Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. If anyone has the chance to one day snatch that crown from him, it’s the man he’s facing in Super Bowl LV: Patrick Mahomes.
Since Sunday’s showdown between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs will conclude Mahomes’ fourth NFL season, we decided to take a look back at Brady’s first four years with the New England Patriots to see how the young QBs compare.
Note: The advanced stats listed below are from rbsdm.com (expected points added per play and success rate) and Football Outsiders (defense-adjusted yards above replacement and defense-adjusted value over average).
Brady (2000): Arrived in New England as an unheralded sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan. He appeared in just one game (mop-up duty in a blowout loss to the Detroit Lions) but showed enough to convince head coach Bill Belichick to carry four quarterbacks on his roster — a rarity in the NFL.
Season stats (zero starts): 1-for-3, 6 yards, 42.4 passer rating
Mahomes (2017): Arrived in Kansas City as a first-round draft pick out of Texas Tech, with the Chiefs trading up to select him 10th overall. He appeared in just one game (a Week 17 start against the Denver Broncos after KC had secured its playoff seeding) but showed enough to convince head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach to trade veteran starter Alex Smith the following offseason.
Season stats (one start): 22-for-35 (62.9 percent), 284 yards (8.2 per attempt), one interception, 76.4 passer rating
Brady (2001): Replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe late in a Week 2 loss to the New York Jets and led a veteran-laden Patriots team built on defense and power running to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Played well overall, ranking fourth in the NFL in completion percentage and sixth in passer rating, and led New England to wins in 13 of his 16 starts, including the postseason. Brady didn’t become a statistical juggernaut until a few years later. Topped 300 passing yards just twice — with one such performance, oddly enough, coming in a blizzard — and threw one touchdown pass in the playoffs. He won Super Bowl MVP after leading a surgical game-winning drive to stun the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.
Season stats (14 starts): 264-for-413 (63.9 percent), 2,843 yards (6.9 per attempt), 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 86.5 passer rating, 17th in EPA/play, 16th in success rate, 13th in DYAR, 11th in DVOA
Mahomes (2018): Gangbusters. Threw 10 touchdowns in his first two games and 14 in his first four, all before tossing his first interception. Had five four-touchdown games and two six-touchdown games and surpassed 300 yards 10 times. Quarterbacked a Chiefs offense that averaged 35.3 points per game (the most by any team since the 2013 Denver Broncos) and scored at least 26 in every game. Became the second QB with 50 touchdowns and 5,000 passing yards in a season (along with Peyton Manning). Won NFL MVP. Led Kansas City to a 12-4 record and an AFC Championship Game berth before losing to Brady and the Patriots in overtime. Statistically, the only Brady campaign that tops Mahomes’ rookie season is 2007, when the New England QB also threw 50 touchdown passes and posted better marks in completion percentage, passer rating, QBR, interceptions and EPA/play.
Season stats (16 starts): 383-for-580 (66.0 percent), 5,097 yards (8.8 per attempt), 50 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 113.8 passer rating, first in EPA/play, fourth in success rate, first in DYAR, first in DVOA
Brady (2002): Took on a more prominent role in New England’s offense, ranking third in the NFL in pass attempts and first in touchdown passes. He saw his numbers decline in most categories and his team stumble to a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs. This season is largely forgotten in Brady lore.
Season stats (16 starts): 373-for-601 (62.1 percent), 3,764 yards (6.3 per attempt), 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 85.7 passer rating, 19th in EPA/play, 18th in success rate, ninth in DYAR, 14th in DVOA
Mahomes (2019): Threw for 1,000 fewer yards and 24 fewer touchdowns while showing slight regression in most other passing categories. Was never a real threat to repeat as NFL MVP, which went to Lamar Jackson in a landslide. Cut his interceptions way down, however, and continued to rank among the NFL’s best in advanced passing metrics. Missed two games with a knee injury midseason but came back to lead the Chiefs to wins in each of their final nine games, including a come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. Erased double-digit deficits in all three playoff wins, threw 10 touchdowns with two interceptions in the postseason and became the youngest quarterback ever (24) to win Super Bowl MVP.
Season stats (14 starts): 319-for-484 (65.9 percent), 4,031 yards (8.3 per attempt), 26 touchdowns, five interceptions, 105.3 passer rating, first in EPA/play, fourth in success rate, second in DYAR, third in DVOA
Brady (2003): Struggled mightily with four interceptions in a season-opening 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills before tossing three more picks in a Week 4 defeat at Washington. Then began a winning streak that wouldn’t end until Halloween 2004. Posted a 91.1 passer rating over the final 12 weeks of the regular season, throwing just five interceptions during that span. Finished third in NFL MVP voting behind co-winners Steve McNair and Manning. Led the Patriots to a 14-2 record and their second Super Bowl title. Earned Super Bowl MVP honors for the second time after setting a then-Super Bowl record for completions (32) and throwing for 354 yards with three touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers.
Season stats (16 starts): 317-for-527 (60.2 percent), 3,620 yards (6.9 per attempt), 23 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 85.9 passer rating, 10th in EPA/play, 16th in success rate, ninth in DYAR, 11th in DVOA
Mahomes (2020): Threw 12 touchdowns before his first interception, 26 before his second and 31 before his third. Completed 70-plus percent of his passes in nine of 17 starts thus far, including both playoff games. Ranked in the top two in most advanced metrics. Likely will finish second in NFL MVP voting behind Aaron Rodgers. Suffered foot and head injuries in the divisional round but returned to throttle the Bills in the AFC Championship, racking up 325 yards and three scores with no picks in a 38-24 rout. Will be the first quarterback ever to start two Super Bowls before his 26th birthday.
Season stats (15 starts): 390-for-588 (66.3 percent), 4,740 yards (8.1 per attempt), 38 touchdowns, six interceptions, 108.2 passer rating, second in EPA/play, first in success rate, first in DYAR, second in DVOA
By almost any measurement, Mahomes’ first four seasons were more productive and successful than Brady’s. The Chiefs phenom reached three AFC title games and two Super Bowls in his first three years as a starter (with the chance to win his second championship this Sunday) and was, at worst, a top-three quarterback each year. He’s had the wins and the numbers, which wasn’t the case for Brady early in his career.
The question, of course, is whether Mahomes has the durability and longevity to maintain this elite-level play for another 10 or 15 years, which likely would be necessary to match Brady’s totals of 10 Super Bowl appearances and six titles (and counting).
The 43-year-old Brady didn’t miss a single game until his ninth season as a starter (the 2008 ACL tear) and hasn’t missed one due to injury since. Mahomes has not looked indestructible so far.