It is the year 2019, and Tom Brady is still the quarterback for the New England Patriots. The ageless wonder has had a prolific few years, including three Super Bowl victories in four appearances, only adding to an extensive resume stretching back nearly two decades.
Brady turns 42 today. In honor of the QB embarking on a quest to achieve what no other quarterback has, we ranked all of Brady’s Super Bowl performances. The rankings are balanced between his stat line and his direct impact towards victory or defeat. Football is a team game, but the quarterback is the most important factor. While the blame can be shared in losses and credit given all around in victories, Brady’s play decided who won or who lost in every matchup. Without further ado, here’s how it played out.
9. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14
The infamous 2007 Super Bowl that saw David truly topple Goliath, Brady couldn’t lead his all-time great offense to more than two touchdowns. The Giants came in with the perfect game plan and were on Brady all day. He went 29-48 for 266 yards and a touchdown that put the Patriots ahead with 2:25 to go. David Tyree’s sticky helmet and Plaxico Burress toasting Ellis Hobbs on a sluggo route finished New England, but given the numbers they had put up in the regular season, the loss ultimately came down to their inability to execute, and Brady was at the head of that failure. It’s his worst Super Bowl by a long shot.
8. Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17
New England put up more points in their second championship bout with the Giants, but ultimately came up short. Brady tossed two touchdowns with an interception for a total of 276 yards, 27 completions on 41 attempts. It was another poor statistical outing for Brady, and he missed on the throw everyone remembers: Wes Welker was wide open, Brady overthrew him a bit, and Welker couldn’t come down with it. Was it a catchable ball? Yes. Could Brady have made it automatic with better placement? Absolutely. Given the 2011 Patriots weren’t anywhere near the powerhouse of 2007, Brady gets points for keeping them in the game until the very end, but his completion rate wasn’t great and they came away with another loss.
7. Super Bowl LIII: Patriots 13, Rams 3
The most recent Super Bowl was the least exciting of all the Patriots’ appearances, and perhaps the least exciting of all time, depending on who you ask. Brady had a solid game with 262 yards on 35 attempts and 21 completions, but overall it was a lackluster game with a lackluster stat line. A win is a win, of course, and there’s no one in New England wishing Brady did more in a win. He made the throws when they mattered, most notably a beautiful toss up the seam to Rob Gronkowski to set up the team’s lone touchdown. But for the purpose of these rankings, it was by far the least impressive performance of Brady’s career with a championship, and the win is the only thing keeping it from the very bottom.
6. Super Bowl LII: Eagles 41, Patriots 33
The Patriots lost this game, but certainly not because of Brady. He posted an absurd line of 505 yards and three touchdowns on 28 completions. In a game where defenses couldn’t stop anyone, Brady simply couldn’t be stopped. The strip-sack at the end was killer, but that was more of an excellent play by Brandon Graham than a fault of Brady’s. It was perhaps the strongest effort by a losing quarterback in Super Bowl history, and Brady was as close to perfect as he’s ever been in the big game. He was so good in this one that a loss is bumped above a win in these rankings.
5. Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
Brady posted a solid stat line of 236 yards with two touchdowns in this Super Bowl, completing 23 passes in 33 attempts. It was his most efficient game, and 11 of his completions went to Deion Branch, the Super Bowl MVP. This was the least exciting off all the Patriots’ Super Bowls, and Brady was machine-like in picking apart the defense. His numbers doesn’t stand out, and without any drama at the end, it doesn’t rank particularly high in the grand scheme of things. But still, a win is a win, and he didn’t make a mistake throughout the contest.
4. Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17
Outside of the last-minute drive that set up Adam Vinateri’s game-winning field goal, Brady didn’t do much of note in this game, and that was the plan. Context matters in these rankings, and at this point he was still the sixth-round kid from Michigan who took over for supposed franchise savior Drew Bledsoe. He was going up against the greatest offense ever at the time as immense underdogs. He threw for 145 yards and a TD with no interceptions– just the gameplan Bill Belichick drew up. It was the game that will be seen as an origin story for a legend of football, and in that sense, no game is more important. But as far as his performances go, the Patriots didn’t quite win because of him. But they didn’t win in spite of him, and that’s all that Brady needed to deliver.
3. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
This was the game that everyone realized Tom Brady isn’t just some game manager. He threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception, capped off by his second championship-winning drive in four seasons as an NFL player. He played an outstanding game against a tough Carolina defense and completed his last four passes to set up another Vinateri game-winer. It was a great performance from a guy who everyone knew was talented, but not quite this talented. It was his coming-out party, in a sense, and this was the version of Brady that everyone has become accustomed to: cold as ice under pressure, and liable to destroy your team if you don’t do everything possible to stop him.
2. Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
Brady wasn’t at his best in this Super Bowl, making a few head-scratching throws and throwing two interceptions, the most out of any of his Super Bowl appearances. But that can be forgiven by the quality of defense he went up against. The Legion of Boom at the height of their powers was the toughest secondary Brady faced in a championship game, but he still managed to put up a stat line of 328 yards with four touchdowns. The deciding play didn’t involve Brady, rather an undrafted rookie named Malcolm Butler, but Brady’s second half was as good we saw any quarterback play against the Seahawks in that era. His TD pass to Gronk on a go route was as beautiful a pass as you’ll see, and the 3rd and 14 conversion to the ever-reliable Julian Edelman as he stepped up in a collapsing pocket was an absolute dart. An elite performance against an elite unit.
1. Super Bowl LI: Patriots 34, Falcons 28
But nothing can stack up to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. The Patriots were down 28-3 in part because of Brady’s poor performance, most notably the pick-six by Robert Alford that felt like a nail in the coffin despite coming in the second quarter. Nothing was going right. Then, about halfway through the third quarter, something changed. Brady turned into a man on a mission and led the Pats to 25 unanswered points. He threw for 466 yards and two touchdowns en route to completing a Super Bowl-record 43 passes. He marched them down the field in OT with surgical precision. He needed to be perfect. New England needed him to be absolutely perfect. And he was.
The only blemish comes on the infamous Edelman catch; it was a horrendous decision to throw into triple coverage like that, and there may have never been a better payoff for a worse throw in a Super Bowl. I’ll stand by that take until I die. But it worked out, just like everything had to for the Pats to ever had a chance. It was one of the greatest comebacks in all sports under the biggest spotlight, coming during a year where everyone doubted his credibility and integrity after DeflateGate. A Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have concocted a more appropriate story. The underdog who became hated for his dominance, his whole world spinning after getting suspended for the first time in his life, and the team was collapsing in front of a national audience. But he dragged them back, every step of the way. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Super Bowl LI was Brady’s single greatest Super Bowl.