He's the best in the regular season, the best in the post-season, and the most complete QB in the league. Even if Brady never wins another game, his legacy is secure.
The football topics of choice at water coolers everywhere heading into the NFL's conference championship weekend, other than Ray Lewis's long goodbye, is how Tom Brady's legacy would be affected by a fourth Super Bowl victory. Only Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw have won four Super Bowls as NFL quarterbacks, and with a win in Super Bowl XLVII Brady would join them. Most people say a fourth ring would make the New England Patriots' signal-caller the best quarterback of his generation, as well as one of my favorite sports clichés, "one of the greatest of all time."
But Brady's legacy is secure no matter what happens in the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens on Sunday, or in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Even if Brady never wins another game, he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Better than Montana. Better than Bradshaw. Better than Johnny Unitas. Better than everybody.
Brady's regular-season and postseason numbers are each singularly spectacular. In 2007, Brady put up the best statistical regular season by a QB in league history: 50 touchdowns (most all-time), eight interceptions, 4,806 yards (12th all-time), a 68.9 completion percentage (ninth all-time), a 117.2 passer rating (third all-time) and a 16-0 record. Though the Giants shocked the Pats in Super Bowl XLII, Brady's season remains the gold standard for quarterbacks.
The veteran QB's playoff record is even more gaudy, especially where it matters most: wins. At this moment, on the cusp of another conference championship and potentially another Super Bowl title, Brady already holds a slew of postseason records. He's tied with John Elway for the most Super Bowls started in NFL history (five), and when he takes the field Sunday he will equal Montana's record for the most conference championship games played (seven). In AFC Championship games and Super Bowls, Brady is a combined 8-3, and the Pats were leading with 90 seconds left in all three losses. If David Tyree hadn't made the Helmet Catch in Super Bowl XLII and Wes Welker had caught a third-down pass from Brady in Super Bowl XLVI, Brady would have five rings and I wouldn't even have to make an argument about his "greatest of all time" candidacy.
Brady has been blessed with a legendary coach in Bill Belichick. But Belichick is primarily a defensive mastermind, and for most of his career Brady has operated with the same freedom at the line of scrimmage as Peyton Manning. As for personnel, Brady got one great year from Randy Moss and five very good years and counting from Welker. But he's never played with an elite running back, and only in the last two years has he had athletic tight ends to work with. Bradshaw had Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth for his Super Bowl wins; Montana had Jerry Rice and Roger Craig; Brady had Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, and Troy Brown.
What makes Brady the best qualitatively? He has the tactician's mind of Manning, the arm strength of Elway, and the winning mentality of Montana. Even this year, at 35 with more than a decade of NFL hits and a surgically repaired ACL, Brady is extremely tough to stop. Jam his receivers at the line? He'll call a double move down the field and launch a 60-yard bomb that falls perfectly over his receiver's shoulder. Keep your safeties back and protect against the deep pass? He'll check down to backs and tight ends and grind out a drive seven yards at a time.