KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tom Brady is the quintessential pocket passer, standing tall behind his offensive line and slinging the ball all over the place.
Patrick Mahomes is the kid in the schoolyard, scrambling around to buy time before chucking it downfield.
Two very different styles from two of the game's very best quarterbacks, each on display Sunday when Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face Mahomes and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
“This is going to be one of the great matchups in sports history,” said CBS Sports analyst and former NFL quarterback Tony Romo, who will help to call the game. “This matchup right here is what you talk about with your friends.”
Sure, the two quarterbacks will never actually face each other, only the opposing defense. But just as fans will be keen to see whether Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has a better game than Patriots counterpart Rob Gronkowski, or Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill produces more yards than Tampa Bay counterpart Mike Evans, the performances from Brady and Mahomes will be scrutinized long after one of them hoists the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.
In boxing, they say that styles make fights.
That might apply to quarterback, too.
Brady's style is a throwback to yesteryear, when quarterbacks snugged up under center for the snap, carefully dropped back in the pocket to survey the field, then went through their progressions before zipping a pass to the open man. And if nobody is there, he's perfectly happy flinging the ball into the stands and getting ready for the next play.
The old-school approach makes sense. Brady is 43 years old, after all.
“For a pass rusher to not have to deal with a guy who can escape the pocket or run away from you while you're chasing, that's the easy part of it,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “But it's actually a little harder for Brady because he gets the ball out so fast. In 2 seconds, he'll be getting off the ball — just do one move and the ball will be released.”
It's a style that has worked well during a career certain to land Brady in the Hall of Fame. He already has a record six Super Bowl rings, and he would join Peyton Manning as the only QBs to win a championship with multiple franchises.
The longtime Patriot also will have a chance to add to his Super Bowl career records for yards passing, touchdowns passing, completions and just about every other metric by which a quarterback's success can be measured.
“The biggest thing is his competitive drive,” Mahomes said. “He's the same way I am. He's going to leave everything on the field every single time. He's out there to win. He doesn't care if he has to throw for 400 yards or 100 yards. I have that same mentality. I just want to win no matter how it happens.”
Brady and Mahomes may be similar in that respect, but the 24-year-old Chiefs quarterback takes a different approach to it.
To start with, he is far more likely to operate out of the shotgun than under center, slapping his hands once to set his skill-position guys into crazy shifts and motions and again to call for the snap. He'll survey his options just like Brady, but when things break down, Mahomes will use his legs to buy time and his keen intellect to improvise on the fly.
He's brilliant at keeping his eyes downfield and making late throws. He's also dangerous when he tucks it and runs.
“They're the best when it comes to going off script,” Buccaneers defensive backs coach Kevin Ross said. “The only comp I would have to Mahomes is probably John Elway. He could sprint to his left or his right and throw back across the field, 70 yards on a rope. Patrick has that ability. You can't sleep on him.”
The metrics when plays break down perhaps best demonstrate the difference between the quarterbacks. Mahomes was fifth among all NFL players who took a snap this season with 40 scrambles, averaging more than seven yards each time he took off. Brady ranked 39th with four — yes, four — scrambles that net the Buccaneers exactly four yards.
“Pat likes to get around, be mobilized, get out of the pocket and extend plays. That works for him,” Tampa Bay safety Mike Edwards said. "He's got a lot of playmakers on his side of the ball and they like to run deep and extend plays.
“Tom is kind of different,” Edwards said. “He likes to stay in the pocket, pick apart the defense, exploit the safety and things like that. They're kind of two different styles, but they're two great quarterbacks. Two of the best in the league.”
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