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Hurley: Tom Brady Has Somehow Become Underrated In Boston

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- It's hard to say exactly when it happened, but Tom Brady has become underrated.

Yes, the man who's done it all and then done it all again, the man who's talked about incessantly, the man whose brand is becoming ubiquitous, and the man who's vaulted to the top of nearly every all-time list can be considered underrated.

Hear me out.

For his work at age 40, Brady earned himself a league MVP award and was voted by his peers as the best player in the entire league. One might look at such accolades and say, "Ay, yes, for sure, Brady is properly rated." On those points, that's true.

But somewhere along the line of this wild 20-year ride, Brady has become more than just an athlete in Boston. He's become sort of a topic unto himself. Sports radio hosts can talk about the Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox or Patriots ... or they could talk about Brady. Between the diets and exercises and cookbooks and Oprah interviews, every single word uttered by the Patriots' quarterback becomes a debate topic, both locally and nationally. His relationship with the coach, with the backup quarterback, with the training staff, with Alex Guerrero, with his wife, with his receivers -- it's all scrutinized at a level like no other.

Part of that is certainly due to his position, part of it has to do with the insane popularity of the Patriots, and part of that is Brady's own doing, with his documentaries and his interview appearances and whatnot. This isn't necessarily a finger-wagging exercise.

It is, though, perhaps a reminder to some that we occasionally lose sight of Tom Brady, the football player. And this week's ranking at No. 1 in the NFL's Top 100 can serve as sort of a kick in the buns to remind anyone who may be glossing over how historically great Brady has been late in his career, and how unprecedented it has been for a player of his age.

When Brady takes the field in September, he'll be looking to author the greatest season a 41-year-old quarterback has ever had in the NFL. He'll be coming off the best-ever season for a 40-year-old quarterback, which of course came after the greatest season for a 39-year-old quarterback.

While Brady's age has received plenty of attention in recent years, the Top 100 list again provides some context. Since the list debuted in 2011, Brady has ranked in the top four every single year. And a glance at the top 20 back in 2011 puts into perspective just how long this dominance extends:

NFL's Top 100 in 2011
1. Tom Brady
2. Peyton Manning (retired)
3. Adrian Peterson
4. Ray Lewis (retired)
5. Ed Reed (retired)
6. Troy Polamalu (retired)
7. Andre Johnson (retired)
8. Darrelle Revis (potentially retired)
9. Drew Brees
10. Julius Peppers
11. Aaron Rodgers
12. DeMarcus Ware (retired)
13. Chris Johnson
14. Larry Fitzgerald
15. Dwight Freeney (retired)
16. Charles Woodson (retired)
17. Haloti Ngata
18. Nnamdi Asomugha (retired)
19. Clay Matthews
20. Michael Vick (retired)

NFL players deemed Brady to be the very best player in the league in 2011, and 11 of the top 20 players from that year are now retired. Most of those players who are still active are not nearly as impactful as they once were.

Look at the next two years:

NFL's Top 100 in 2012
1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Drew Brees
3. Calvin Johnson (retired)
4. Tom Brady
5. Darrelle Revis (potentially retired)
6. DeMarcus Ware (retired)
7. Larry Fitzgerald
8. Adrian Peterson
9. Haloti Ngata
10. Patrick Willis (retired)
11. Terrell Suggs
12. Maurice Jones-Drew (retired)
13. Jared Allen (retired)
14. Jimmy Graham
15. Andre Johnson
16. Ed Reed (retired)
17. Justin Smith (retired)
18. LeSean McCoy
19. Troy Polamalu (retired)
20. Ray Lewis (retired)

NFL's Top 100 in 2013
1. Adrian Peterson
2. Peyton Manning (retired)
3. Calvin Johnson (retired)
4. Tom Brady
5. J.J. Watt
6. Aaron Rodgers
7. Aldon Smith (out of league)
8. Arian Foster (retired)
9. Von Miller
10. Patrick Willis (retired)
11. Drew Brees
12. DeMarcus Ware (retired)
13. Ray Rice (retired)
14. Andre Johnson
15. Robert Griffin III
16. A.J. Green
17. Matt Ryan
18. Ed Reed (retired)
19. Joe Flacco
20. Jamaal Charles

That's 10 out of 20 players in 2012 and eight out of 20 in 2013, all gone from the league.

And even those players who have not retired have failed to maintain Brady's level of consistent dominance. Cam Newton was No. 1 in 2016; he was No. 44 in 2017 and No. 25 in 2018. Aaron Rodgers was No. 1 in 2012; he's ranked outside the top 10 twice and outside the top five in six of the other seven seasons. Drew Brees ranked second in 2012; he finished 30th in both 2015 and 2016, finished 16th in 2017, and has not touched the top five since 2012. DeMarco Murray was No. 3 in 2015; he was 33rd in 2017 and didn't make the list at all in 2016 and 2018.

You get the idea. Other NFL superstars undergo ebbs and flows to their careers, whether it be due to injury, performance, age, or anything else. To do so is normal. But Brady has kept himself immune from any such decline, somehow the only NFL player able to do that.

Obviously, a subjective list compiled by votes of NFL players is not scientific, but those top-four rankings for Brady are not by accident, and his back-to-back rankings at No. 1 were well-earned. His on-field numbers back it all up.

Again, his stats are well-known, but just to reiterate: From age 37 through age 40, in the regular season and postseason combined, Brady completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 157 touchdowns and 35 interceptions. The Patriots have gone 57-14 in that time, including two Super Bowl wins and another conference championship.

In September 2017, on a scorching hot day that left most of his peers extremely fatigued, the 40-year-old Brady turned in what arguably was his greatest single-game performance ever: 378 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions. The game ended with what was essentially a walk-off winning touchdown.

His performance dipped a bit in the final weeks of the regular season (six touchdowns, four interceptions in four games), which invited all of the "age catching up to him" storylines to resurface. But he recovered rather nicely in the postseason, when he completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,132 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. He did that despite suffering a nasty gash on his throwing hand prior to the AFC Championship Game.

Again, these things are known. They're stats. They've been discussed. He's received his awards. He almost won a third Super Bowl in four years. We get it.

It's just that the entire offseason has seemingly been all about Tom Brady for reasons having very little to do with the football field. Does he hate his coach? Is he holding out to stick it to Bill? Why is he pleading the fifth?Is the standoff with the team impossible to overcome? Is he going to retire? Should he be vilified for retiring because the team traded away Jimmy Garoppolo? How scripted was the Vogue interview with Gisele? What's his Instagram comment mean? Why's he talking to Oprah? What's Jim Gray doing there? Why's he working out only with Julian Edelman? What was that Monaco trip all about if he's dedicating his offseason to his family?

Maybe it's mostly a media thing, but that does seem to be a fair digest of everything that's been delivered to fans over the past six months. It's constant, and it's seemingly never-ending. It overlooks some pretty important matters. And it's all tangentially at best related to football.

While we all are aware of how good Brady is on the football field, the ranking this week served as a bit of a stone-cold reminder of just how good he has been and continued to be for the Patriots. Even with someone like Brady, that type of historic performance can occasionally get lost in the shuffle.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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