Indianapolis Colts

Joe Montana is still the best quarterback of all time

People have been waiting to assert that Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever — which would mean he’s better than Joe Montana and everyone who came before him — for years. A certain local radio host has been pushing that narrative since 2007.

(Much respect to Gary Radnich, who pretends to be a Dodgers fan every September. He was trolling audiences before people knew the word “troll” could mean anything other than a nasty fictional beast who lives under a bridge.)

When it comes to extended primes, no one can defeat Brady. Even though his Patriots barely lost to the Broncos today, with Brady facing a ferocious pass rush and struggling through much of the game, no one can compare his age-38 season (4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT) to anyone at a similar age. He’s incredible.

Brady’s record against Manning is 11-6, but their stats are almost eerily similar.

tom brady peyton manning

Playoff stats (including today)

  • Brady: 22-9 record (4-2 SB); 62.4 Cmp%, 7,957 yards (256.7 ypg), 56 TD, 28 INT, 88.01 rating
  • Manning: 13-13 record (1-2 SB), 63.3 Cmp%, 7,198 yards (276.8 ypd), 40 TD, 24 INT, 88.06 rating

(Thanks to Pro-Football Reference for making this so much easier.)

I have to admit, I was surprised. Despite the narrative that Manning is far worse in the playoffs, Brady’s and Manning’s playoff stats are almost the same. Well, other than team record, but one could easily argue that Brady has played on teams with the superior head coach and defense just about every year … until the Broncos defense stifled Brady today.

Where Joe Cool fits in

Playoffs Montana: 16-7 record (4-0 SB), 62.7 CMP%, 5,772 yards (251 ypg), 45 TD, 21 INT, 95.6 rating

Net yards per playoff attempt (includes sacks)

  • Brady: 6.44
  • Manning: 6.90
  • Montana: 7.05

Advanced regular season passing stats (100 is considered average)

Brady: 109 Y/A+, 112 NY/A+, 115 AY/A+, 117 ANY/A+, 110 Cmp%+, 115 TD%+, 116 INT%+, 111 Sack%+, 117 Rate+

Manning: 115 Y/A+, 121 NY/A+, 116 AY/A+, 120 ANY/A+, 118 Cmp%+, 119 TD%+, 105 INT%+, 123 Sack%+, 118 Rate+

Montana: 111 Y/A+, 116 NY/A+, 118 AY/A+, 121 ANY/A+, 124 Cmp%+, 111 TD%+, 118 INT%+, 111 Sack%+, 123 Rate+

Manning and Brady have benefited from a much friendlier environment to passers in their mid-30s than they faced when they entered the league, one that’s far gentler to quarterbacks than it was when Joe Montana played and nearly had his spine broken in half on multiple occasions. If Montana (who was effective until age 38) played in the same era as Manning and Brady, in an NFL with the rules — not just regarding punishment levied on quarterbacks, but receivers as well — they enjoyed and their advantages in training/nutrition, his regular season totals probably would’ve rivaled Manning’s and Brady’s.

Montana holds the edge in playoff quarterback rating (and if anything, the rules governing violence were even more relaxed in the playoffs when he played). In the regular season, he leads these three in ANY/A+ (adjusted net yards per attempt), Cmp%+ (completion percentage), INT%+ (interception percentage), and Rate+ (quarterback rating). He was a far better rusher than Manning or Brady. Montana rushed for 1,676 yards, 20 touchdowns and 3.7 ypc, compared to 876/22/1.7 for Brady and 667/18/1.5 for Manning. Montana was even more dominant as a rusher in the playoffs (5.0 ypc) while Brady and Manning ran less effectively during the playoffs than they did during the regular season.

Oh, and Montana is the best Super Bowl quarterback in history, and the obvious winner in the make-believe category of “QB you’d trust with your life, if your life depended on an 80-yard touchdown drive with two minutes remaining and your team down by six.”

If you’re of the opinion that the best quarterbacks are the ones who are the most prolific during the regular season, you’re probably going to side with Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino. If you think the best should boast huge regular season numbers, the longest prime and a great playoff résumé, you’ll probably choose Brady. But if you’re looking for excellence compared to one’s peers and unmatched playoff efficiency, Montana is the best of all-time.

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