Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 2/2/15

It is often said football is a game of inches, but it arguably is even more a game of miles if anything. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

By Sam Quinn

The date is Jan. 1, 2014. That date is symbolic in Tampa Bay, 1,162.35 miles away from Foxborough, Massachusetts, as the Buccaneers have decided to take their franchise in a new direction by hiring Lovie Smith as their head coach. The choice is puzzling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Smith’s defensive scheme. Lovie strongly prefers zone defenses, the one weakness in the otherwise flawless skill set of cornerback Darrelle Revis. Rather than paying Revis $16 million and forfeiting a third round pick to the New York Jets (whose trade with Tampa Bay made this whole situation possible to begin with), the Buccaneers chose to release Revis into free agency, where he signed with the New England Patriots.

Let’s jump to May 10, 2014. The NFL draft is being held in New York City (195.4 miles from Foxborough), and three teams have decided to select centers with draft picks before the Patriots select at No. 105 in the fourth round. At that slot, the Patriots select Florida State’s Bryan Stork, the man who helped solidify their offensive line after their Week 4 debacle in Kansas City (1,430.1 miles from Foxborough). Only Weston Richburg, selected by the Giants, started more games among that group than Stork, and he wasn’t nearly as effective.

And then there’s Nov. 18, 2014. In Pittsburgh (568.8 miles away from Foxborough), Steelers management has decided that they are fed up with the immature and lazy behavior of running back LeGarrette Blount. Pittsburgh, which would later prove to be one of New England’s biggest threats in the AFC, lost its star running back Le’Veon Bell to injury in Week 17. His replacement was starting for the Patriots, helping them reach Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale (2,688.9 miles away from Foxborough).

We could go on like this forever. The list of dates and distances it took to get the New England Patriots from training camp to a championship is painstakingly long and filled with the footnotes of everyone else’s failures. I don’t say this to detract from what New England did — far from it. The Patriots were the best team because they capitalized on the right opportunities to build, sustain, and retool their team throughout the season and that statement would be no less true if they’d lost Super Bowl XLIX to Seattle.

I say it to prove a point: It is really freaking hard to win the Super Bowl, any Super Bowl, and it comes down to so much more than even what your own team controls. It comes down to mistakes made in Tampa in January, or bad draft choices sent to New York in May. It comes down to Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas getting hurt the game before you have to play them and Cliff Avril and Jeremy Lane joining them mid-game. It comes down to finding the right pieces out of nowhere, paying to keep the pieces that came out of somewhere, and hoping that Pete Carroll decides not to run it on second-and-goal with Marshawn Lynch.

This is true of New England, and it would’ve been true of Seattle as well. Had the Seahawks won it would have been because they found the perfect practice squad player in Chris Matthews to exploit New England’s non-Revis corners, because Tampa (surprise surprise) didn’t want to pay Michael Bennett, because the Jets and Patriots didn’t put enough faith in Pete Carroll when they had the chance and because every team in the league failed to put that faith in Russell Wilson when they had the chance. It would have been because Brandon Bostick dropped an onside kick, Carolina let Steve Smith walk in the offseason and therefore couldn’t throw deep against them in the playoffs, and because Dallas lost a seemingly ordinary Monday night game against Washington in October that gift-wrapped home-field advantage for them.

We call football a game of inches, but really, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a game of miles, the miles between Jacksonville and San Francisco when one team’s release creates an opportunity for the other. It’s a game where one mistake in the fifth week of the season can alter the entire landscape of the playoffs, where one injury to one team can swing entire game plans, where even the tiniest decisions and outcomes and breaks can have ripple effects that change entire seasons. There’s no other sport where that happens. There’s no other sport that combines the small sample size of a 16-game season with the sort of violence necessary to ensure no team is ever really at full strength, the impossible perfectionism needed to assemble 53 players on one roster and the one-game playoff format that can end your season on a single misstep, a single injury, a since choice, a single break.

Let’s consider a very realistic scenario. Instead of Lovie Smith, let’s say Tampa Bay hired popular (at the time) head coaching candidate Adam Gase. Let’s say Gase hired a traditional defensive coordinator, and let’s say that defensive coordinator decided he had a use for the best man-coverage corner in football. Then let’s say Aqib Talib leaves New England at the altar in free agency just as he does in real life, the Patriots refuse to acquiesce to the long-term demands of other free agent cornerbacks, and have to go into the season with Brandon Browner and Logan Ryan as their starters. Under that scenario, the Patriots likely don’t win the Super Bowl. Yet they had no control over Tampa Bay’s decision. Their championship hinged on what happened to another team. The same goes for Pittsburgh’s release of Blount or the draft mistakes that handed them Bryan Stork or even the mistakes 15 years ago that gave them Tom Brady.

To cut the pretense, Brady, and really the quarterback position in general, is the reason I’m writing this. I’m worried that people’s opinions of him will drastically change simply because he’s won another Super Bowl. That somehow the fact that he has four Super Bowl rings instead of three means he’s undoubtedly the greatest quarterback of all time, that his one win in this one game somehow changes the 15 years of professional football he’d played before it, or that it could do the same for any quarterback. It perpetuates this really dumb notion that the reason a team wins the Super Bowl is one player. Not the millions of little breaks it took to get them here, not the other 52 players that dressed for this game or hundreds who’d shared his uniform in the past, not the legendary coach on his sideline or brilliant owner watching above. No. The mere fact that Tom Brady has won four Super Bowls somehow makes him the best quarterback of all time, as if credit for team success really should go to one man.

Championships are fickle. They hinge on so many things that no one man can control all or even many of them. What if Pete Carroll had run with Marshawn Lynch on second-and-goal and what if he scored? Would Brady have played any differently in the 59-and-a-half minutes beforehand? No, but would our perception of him be different? Yes. What if Revis never came, Blount was never released or Cleveland never fired Bill Belichick?

What Tom Brady does on the field should determine how he is perceived, just as the same should be true of any player. He affects how his team performs, but he also benefits from it. The Patriots wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without Brady, but Brady wouldn’t have won it without the Patriots.

It’s not a coincidence that Brady’s defense has been ranked sixth, first, second, and eighth in scoring defense in the years in which he’s won championships. It’s also not a coincidence that in the years he hasn’t his defense has been ranked an average of between 14th and 15th. It’s also not a coincidence that the year Peyton Manning won was the year Brady was throwing to Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. It matters that the Seahawks played a Super Bowl at full health against Denver when the Broncos were missing Ryan Clady, Chris Harris, Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, and Derek Wolfe (“the B team“) and also went into their Super Bowl against the Patriots missing Brandon Mebane and Paul Richardson, lost Cliff Avril and Jeremy Lane early on, and played with a hobbled Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, not to mention having made the choice to walk away from Percy Harvin.

These are things that are totally out of the control of individual players, so why do we insist upon assigning credit or blame for them? Why can’t individuals be judged for their own ability while teams are judged for wins and losses? Why can’t we acknowledge that so many things go into winning a Super Bowl that the idea that handing the acclaim to one player is just utterly ridiculous?

What bothers me most is that there’s now absolutely no chance we’ll ever be able to fairly judge Brady again. It’s not an argument I subscribe to (I stand firmly behind Aaron Rodgers), but there is a legitimate case for Tom Brady to be the best quarterback of all time. It’s just utterly stupid to build that case around the fact that he’s done something four times that comes down to so much more than just one individual player.

The date is Jan. 24, 2016. In Denver, 1,970.4 miles away from Foxborough, Peyton Manning throws three touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas en route to a 31–21 AFC Championship Game victory over New England. Thomas spends the game covered by Logan Ryan. Darrelle Revis is a Buffalo Bill after New England declines the $25 million team option on his contract for the 2015 season. The game is in Denver because, for the first time in Manning’s Broncos tenure, the schedule makers have sent the Patriots-Broncos regular season tilt to Denver, giving them enough of an edge to win the game and secure the tiebreaker necessary to hold home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Rob Gronkowski is hobbled by a leg injury suffered in Week 11 against the Cowboys. Denver running back C.J. Anderson runs for 129 yards to cap off a Pro Bowl season, and does it largely behind rookie right tackle Tyrus Thompson, taken in the third round of the draft. And the story will still be about Manning vs. Brady —maybe for the last time — about rings won and lost and historical context and how whichever man is better on this given day will be the reason his team wins. Not the thousands of miles it took to get to this point in the first place.

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.


NASCAR actually named a race 'Roseanne 300'

Sister Jean’s bracket has Loyola losing in Sweet Sixteen

Colts interested in Mike Pouncey

Dan Hurley brushes off talk of other jobs after Rhode Island loss

Report: Jets talked to Browns about first pick before moving up to No. 3


Coach K honors Pat Summitt after passing her on wins list

Jim Boeheim fiercely defends Tony Bennett after Virginia loss

Ted Cruz: Unlike the Warriors, his Rockets will visit President Trump at the White House

Marshawn Lynch likely to remain with the Raiders

Report: Buccaneers sign DE Vinny Curry

Jairus Lyles brushes aside question about DMs

Sports & Politics Intersect: Presidential sports coverage from coast-to-coast

The 'Braves new world' quiz

NHL Weekender: Kings, Avs pushing their way into the postseason

10 biggest takeaways from Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action

Jamal Murray's heel turn is exactly what the Nuggets need

Top 10 players at every MLB position for the 2018 season

Women discuss breaking barriers in sports and in life at San Jose State University

Why Trae Young will be an NBA star

Teams to watch and avoid in the 2018 tournament

Under-the-radar NCAA Tourney prospects

Why you should watch this year's NCAA Tournament

Why you shouldn't watch this year's NCAA Tournament

Patriots News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Sports & Politics Intersect: Presidential sports coverage from coast-to-coast

The 'Braves new world' quiz

NHL Weekender: Kings, Avs pushing their way into the postseason

Top 10 players at every MLB position for the 2018 season

Jamal Murray's heel turn is exactly what the Nuggets need

The '30 for #30' quiz

Why you should watch this year's NCAA Tournament

Why you shouldn't watch this year's NCAA Tournament

Marc-Andre Fleury's resurgence in the desert

Top 50 MLB prospects for 2018 and beyond

For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker