Even before Bucs-Saints, Tom Brady has already outlasted Drew Brees

Phil Perry
·5 min read

Perry: Even before Bucs-Saints, Brady has already outlasted Brees originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We all had a good laugh, didn't we? 

OK. Maybe it was more along the lines of a chortle. A short-lived one.

No? A less-than-impressed pity-smile for you? 

A totally dismissive eye-roll, huh? Well, yeah. Sure. Could see that.

However you reacted to the extensively-Photoshopped image of Tom Brady and Drew Brees -- both graying and looking more like college English professors on the brink of retirement than football players -- that circulated on social media this week, you've seen it. 

And the message was clear: Good grief are these guys old.

But there's more there in that one little old meme.

First, it highlighted just how unique their Divisional Round matchup is. It's the oldest quarterback combination in the history of the NFL. Brady is 43. Brees turns 42 on Friday. All they're doing, though, is breaking the record they set twice during the 2020 regular season. The oldest postseason quarterback matchup came back in 2018, when Brady took on then 37-year-old Philip Rivers and the Chargers.

Second, when juxtaposed with the other Divisional Round games this weekend, it shined a light on exactly where the game is headed at the quarterback position -- and how unusual it looks to have two 40-somethings still firing away. Aside from Aaron Rodgers (37), the rest of the field is dotted with passers in their mid-20s. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are 24. Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes are 25. Jared Goff is 26.

Third, stylistically, this is a last hurrah of sorts. Seems that way, at least. Every quarterback in the field is more mobile than the two quarterbacks who competed against each other in Ann Arbor back in 1999. Brady and Brees are more stationary these days, getting by in the pocket with supercomputers for brains and accurate arms. 

The near-consensus is that athleticism is more a prerequisite for the position than ever before. And the rest of these quarterbacks can scoot. Allen and Jackson are next-level athletes. Mahomes is one of the best scramblers in football because a) he's athletic and b) defenses hustle backwards since they know letting him throw deep is the football equivalent of self-immolation. Mobility has always been on Rodgers' long list of reasons why he's a headache for defenders. Even Goff and Mayfield -- neither of them thought to be high-level runners -- operate out of offenses that get them on the move and live off of bootleg passes.

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But it's also worth noting which of these two quarterbacks memed the meme. It was Brady. Not Brees. Which makes sense because for Brees, the topic of aging might be a more sensitive one than it is for his counterpart this week.

This season, Brees has looked like a 42-year-old trying to make it work in a young man's game. He's dealt with injuries that have slowed him down -- including whoppers like multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung -- and his arm is quite clearly not the same as it once was. It shows up in Saints play-calls and in the decisions Brees makes on a throw-to-throw basis. 

According to Ben Baldwin of the Athletic, Brees ranks 33rd out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in air yards per attempt this season (6.0). That's lower than dink-and-dunkers like Nick Mullens (6.3) and Andy Dalton (6.7), and it's the third straight year his air yards figure has dropped. Brees' completion percentage over expectation (2.0) ranked 16th in the NFL this year, just ahead of Chicago quarterbacks Nick Foles (1.7, 17th) and Mitch Trubisky (1.6, 18th).

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Brady, meanwhile, has seen his game head in the opposite direction after moving to Tampa, linking up with a handful of explosive playmakers, and taking the reins of an offense set on going long. 

Nobody threw the ball deeper down the field more, on average, than Brady in 2020. His 9.4 air yards per attempt led the NFL. His completion percentage over expectation ranked eighth in the league. And he's not slowing down. Against a very good Washington pass defense in the Wild Card Round, Brady averaged a whopping 11.4 air yards per attempt in putting up 31 points and 381 passing yards.

What Brady has done has only been made more impressive when matched up against Brees' declining ability to get the football where he wants to. Seeing Brees standing on the sidelines for gadget quarterback Taysom Hill to take the field on third downs -- no matter how much Hill is paid or how much Saints coach Sean Payton sings his praises -- is an easy indicator as to what Brees can accomplish physically at this stage. He's limited.

That Brees has come this far and excelled so long is a testament to all of the behind-the-scenes work he's put in to maintain his body. He's done things no quarterback before him has. And the lengths to which Brady will go to sustain peak performance is well-documented. 

Maybe in that sense, as old-fashioned as their styles of play may be, the last two of their era, these quarterbacks are . . . the future?

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They're showing Allen and Jackson and Mahomes and Mayfield how, if they're willing to sacrifice the time (and maybe nightshades), if they get a little luck, they can keep their bodies in shape to play for another 15 years. There are paths there, at least.

Which is better? Who's to say? 

But in acknowledging that whatever Brees has done over the course of his career to keep himself ready has worked ridiculously well -- he's the only quarterback in NFL history to eclipse the 80,000-yard mark for his career -- you'd still probably have to score one for the TB12 Method headed into Sunday's matchup. 

One guy from the old man meme looks like he could play until he's 45. The other looks like this could be his last 60 minutes.




OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Tampa Bay
+140+3O 51.5
New Orleans
-167-3U 51.5