Tom Brady Was At His Best After "Spygate" and Before "Deflategate"

Posted on May 10, 2015 at 12:25 AM

In light of the Wells Report released May 6th, 2015—Tom Brady's legacy has been called into question.

With talk of tarnished legacies and the advantage of avoiding Super Bowl suspension by virture of lying to prolong an eventual suspension, Brady's career has been under the microscope more so than it has ever been during any other point in his 15-year career career—including the post-Spygate aftermath.

"If" Brady is guilty of deliberate efforts made to break the rules, and of lying when questioned about his role, it begs the question: Why go to such lengths?

"This is the bottom line on these matters: No person engaged in athletic competition purposefully skirts the rules -- whether with a pressure gauge or PEDs -- unless that person thinks there is an edge to be gained. The outcome -- whether softer footballs helped Brady thread a pass to Rob Gronkowski with greater zip, or whether a juiced slugger could turn on a fastball quicker -- does not matter. The intent does." -Judy Battista

Anyone familiar with the Patriots' title runs in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2014 knows that close breaks and colossal fortunate helped avoid postseason elimination.


  • "Tuck rule" vs. the Raiders (1/19/02).
  • Advancing to Super Bowl XXXVI after Drew Bledsoe stepped in to help win the 2001 AFC Championship game (1/27/02).
  • Throwing (1) touchdown pass in 97 attempts and recording a 77.3 passer rating during the entire 2001 postseason.
  • Being named Super Bowl XXXVI MVP after completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 145 yards and (1) touchdown.
  • Recording a 73.3 passer rating vs. the Titans by completing 51.2 percent of 41 attempts for 201 passing yards and (1) touchdown (1/10/04).
  • Recording a 76.1 passer rating vs. the Colts by completing 59.5 percent of 37 attempts for 237 passing yards, (1) touchdown and (1) interception (1/18/04).
  • Defeating the Colts by 17 points after producing only 144 passing yards and (1) touchdown pass (1/16/05).
  • Ranking 18th in Y/A in 2014—41 of the previous 44 qualified Super Bowl winning quarterbacks ranked higher.
  • Won Super Bowl XLIX with a 6.56 Y/A average—the lowest amongst Super Bowl winners in the last eight years (2/1/15)
  • Only quarterback in the last nine years to win a Super Bowl while throwing multiple interceptions (2/1/15).
  • Only quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with a lower passer rating and QBR than the opposing quarterback—Russell Wilson (2/1/15).
  • Faced Seahawks defense with injured Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor Jeremy Lane and Cliff Avril (2/1/15).

Brady has won more rings than any quarterback since Joe Montana, but unlike Montana, those rings have not often come on the heels of dominant performance.

DVOA via Football Outsiders:

Brady's been good in the postseason, at times, truly great. But the cumulative performance of his postseason career, by advanced metrics, puts him closer to Mark Rypien and Vinny Testaverde then to the rivals of his era—Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The collection of victories Brady attained while recording a passer rating below 79.0 matter when it comes to evaluating the individual contributions he provided to arrive at those victories.

When taking into account the context of Brady's four title runs, it's clear that colossal fortune, to a degree foreign to most other quarterbacks, could have easily been the difference between the four rings he's won by 3-points (20-17 vs. STL), 3-points (32-29 vs. CAR), 3-points (24-21 vs. PHI) and 4-points (28-24 vs. SEA) and Jim Kelly's resumé. Revisiting the question: Why go to such great lengths to break the rules? While we may not be able to quantify the advantage Brady obtained during the eras of Spygate and Deflategate, we do know that—assuming the deflating of footballs only took place in 2014—he was 3-0 in Super Bowls during the Spygate years and 1-0 in Super Bowls during the Deflategate season. The years in between consisted of an 0-2 Super Bowl record amongst postseason losses to Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Peyton Manning. You could argue that Brady was just luckier in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2014. Is it coincidence that his rings were won during those years?

Here's the kicker: Brady was at his best after Spygate and before Deflategate.

Using QBS2 multigenerational-adjustment: Brady's best seasons came in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012—years that are not tarnished by scandals and accusations of cheating. Yes, Brady was out-performed at home and in Super Bowls by inferior quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco at the conclusion of all those seasons, but those small sample-sizes do not un-do his dominance in totality. What are the most impressive feats of Brady's career? Hint: They have nothing to do with his rings. Brady threw an absurd 50 touchdown passes in 2007 in route to his first MVP award. In 2010, Brady's 36—4 touchdown-to-interception differential earned him unanimous MVP honors. Brady's 5,235 passing yards in 2011 was, at the time, the second highest total in NFL history. In 2012, Brady led the NFL with a 35.1 percent DVOA. No storybook ending to those seasons, but no cheating either—just pure dominance, at one of the highest levels in history, at the height of his playing career.

Those using Brady's "four-rings" as justification for his place amongst the greatest to ever play the game miss the mark—regardless of Spygate and Deflategate.

Storybook endings sell Blu-rays and t-shirts the same way overreactions to small sample-sizes sell tomfoolery.

Brady of 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 was on a completely different level than Brady of 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2014.

You could sandwich the two halves together and pretend that it doesn't matter that Brady's prime never met his rings. You could argue that Spygate and Deflategate had absolutely zero impact upon the outcomes of games. You could argue that Brady has been 100-percent transparent and that he's been framed in an effort to sabotage his legacy. In an ironic twist of fate, refusal to over-value small sample-sizes actually raises Brady's legacy to another level. "If" the smoke of Deflategate leads to fire, it's an unfortunate asterisk, officially noted or not, on the resumé of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. But if Brady's greatest accomplishments were held in proper esteem to begin with, winning that fourth ring would have amounted to whether or not a declining quarterback put the cherry on top at the tail-end of his career. His greatest accomplishments remain untarnished: NFL records, All-Pro selections, regular season MVPs and Conference championships won during dominant years.

Peyton Manning—you're not alone.

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