Crushing the Myth

Tom Brady can’t win the big game.

He wants to be the star. He wants all the attention (just look at his hair). He wants all the glory, but one simple fact remains. He can’t win the big game.

He has gone 5-5 in the playoffs since 2005. He finished with QB ratings of 74, 57.6, 79.5, 66.4, 82.5, 49.1, and 89 in seven of those games. In his last three playoff games (all losses), he has thrown 5 TDs and 4 INTs. He has averaged a rating of 73.5 in those games. By the way, those losses came with teams that won 16, 10, and 14 games respectively. He lost to quarterbacks named Eli, Joe, and the Sanchize.

Can you say choke?

(Cue: Sound of record coming to a screeching halt)

tom-brady-v-peyton-manningAt this point, you have either walked away from the computer, or slammed it shut. You understand that I am a diehard Colts fan and I’m probably out of my mind. Only an idiot would say that Tom Brady isn’t clutch. You would have to be a fool to completely ignore the first half of his career at this point and claim that he’s not a winner. Right?


If you have followed the NFL AT ALL over the past five seasons, you would come to the (correct) conclusion that with the exception of 2007, Brady has simply played on inferior teams to the ones he was on in the early part of the decade. But because he has already won 3 Super Bowls, he gets the benefit of the doubt because you have seen him win before, and you believe that if he played on a team with that much talent again, he would probably win the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, Tom Brady is the only player in the NFL that has this luxury. You would never give Peyton Manning, or Dan Marino, or any of those guys the benefit of the doubt.

That’s wrong. But don’t worry, it’s not your fault. You have merely fallen victim to the BIGGEST misconception that football fans everywhere have been deceived by for years:

You think that individual players win football games.

And you have fallen into this trap for one of three reasons: you think that football works like basketball, or baseball, or another similar sport.

One of the best things about basketball is that it lends itself to easy comparisons. Everyone has to play offense and defense. Many times, the best players have to guard each other. So if two teams are relatively equal, the best player wins. After Michael Jordan went head to head against Magic, and then Clyde, and then Barkley…and beat them all…it was easy to make the argument that he was better than everyone else from that era. We saw him single-handedly dominate the games – offensively, defensively, physically, emotionally, and mentally. He was all over the floor, refusing to let his team lose.

In baseball, a pitcher can also easily dominate one game and secure victory for his team almost single-handedly. Just ask the Yankees how they felt about Cliff Lee this past postseason.

But as I’ve written before, football is different. When you factor in Offense, Defense, and Special Teams, Tom Brady played in 45% of the game yesterday. That means that for more than half the game, Brady couldn’t do anything to help his team win.

There are very specific reasons to explain why the Pats lost yesterday, but none of them really had anything to do with how Brady played. Bill Belichick got greedy with a fake punt late in the first half that ended up giving the Jets a cheap seven points. Deion Branch made a HUGE drop on the key 4th down play in the final quarter. The Patriots’ defense simply couldn’t stop the run and get the Jets off the field when it needed to. Frankly, it was Colts-Jets 2.0: bad coaching, a huge drop, and the inability to stop the run. There’s your ballgame.

The only difference is that Brady won’t receive HALF the blame that Peyton Manning received after the Colts’ lost. But hold on. I’m not here just to defend Peyton (again), I’m here to blow apart the myth that individuals win football games.

Go ahead and compare the Jets’, Patriots’, and Colts’ rosters right now. Seriously…I’m waiting. Pay specific attention to the injuries that ravaged the Colts and Patriots, as well as the skill-position players on all three teams. Manning and Brady did a brilliant job in the regular season of making us think that guys like Deion Branch (a glorified possession receiver), Pierre Garcon and Ben Tate (incredibly inconsistent speedsters that occasionally can make big plays), Jacob Tamme, Blair White, and whoever the Patriots’ #3 receiver is (not good at all), and Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (potentially great, but right now only good tight ends) were superstars. When you add into account their running backs (maybe they became household names, but they only succeed because of their QBs), the skill players on both teams are, AT BEST, mediocre.

Now factor in the defenses of all three teams. It’s important to note that even before injuries, the Jets’ unit was clearly the best of the three.

Fast forward to the playoffs. You have two teams with almost no legitimate play makers besides their quarterbacks matching up against one of the best and fastest secondaries in all of football. Take away their run game, and what can Peyton and Brady do? Check down. All day. How is Deion Branch supposed to beat Darrelle Revis consistently? Do you really expect Jacob Tamme to run roughshod through the Jets?

No. Individuals cannot win football games.

Mike Lombardi believes that the Colts would have gotten the #1 or #2 pick without Peyton Manning. That would mean that he single-handedly accounted for somewhere between 6 and 8 victories. If Tom Brady hadn’t played out of his mind this year, I think you could make just as strong of a case that the Patriots weren’t a playoff team either. So should we really criticize these guys for not getting it done in the playoffs? As cliche as this is, it has to be said: without them, they wouldn’t have even gotten that far.

John Elway never won a Super Bowl in his prime. Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, and others never won it all.

Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Doug Williams, Jim McMahon, etc. have won the Super Bowl. Go ahead and try to build an argument on a guy’s playoff record.


The media just tries to convince you that individuals win football games.

The hardest part about following football is that most of us don’t really understand it. I was what you would call a “jock” in high school and college. I played and watched sports constantly. All of my friends did the same thing, but do you know how many of my friends I actually trust to tell me something about football? One. That’s it.

My friend Eric played QB in high school, and he is currently an assistant coach at the collegiate level. He has legitimate insight into football. Everyone else? They don’t really have any idea.

Seriously, go ahead and build a coherent argument explaining to me why Jeff Saturday is the best center in the game. Give me some insight into a 3-4 zone defense. Describe to me why picking up a blitz out of the backfield is so difficult. You can’t do it. That forces us to blindly agree with what the media tells us.

It’s not like basketball, which we have all played a thousand times. We understand how to run the pick-and-roll, how to box a guy out, even how to read our teammates and give them the ball when they need it.

So when we hear ridiculous comments by Bob Costas that tell us that “Peyton Manning is 9-10 while Mark Sanchez is now 4-1 in the playoffs,” we are accustomed to just taking his word for it that this means something. But what does Bob Costas know about football that I don’t? Isn’t he just an observer as well? It’s not like a former player like Tom Jackson gave us some enlightenment.

But think about what Costas actually said. He is making the subtle insinuation that Mark Sanchez is a better player than Peyton Manning. But really, is there actually someone out there who would rather have The Sanchize than Manning or Brady?

Seriously, right now, picture the Jets with Brady or Manning at the helm. Isn’t that a guaranteed Super Bowl right there? Yes. Why? Because teams win football games…and that team would be terrifying.

To be honest, the 2010 Colts and Patriots were nothing more than than the 2007-20010 Cleveland Cavaliers. Without their stud, they would be nothing. Did we blame LeBron James for losing two series to a Celtics team that had the next four best players on the floor? Of course not. Let’s stop treating Brady and Manning like it’s their fault, especially when more than half of the game rides on their teammates’ shoulders.

The storylines are just too easy to keep rehashing.

Besides seeing your team win, I honestly feel that the number one reason that people care about sports is because it gives them something to argue about. It’s also the best part about football. Your team plays on the weekend, and then allows you to argue about how to fix them all week. No other topic gets our juices flowing like the “Which player is greater” argument.

Unfortunately, the storyline has already been told. Peyton Manning chokes in the clutch. Tom Brady is one of the greatest QBs of all time. Because these topics are already “a given” even writers that are usually refreshingly creative decide that they can’t go against the grain.

Jason Whitlock, my second favorite writer, even came to this conclusion last week: “Peyton Manning has never had a good coach, never had a good offensive coordinator, never had any help. So it’s HIS FAULT that the Colts keep losing. He needs to swallow his pride and ask for help.”

Are you kidding me? And this came from one of the only sports writers that has an opinion that I respect!

He admitted that Peyton Manning has never played on a team or for a coach as good as the Patriots and Bill Belichick…and then he blamed it on Peyton Manning. Does that make any sense at all?

In the normal world, KG goes to the Celtics, wins a title, and we say, “Wow, I wonder what he could have done if he hadn’t played for the Timberwolves for so long.”

In the football world? We come close to making an insight, but then fall back on the safe train of thought. I was so angry when I read that column. I wanted to ask why Jason hated Manning so much. I wanted to know why a team whose 3rd and 4th options were Jacob Tamme and Blair White had ANY BUSINESS even being in the game against the Jets. I even wrote him to ask him about his precious “best ever,” John Elway…a guy that notoriously “choked” over and over in the playoffs until his final two years, both past his prime, when he fortuitously rode the best running back in football and a stellar defense to two straight Super Bowls.

But it’s ok. I know he was just taking the safe way out. Write down that Peyton Manning is a choke artist, and everyone nods in agreement. Have the audacity to say that the Colts lost for a different reason? You are ridiculed, just like I am, every time I try to defend Manning.

Again, I understand I’m biased, but this final story speaks volumes to me. I said there was only one guy I trust when it comes to football, but I was wrong. There are actually two. The other guy is my wife’s grandfather. He has lived in Cleveland for his entire life, and follows football religiously. I was interested in his input concerning the “best QB ever” argument, and I was incredibly surprised when he gave me this answer:

“Otto Graham is, was, and always will be the best QB of all time. He played for ten years, went to ten championship games, and won seven of them. But after him, I have seen a lot of players: Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and John Elway. But I have to say, they don’t get any better than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.”

The final part stunned me. I understood the comment about Otto Graham, because he loves Cleveland. But Brady and Manning? Better than Joe Cool? Better than Marino? Better than Elway?


I know many of you will dismiss this as a Colts’ fan trying to defend his favorite player. That’s fine. You aren’t used to any unique thoughts when it comes to football. But for you frustrated Patriots’ fans trying to find someone to blame today, or for you free thinkers out there, remember: his isn’t basketball, it’s football. And although we don’t understand everything about it, this much we know: teams win football games, not individuals.

Just ask Barry Sanders.

About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. Living in Atlanta you get the uninformed and sometimes unintelligent taking shots at the Braves and their issues in the postseason. The eventually take shots at Greg Maddux (.500 postseason record) and Tom Glavine (two great games srrounded by several bad ones) and the coaching philosophies of Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone. When you break stuff down you realize it was bad bullpens and awful benches that lost a lot of Braves postseason games. Maddux and Glavine's eras were excellent.

    I'm a Jets fan. I can not stand complimenting Brady or Manning. But they're great. They are. Football is a team game and you have to have the right players at the right time to win titles. Blaming Brady for the last 4 postseason losses is uninformed and unintelligent.

    J E T S

    • Great points here. Since the Braves only won one Title during their run, it would be easy to blame their stars for choking in the clutch. However, when you really look at their roster, what did they have besides great starting pitching? It goes without saying that the Braves would have been terrible without Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. But when people try to blame their only three true stars (besides maybe Chipper Jones) for losing to some stacked Yankees' teams, that is just unfair for them. Maddux could only pitch twice in a series. During those two games, he had to face some of the best hitting on earth, and he did so with the knowledge that his own offense and his bullpen probably wouldn't offer much help.
      Thanks so much for your comments. As a Colts fan, I don't like the Jets, but I have to acknowledge that they are a TREMENDOUS team and are a real threat to win it all.

  2. You mean Brandon Tate. Ben Tate's the rookie RB on the Texans that spent the season on IR.

  3. Thank you guys for getting it. I am not a Brady fan, but must admit his level of abilities. Manning is always blamed, and has really not been blessed with a cast of characters as talented as those around Sanchez or Rothlisberger. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark…all great with Manning at the helm ( they might be great with anyone, but likely not the standouts they have been regarded as). Imagine how great it must be as Ben Rothlisberger can afford to be daring or careless with his play, all the while knowing that his mistakes will likely be covered by the stifling Pittsburgh defense. Both the Steelers and the Jets can win even when their quarterbacks' passer ratings bottom out (look at Big Ben's first Super Bowl performance for example and Sanchez's passer rating for the season). Alas, Manning's work ethic and great knowledge of the game…i.e., calling the majority of his plays as the great ones once did will always bring with it the responsibility of blame not credit.

  4. Monster article. So Eric Kitrell is assistant coaching in college? Where at?

  5. How about this thought. If the Jets DO win it all this year, Peyton Manning's playoff losses would be as follows:
    Tennessee Titans – eventual Super Bowl runner up
    Miami Dolphins – road game
    New York Jets – road game
    New England Patriots – Super Bowl Champs
    New England Patriots – Super Bowl Champs
    Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl Champs
    San Diego Chargers – (Colts choked…but Manning threw for 402 yards and 3 TDs)
    San Diego Chargers – road game
    New Orleans Saints – Super Bowl Champs
    New York Jets – Super Bowl Champs
    Six losses to Super Bowl teams, and two on the road. The only one you could really say the Colts choked in was 2007 against San Diego. Still, this pretty impressively supports my statement that TEAMS win championships, not individuals.

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