New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had an unparalleled career. He’s made the playoffs in 15 of his 16 years as a starter, set numerous passing records, won five Super Bowls, and three regular season MVP awards. This article could probably be 1,000 words just listing his career accomplishments. With such a storied career, trying to sort his seasons from best to worst is a fool’s errand. Nonetheless, here is the first installment of the Ranking Tom Brady’s Seasons series. Note that this list won’t include the 2000 or 2008 seasons due to lack of sample size.
Ranking Tom Brady’s Seasons: 13-16
Number 16: The 2009 Season
Stats: 65.7 percent completion percentage; 4,398 yards; 28 touchdowns; 13 interceptions
Season result: 10-6, Lost to the Baltimore Ravens in Wild Card Round
A lot of quarterbacks would consider this a career year, but this was the worst year for Brady as a starter. Brady never looked like himself in 2009, as the rust from his 2008 ACL injury never truly wore off. While throwing 28 touchdowns is an incredible feat, 10 of those came in two games. Remove that, and he threw a far more pedestrian 18 touchdowns in 14 games.
Additionally, he put up yards, but that had as much to do with the receivers as anything. A good chunk of his yards came from throwing quick dump offs to Wes Welker or blind prayers to Randy Moss. This was a Brady that locked in on targets instead of the surgical quarterback the world is used to seeing.
Essentially, he was a reflection of that team. The old core of the first dynasty had either grown old, retired or left the team. Most of the pieces for the new dynasty wouldn’t arrive until 2010 or later, so this was a team in transition. Every now and again, the team showed its old form, but overall this team was only slightly above average, just like Brady’s season.
Number 15: The 2002 Season
Stats: 62.1 percent completion percentage; 3,764 yards; 28 touchdowns; 14 interceptions
Season result: 9-7, missed playoffs
Brady led the league in touchdown passes, and it was the second worst year of his career. Coming off an astonishing Super Bowl victory, the team was in something of a Super Bowl hangover. Brady carried more of the weight than in the previous season, throwing for 10 more touchdowns and 900 more yards than in 2001. More impressively, he did all of that with a seriously damaged throwing shoulder that would have kept him out of the playoffs.
So why doesn’t this rank higher? For one, Brady set his own bar too high, his other seasons were just plain better. But for another, this was the only Brady led squad to miss the playoffs. Most of that blame does fall on the team around him. Running back Antowain Smith had a bad year, and the defense wasn’t the same force it was in 2001. Nonetheless, Brady’s gone further with worse teams. Brady usually has a good overall team around him, but there have been years where he’s dragged some poor rosters to great success (see: 2006, 2011, 2013). In 2002, he wasn’t able to do that.
Number 14: The 2006 Season
Stats: 61.8 percent completion percentage; 3,529 yards; 24 touchdowns; 12 interceptions
Season Result: 12-4, lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game
His numbers were pedestrian, but that is entirely because of the pieces around him. After his favorite receiver Deion Branch left via trade, Brady was left with Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Tyler Gaffney, and a far past his prime Troy Brown. No quarterback could squeeze 30 touchdowns out of that group, and the fact Brady did as much as he did with those weapons is nothing short of amazing.
Still, relatively pedestrian numbers are below the norm for Brady, regardless of who he’s throwing to. Additionally, he didn’t play up to his typical lofty standards in the playoffs. Brady threw three picks in the AFC Divisional Round against the San Diego Chargers, including an ugly interception to Marlon McCree that could have ended the game. However, instead of just going down, McCree tried to run the ball back. Brown caused a fumble, Caldwell recovered, and Brady ended up saving the day. The next week against the Colts, Brady threw a game-ending interception to send the Patriots home and Peyton Manning to the Super Bowl.
Number 13: The 2013 Season
Stats: 60.5 percent completion percentage; 4,343 yards; 25 touchdowns; 11 interceptions
Season Result: 12-4, lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game
It’s amazing how much this season mirrors 2006. After Brady’s longtime favorite receiver left (Wes Welker), Brady was forced to work with a series of castoffs for the season. Just like in 2006, he made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to Peyton Manning.
So, why does this season rank above 2006? In 2006, Brady only lost Branch and David Givens. In 2013, Brady lost Welker, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Lloyd, and Aaron Hernandez. With Rob Gronkowski playing in just seven games due to injury, Brady had lost nearly every major contributor from the 2012 squad. Brady put up respectable stats throwing to a then-unproven Julian Edelman, a very hobbled Danny Amendola, and rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
Edelman’s presence alone makes this group more talented than 2006, but it’s still a pretty bare cupboard. However, when Gronkowski was on the field, Brady looked like his old self. That stretch alone, which included Brady’s 24-point comeback against Manning’s Broncos, put this season over the previous three. However, the rough first and last month of the season put this season in the 13 spot.
There they are, Brady’s four worst seasons. In these four seasons, Brady had gone to two AFC Championship games and led the league in touchdowns. Next week will feature Brady’s eighth-12th best seasons, so it’s only going to keep getting better.