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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Why Patrick Mahomes, not Tom Brady, is the GOAT

Patrick Mahomes is the greatest quarterback of all-time. That’s right, I said it.

In Super Bowl LVIII, Mahomes finished with 34-for-46, 333 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception.

Mahomes went off for 23-for-33, 210 yards, two TD passes in the second half and overtime. He now has three Super Bowl wins and three Super Bowl MVPs at the tender age of 28. But that all reaffirmed what I already knew.

The consensus choice for greatest quarterback ever is Tom Brady. When people have the GOAT discussion around Mahomes and Brady, they are comparing different things. This is like comparing Usain Bolt, the sprinter, and Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon runner. Let’s define what exactly we’re talking about and the rules of engagement.

Let’s remind ourselves of what the word “great” actually means. Oxford defines great as “of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.” If you want to argue Brady has had the greatest career, knock yourself out. But the player who is the most above average is Mahomes. Mahomes, not Brady, has done things on the field we’ve never seen before. Maybe we need another term. Best of all-time? Call him the BOAT? We can start tweeting boat emojis. Point being, no matter what you call it, Mahomes is on a level all his own.

This rationale is unique to sports.

In music, we don’t say the best artist ever had the longest career with sustained success. Nor do we say the best actor is the one who most often won the first weekend at the box office. There is qualitative to balance the quantitative. We know it when we see it.

We haven’t always behaved this way in sport.

Jack Nicklaus might have three more majors, but do you really believe he was a greater golfer than Tiger Woods?

Margret Court has the most majors, but she played in an era where tennis players didn’t travel. The Australian Open was essentially an invitational for players in Australia. Do you think her vice grip on the major titles in the era means Serena Williams was an inferior tennis player? If Serena doesn’t leave while still on top to start a family and racks up a couple more majors, is her impact on the sport appreciably different?

Bart Starr has five rings to Joe Montana’s four. We never said Montana needed to surpass him in championships before we would concede he surpassed him in greatness.

We also only now do it with QBs, for some reason. Nobody claims Emmitt Smith or Terrell Davis over Jim Brown or Walter Payton for the best running back ever because they have more Super Bowl victories.

We are comparing quantitative metrics that aren’t at all the same. Without a control to better run the study against, the most objective way is to add qualitative data.

However, if you want to make it numbers debate, we can do that all day.

In the 2001 playoffs, Brady threw one touchdown pass. Can you imagine Mahomes winning a Super Bowl while going a month with passing only one TD pass?

Mahomes was MVP in his first year as a starter. His floor and his ceiling as a player are both higher than Brady’s.

In his first six seasons, including playoffs, Mahomes is 88-25, with 260 passing TDs and three Super Bowl wins.

Brady, on the other hand, was 82-26, with 167 passing TDs and three Super Bowl wins.

Many in the Brady camp will say throw the regular season stats out, it’s just the playoff performances that count. Before turning 30, Brady’s playoff resume was 3,217 passing yards, 20 TDs, nine interceptions, three Super Bowl championships and two Super Bowl MVPs. Before 30, Mahomes’ playoff resume is 5,135 yards passing, 41 TDs, eight interceptions, three Super Bowl championships, three Super Bowl MVPs and counting. He still has his age-29 season to add to that tally.

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Some say Brady is the GOAT because he was always able to come from behind when it mattered  most. Since 2019, Mahomes is now 5-1 when trailing by 10-plus points at any point in the playoffs. The rest of the NFL is 6-48 in that span.

Brady’s career has been better, no question. He had three Hall of Fame careers in one. If the term was “greatest accolade accumulator,” then the man who stands alone is Brady, no doubt.

It’s important to note Brady got even better after his first six seasons and went on to tack on 204 more wins, 570 passing TDs, four Super Bowl wins and seven Super Bowl appearances.  

But great can’t just be arithmetic about who has won the last game of the year most often. It’s not that simple; in fact, that viewpoint is lazy. It never has been.

It was an easy firewall from Michael Jordan truthers who were trying to dismiss LeBron James’ candidacy for title of the greatest. Six championships were a clear threshold that it seems James would never be able to cross. But now we treat that narrative like a case of Frank’s Red Hot and put it on everything without thinking.

We cherrypick when we want to apply the show-me-the-rings criteria. For many boomers, Jordan will forever be superior to James until James gets six rings or more. Yet Bill Russell has 12, twice as many as Jordan, and nobody in their right mind claims Russell is the greatest of all-time. On top of that, Kareem Abdul Jabbar scored more points than Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 in a game, Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in a season. Yet we would never fix our lips to say any of the above are better than Jordan.

Brady isn’t necessarily Russell in this thought experiment, even though they both were the ultimate winners who led Boston franchises to dynasties while getting the most out of their physical capabilities.

But Mahomes is most certainly the Jordan comparable: Total domination of his era, equal blend of clutch, competitiveness, creativity and championships, thus is the sole face of the sport. Mahomes, like Jordan, is rendering the other greats of his time to a mere footnote in his ongoing documentary.

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If you don’t think current Mahomes isn’t better than Brady, just go the highlights.

Mahomes isn’t just the impressive aerial thrower that Dan Marino was or the ultimate championship game manager that Terry Bradshaw was. He’s both.

Mahomes isn’t just the maestro at the line of scrimmage that Peyton Manning was or the clutch assassin that Brady was. He’s both.

Before, it was a cultural choice. Who you claimed was better in their prime said something about you. What were the qualities you determined of chief value? With Mahomes, you don’t have to decide. He’s Pepsi and Coke. He’s Superman and Clark Kent.

The degree of difficulty of what he’s done stands alone.

Mahomes just completed the toughest run to win a Super Bowl by opponent DVOA.

Worst part is, this is supposed to be the beatable Kansas City Chiefs team.

Two years ago, Kansas City traded Tyreke Hill, the consensus best receiver in the league. In exchange, Mahomes was left with one of the worst receiving groups in the league. All he did since was win two Super Bowls. He’s stretching the limits on how much one player can impact winning.

At last year’s Super Bowl, Mahomes had touchdown passes to Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney. Moore was stapled to the bench on Sunday and Toney didn’t even dress. This year, Mahomes threw touchdown passes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman Jr. Both were liabilities for large parts of this season. Of the four, you wouldn’t pick any of them in the deepest fantasy league at the start of next season. Mahomes makes a gourmet meal with leftover ingredients.

Mahomes is like a martial artist, using your strength against you and amalgamating his game based off what his team needs and what the situation requires. The metamorphosis from game manager to playmaker, to gunslinging thrower to athletic runner happen within the same game. Again, this is why he’s the greatest, because no QB ever had as many shots in his bag and the appropriate fearlessness to know exactly when to play them.

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He’s the Swiss Army knife at the position, in a way where we’ve never seen the vast amount of tangible and intangible qualities in one player before. Which in turn makes him the greatest.

But unlike any of the icons who he’s compared with, Mahomes is just as dangerous with his legs.

His legs were the differentiator on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Mahomes had nine rushes for 66 yards, which is the second-most rushing yards in a playoff game in his career. He now has the most rushing yards by a quarterback in Super Bowl history, with 172. The next closest is Joe Montana, with 105.

As currently constituted, Mahomes is playing the quarterback position at a higher level than anyone has ever before. That’s it. That’s the hypothesis. Mahomes has done more with less and has beaten defences in more ways than anyone before. You can disagree. But doing so playing four-corners offence on the take, just to see if he wins one more Super Bowl than Brady, means you’re missing the point. Enjoy what you are witnessing, because we’ve never seen a QB play better than Patrick Lavon Mahomes II.

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