Well, we now have the answer to football’s version of the chicken and the egg. Tom Brady retired before the Detroit Lions reached a Super Bowl.
After 20 seasons as a starting quarterback and seven Super Bowl rings, the greatest quarterback in NFL history is reportedly stepping away only months shy of turning 45. Both the NFL’s official Twitter account and Brady’s TB12 company seemingly confirmed the three-time NFL MVP’s retirement six days after his final game, an NFC Divisional Round loss to Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams. As of publication, the legendary gunslinger hadn’t officially announced his retirement.
With Brady’s retirement looming, now feels like the perfect time to rank his greatest seasons. Trust us when we say we had plenty of options. For this list, we factored in statistics, the team’s final finish (or, in other words, did they win the Super Bowl), and context. Although this should go without saying, the 2000 and 2008 seasons, where Brady only saw action in one game each, were essentially ineligible for this list.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, Brady’s greatest seasons rank as follows:
Honorable mention: Most of the Super Bowl years
For the sake of time, this entry is devoted to the 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, and 2018 championship teams. Although each season is special and will be permanently featured on Brady’s resume until the end of time, there wasn’t enough here for one reason or another for them to rank in the true top five.
Also, it’d be boring if his five greatest seasons were all years where he won the Super Bowl. With that said, it would be wrong to make a list like this and not at least mention those five seasons.
But, we’ll throw Patriots fans a bone. The 2014 season, where Brady threw for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, and nine interceptions at 37 years old, is essentially the No. 6 entry on our list.
5. Long hair, don’t care (2010)
After missing almost the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL, Brady returned in 2009 and tallied 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. However, the Patriots’ Wild Card Round loss to the Baltimore Ravens and his age (he turned 32 a month before the opener) understandably raised questions about his future. Could Tom Brady still be Tom Brady?
As he’d do for the next 11 seasons, Brady silenced the doubters, throwing for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns, and four interceptions in 2010 en route to earning his second NFL MVP Award. New England won 13 of its final 14 games and earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Brady, who typically kept his hair short during his 21 seasons, even let his hair grow out during the 2010 campaign. Those who compared him to teenage music star Justin Bieber — and if that isn’t a reminder of how fast time flies, what is? — got the last laugh when the New York Jets upset New England in the AFC Divisional Round.
4. Suspensions, 28-3, and another ring (2016)
Brady only missed four regular-season starts from 2009-21, and none were because of an injury. Although the NFL controversially suspended him for the 2015 season’s first four games for his ties to the Deflategate scandal, he didn’t serve the punishment until 2016 after a drawn-out legal battle.
Upon returning to the field that October, Brady couldn’t be stopped. He shredded defenses for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only two interceptions; that was a 4,739-yard, 37-touchdown pace in the 16-game era. The 39-year-old performed so well considering the circumstances that he finished second in the AP NFL MVP voting.
Atlanta Falcons fans, we suggest you look away now.
Although the Falcons led 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51, they still had to stop Brady … and they couldn’t do it. The greatest quarterback in league history lived up to his title by tying the game at 28 in regulation and leading a game-winning drive to open overtime. That victory gave Brady his fifth ring, although it wouldn’t be his last.
3. The Last Dance (2021)
Brady certainly went out with a bang, didn’t he? At 44 years old, he was the oldest full-time starting quarterback in NFL history and still completed 67.5% of his passes for 5,316 yards, 43 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 17 games. Although the Rams led 27-3 with 7:07 left in the third quarter of the NFC Divisional Round, Brady did his best to lead a comeback and knotted the game at 27 with 42 seconds remaining.
Then, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles called a blitz, and Buccaneers fans know what happened from there. For trivia purposes, tight end Cameron Brate caught the last pass of Brady’s career, and receiver Mike Evans hauled in the final touchdown.
2. 50 and 18-1 (2007)
Ahead of the 2007 season, the Patriots added former All-Pro wideout Randy Moss and dangerous slot receiver Wes Welker to a Patriots offense desperately needing weapons. Brady certainly appreciated the gift, throwing for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns against eight interceptions and easily winning his first MVP Award.
The new-look Patriots’ offense dominated opponents en route to the first 16-0 season in league history. Patriots fans, now it’s your turn to look away. Leading 14-10 late in Super Bowl 42, the Patriots’ defense failed to sack New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who connected with David Tyree’s helmet on a pivotal third-down conversion. Manning fired a go-ahead touchdown to veteran receiver Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, and Brady failed to put the Patriots in field goal position after getting the ball back.
In spite of Brady’s historic season, the Patriots couldn’t finish the job and finished 18-1.
1. Welcome to Tampa Bay (2020)
When the Patriots’ 2019 season ended in the AFC Wild Card Round, no one knew what awaited their franchise quarterback. Had we seen the last of Brady, who looked old at times in his age 42-season and appeared ready for a change?
He signed with the Buccaneers, who hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2007, and brought retired tight end Rob Gronkowski with him. The three-time MVP passed for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns (his most since 2007), and threw 12 interceptions at 43 years old.
Despite making the playoffs as a wild-card team, Brady threw 10 touchdowns against three interceptions, all coming in an NFC Championship Game victory over Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers, in four postseason games. In a fun twist on the proverbial passing of the torch, Brady routed Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
Although Brady had gaudier numbers in 2007, the greater context involving him fighting off Father Time and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers is enough to give him the top spot here. Joining a long-suffering franchise at 43 years old and celebrating with the Lombardi Trophy 11 months later certainly sums up the quarterback’s legacy in a way that no singular touchdown ever could.