the Eagles in the NFL Championship. He never lost another, but the Lombardi Packers went two years without playing for a title. Is missing the playoffs, falling just short of the final game somehow more gallant than blowing the big game?

Name a quarterback — from Unitas to Namath to the Manning brothers — and you’ll find far more hollow seasons than Hall of Fame finishes. Pro football is just too tough a sport, too dependent on every spoke in the corporate wheel, to just roll out a quarterback and expect him to win. Even the great Montana.

Brady will finish his career with more completions, yards, and touchdowns (in and out of the playoffs) than Montana. And if he wins one more Super Bowl — not an insane assumption considering how the rules are currently contoured for offenses — then Brady will have a fistful of rings and an insurmountable lead on any future quarterbacks. In the free agent anarchy, there’s no way you can build a team that can survive 15 winters the way Brady and Bill Belichick have.

What we can’t deny is Brady is now an entrenched member of the dialogue. For a moment, it looked like fate would foil him once again, felled by an absurd catch, almost as improbable as David Tyree’s grab.

The line between glory and gory is less than a yard. And for the first time in a long time, Brady got the blessings of the football gods. But he always put himself in a position to be judged on the biggest stage, with more playoff wins than anyone. And for that, he’s undeniably special.

No, I haven’t forgotten my beloved black and gold and their sublime run in the 1970s. But the beauty of that team and time is I can say the Steel Curtain was the greatest team ever without laying claim to the greatest quarterback. The Patriots wouldn’t stand a chance against the ’90s Cowboys, ’80s Niners, or ’70s Steelers. But of course Brady is better than Terry Bradshaw.

He’s better than everyone. Except Maybe Montana. Maybe.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel