49ers Joe Montana vs. Patriots Tom Brady: Revisiting the GOAT Argument after Super Bowl LI

Feb 2, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers former quarterback Joe Montana speaks during the Microsoft future of football press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 2, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers former quarterback Joe Montana speaks during the Microsoft future of football press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl LI adds another chapter to whether quarterback Tom Brady should be considered the GOAT over San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer Joe Montana. Niner Noise adds the next perspective.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana versus New England Patriots QB Tom Brady.

One has five Super Bowl rings. The other has four. One was named Super Bowl MVP four times. The other quarterback was named such three times.

Montana’s career spanned 15 years. Brady just wrapped up his 17th year and is still playing at the most elite of levels.

So who’s the greatest of all time — the GOAT, if we should so call it?

Well, it probably boils down to which quarterback you rooted for the most. If you’re a 49ers fan, Montana remains the answer. Yet if you’ve found yourself cheering on the Patriots, Brady stands alone. The honest truth is there’s no clear answer, and there never will be.

But Brady certainly added to his historic accolades with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Regardless whether or not you think he’s the greatest, you can’t deny his among the elite of elites.

Brady’s fifth Super Bowl crown is the most of any quarterback. Former 49ers and Cowboys Hall of Famer Charles Haley is the only other pro to state such a claim — two rings with San Francisco and three with Dallas.

Prior to Super Bowl 50, Niner Noise broke down this same argument. It was especially noteworthy because the Pats had the chance to secure a fifth ring for Brady at the home of his boyhood-49ers team, Levi’s Stadium.

New England didn’t quite make it then, of course. But this year’s championship relights the discussion.

So let’s sift through the latest chapter, shall we? And we’ll come up with our revised conclusion at the very end.

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Regular-Season Statistics

For starters, Tom Brady certainly gets the edge in longevity. He’s defied Father Time over the course of his career. And it’s impossible to ignore the Patriots’ success without the Brady parallel. He’s just as important, if not more so, than any other factor in New England’s extended run of success.

And he’s had a relatively injury-free career year too. Only one season, 2008, did Brady miss any extended period of time due to injury.

The same can’t be said of Montana, who missed eight games in 1986 and all but one game in 1992 — his final season in San Francisco.

Still, let’s look at the side-by-side stats, including Montana’s days with the Kansas City Chiefs:

Passing Table
Year Age Tm G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/C Y/G Rate Sk 4QC
Career 192 164 117-47-0 3409 5391 63.2 40551 273 139 7.5 11.9 211.2 92.3 313 31
13 yrs SFO 167 139 100-39-0 2929 4600 63.7 35124 244 123 7.6 12.0 210.3 93.5 282 26
2 yrs KAN 25 25 17-8-0 480 791 60.7 5427 29 16 6.9 11.3 217.1 85.0 31 5
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2017.

And now for Brady’s stats:

Passing Table
Year Age Tm G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/C Y/G Rate Sk 4QC
Career  NE 237 235 183-52-0 5244 8224 63.8 61582 456 152 7.5 11.7 259.8 97.2 417 37
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2017.

Brady certainly edges Montana in nearly every regular-season stat. And it helps he’s been relatively injury free and has had a longer career.

And the side-by-side numbers, regardless of career length, favor Brady. he has a higher completion percentage (63.8), more yards per game (259.8) and a better overall passer rating (97.2).

Advantage: Brady
December 4, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers former players Joe Montana (left) and Dwight Clark (right) before the game against the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Rams 26-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

December 4, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers former players Joe Montana (left) and Dwight Clark (right) before the game against the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Rams 26-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Cumulative Postseason Numbers

Greatness isn’t defined during the regular season. Postseason numbers are what count the most.

Needless to say, both Tom Brady and Joe Montana have compiled awesome playoff numbers. Those efforts are the reasons why Montana is a Hall of Famer and Brady will be when his career is over.

So who performed better in the postseason and not just under the bright lights of the Super Bowl?

Let’s look at some of the key stats. First, Brady has obviously appeared in more playoff games — 33 to Montana’s 23. And Brady has a total of 24 postseason wins against nine losses which, percentage-wise, is better than Montana’s 16-7 playoff record.

Brady’s playoff touchdown-to-interception ratio is amazing, which now stands at 63 to 31 — just above two to one. Montana posted a 45-to-21 ratio though, which is even higher.

And Montana also ranks higher in playoff completion percentage (70.27 to 62.39) and playoff passer rating (95.6 to 88.7).

You couldn’t go wrong with either QB under center when the postseason pressure kicked up a notch. But Montana surely has the advantage here when it counted most.

Advantage: Montana
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after beating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after beating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl Hardware

While playoff statistics are certainly important, teams play for Super Bowls. Not playoff wins.

Tom Brady has more of those than Joe Montana. And while a 49ers fan might argue, “sure, Brady had a longer career and more chances,” one does have to take into account longevity and overall team dominance.

Both the 49ers and Patriots had that during both teams’ respective runs.

But Montana never got a fifth ring. Brady did.

Super Bowl Appearances
  • Tom Brady: seven
  • Joe Montana: four
Most Super Bowl Wins by a Quarterback
  • Tom Brady: five
  • Joe Montana: four
Most Super Bowl MVP Awards
  • Tom Brady: four
  • Joe Montana: three

Note the first stat — Super Bowl appearances. Even though Brady has two big-game losses to wear, the fact the Patriots have made so many Super Bowls during his tenure has to be considered.

Yes, the 49ers won all four of the games Montana appeared in. But that’s it, and one could argue Montana should have led such a dominant San Francisco team to more championship games.

And to convince the doubters, Brady’s run of dominance has spanned the better part of two decades. Montana’s era lasted a little more than one.

Advantage: Brady

Sep 14, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers former players Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, and Jerry Rice laugh on the sideline during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl Statistics

OK, 49ers fans. You might be feeling Tom Brady is getting the GOAT award here after the last slide. And many Patriots will use those numbers to back up the argument.

But Brady is far from perfect in his Super Bowl runs. Montana, on the other hand, was almost untouchable.

For starters, let’s look at Brady’s Super Bowl numbers from all seven appearances:

Super Bowl Stats Table
Passing
Year SB Tm Opp Result Cmp Att Yds TD Int Lng Rate
2001 XXXVI NWE STL W, 20-17 16 27 145 1 0 23 86.2
2003 XXXVIII NWE CAR W, 32-29 32 48 354 3 1 52 100.5
2004 XXXIX NWE PHI W, 24-21 23 33 236 2 0 27 110.2
2007 XLII NWE NYG L, 14-17 29 48 266 1 0 19 82.5
2011 XLVI NWE NYG L, 17-21 27 41 276 2 1 21 91.1
2014 XLIX NWE SEA W, 28-24 37 50 328 4 2 23 101.1
2016 LI NWE ATL W, 34-28 43 62 466 2 1 28 95.2
Career 7 207 309 2071 15 5 52 95.3
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/6/2017.

And now the same for Montana:

Super Bowl Stats Table
Passing
Year SB Tm Opp Result Cmp Att Yds TD Int Lng Rate
1981 XVI SFO CIN W, 26-21 14 22 157 1 0 22 100.0
1984 XIX SFO MIA W, 38-16 24 35 331 3 0 40 127.2
1988 XXIII SFO CIN W, 20-16 23 36 357 2 0 44 115.2
1989 XXIV SFO DEN W, 55-10 22 29 297 5 0 38 147.6
Career 4 83 122 1142 11 0 44 127.8
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2017.

There are two key stats to look at here — passer rating and interceptions. Brady’s 95.3 mark is more than commendable. But Montana’s 127.8 is inconceivable.

And those picks? Brady has five now. Montana has yet to record one. And unless he applies for reinstatement, that number will never be blemished.

Can’t beat that.

Advantage: Montana
Feb 3, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; General view of the Pro Football Hall of Fame bust of Joe Montana at the NFL Experience at the Moscone Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 3, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; General view of the Pro Football Hall of Fame bust of Joe Montana at the NFL Experience at the Moscone Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Verdict

Joe Montana versus Tom Brady. 49ers versus Patriots. It’s a game we only wish we could see.

Both quarterbacks had signature drives. For Montana, it was the game-winning drive against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII:

For Brady, the overtime game-winning drive against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI might earn the same nod when we look back at this 20 years from now:

OK, so both quarterbacks have great moments.

But let’s go back to our counter. According to the criteria, Montana still edges out Brady three to two.

Sure, this is going to anger some Patriots fans, and maybe some NFL pundits too. But who cares? They’re both GOATS from different eras.

Quarterbacking GOAT: Joe Montana

If you need a convincer, just ask Brady what he thought of Montana (h/t David Fucillo of Niners Nation):

Well, I don’t ever see myself like him. He was a so spectacular and I think he’s in a league of his own. … He was a winner. Every time he took the field, it felt like the 49ers were gonna win. And I remember rooting for that team when Joe was playing quarterback, and you always felt like they were going to win, no matter who they were playing, where they were playing at.

Niner Noise might be giving Montana the GOAT, but we’re a 49ers site. Come on, what would you expect?

But the modern NFL era’s GOAT is Brady. No doubting that any longer. And Montana was clearly the GOAT of his time, especially when considering some of the guys he beat in the Super Bowl (John Elway, Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason).

Both made it look easy too, and that’s another reason why we should enjoy what we’re witnessing right now and fondly recollect what fans saw during the 1980s and early 90s.

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