Tom Brady: Clutch Performances Late in Three Super Bowls Give Him the Edge Over Joe Montana


Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana in the ‘Greatest QB of All-Time’ debate is a fascinating one, and let’s start here: There is no right answer. Only strong opinions.

From a pure statistical standpoint, Montana going 4-0 in the Super Bowl while throwing zero interceptions is unparalleled. Our own Jason Lisk had a detailed breakdown of why, when you look at the stats, Montana still has a slight edge over Brady.

But football is a team sport. The two played in different eras. Montana played with arguably the greatest receiver in the history of the sport, Jerry Rice (teammates was touched on in the Lisk piece). While both had legendary coaches, Brady has now been to six Super Bowls. But the biggest reason, which we’ll get to in a bit: Clutch 4th quarter performances on the biggest stage in the country.

What stuck out for me Sunday, propelling Brady to the lead over Montana was this:

– Largest 4th quarter comeback in Super Bowl history
– Brady did that against the No. 1 defense in the NFL (by some metrics)
– the Seahawks defense had given up 13 points in the 4th quarter … over the last eight games
– Brady was a staggering 13-of-15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns with two lengthy scoring drives in the final eight minutes

From a game perspective, obviously the focus has been on The Interception, or The Decision, or whatever you want to call it. And the reaction to that has been: Well if Malcolm Butler doesn’t make that incredible play, do you still nudge Brady ahead of Montana?

Fair question.

But Brady wasn’t even on the field for that final drive, so why should anything that happened there count against him?

Brady had thrown two interceptions earlier in the game, and midway through the 3rd quarter, it looked like the Patriots were done. Then, in the clutch – crunch time! – when there was no room for error, Brady was able to carve up the NFL’s best defense to put his team in position to win.

Not the first time Brady’s done that in a Super Bowl, something Montana can’t say.

Joe Montana’s 1st Super Bowl win over the Bengals was a grind-it-out affair, with the 49ers leaning heavily on the run in the 4th quarter while clinging to a lead over the feisty Bengals. His second Super Bowl win was against Dan Marino’s Dolphins, and it was a blowout. Montana’s finest Super Bowl moment was in his 3rd trip, when he famously hit John Taylor for the game-winning pass with :39 left. Montana’s final Super Bowl game was a 55-10 rout over the Broncos.

Here’s where Brady and Montana differ most: Whereas Joe only had one late-game rally, Brady has done it three times. Getting New England in position in the final minute for Adam Vinataeri’s game-winner against St. Louis. Brady did the same thing the following year against Carolina. Brady’s defense held up against vomiting Donovan McNabb for his third ring; and then there were Sunday night’s heroics.

For these reasons, I give the edge to Brady over Montana.

To take it a step further – the two times Brady lost in the Super Bowl, his defense gave up touchdowns with less than a minute left. There was no way Brady – or Montana, or Peyton, or whomever – was going the length of the field in :57 to score a TD and beat the Giants. In the other loss to the Giants, Brady would have needed to gain about 45 yards in :35 in hopes of sending the game to overtime.

(The flip side of that coin: Yeah, but the reason the Patriots lost those two games is because the offense was inept all game long! Ah, football. Ain’t it grand? Can’t wait for someone to take it a step further – if the Patriots’ kicker misses two game-winners, and Pete Carroll runs the ball, Tom Brady only has one ring!)

For-fun stat: Leading receiver in Tom Brady’s Super Bowl wins:

Troy Brown – 6 catches, 89 yards
Deion Branch – 10 catches, 143 yards
Deion Branch – 11 catches, 133 yards
Julian Edelman – 9 catches, 109 yards

And now, Montana

Freddie Solomon – 4 catches, 52 yards
Roger Craig – 7 catches, 77 yards
Jerry Rice – 11 catches, 215 yards
Jerry Rice – 7 catches, 148 yards