Back in 2001, the New England Patriots turned to a young quarterback in a time of need, and it led to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win.
Two decades later, Bill Belichick and company are doing the same thing, and they’re hoping for the same end result.
Tom Brady’s meteoric rise to stardom began in the midst of that 2001 season when he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe, taking over a starting job that he wouldn’t relinquish for 19 years.
Fast-forward to 2021, and Brady’s still playing at a top-tier level. He has won seven Super Bowls (six with the Patriots and one in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and doesn’t appear to be showing signs that he’ll be stopping anytime soon.
Meanwhile, up in Massachusetts, the Patriots are rolling with Mac Jones under center, starting a rookie at quarterback for the first time in Belichick’s long tenure with the franchise.
Through Jones’ first 12 starts, his team actually seems like a threat to make an appearance in Super Bowl LVI come February.
Naturally, those in New England are likening Jones’ success to Brady’s first season as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, much to the chagrin of fanbases around the country.
Many scoff at the idea of comparing statistics from two different eras in the NFL’s long history, especially given the plethora of rule changes that have popped up over the last five or 10 years.
Some, especially those on Brady’s side after his and Belichick’s untimely divorce, are taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping that Jones’ rookie campaign ends before any potential Super Bowl appearance could even take place.
But, more than halfway through the 2021 season, it’s tough to ignore the similarities between Brady’s monumental 2001 stretch and Jones’ first year in the league.
Before the Patriots’ 25-0 win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11, the NFL posted a side-by-side comparison of Jones’ first 10 games and Brady’s first 10 starts from that 2001 campaign.
While Brady recorded one more win in that 10-game span (seven vs. six), Jones had a higher completion percentage, along with the fact that he averaged more passing yards per game.
Brady’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was better, but their interception totals were equal through 10 games, and their passing ratings were almost identical (Brady’s 94.5 edged out Jones’ 94.1).
A few weeks later, Boston Sports Info on Twitter compared Jones’ and Brady’s first 381 passes after the Patriots’ Week 12 win over the Tennessee Titans.
Jones had 18 more completions, leading to a six-percent rise in completion percentage, and he had put up 234 more passing yards.
Brady had thrown one more touchdown, but also gave up two more interceptions than Jones.
From an equal volume perspective, Jones got the nod on that front.
Even if you stray away from statistics because of how different NFL games from 2001 look in comparison to 2021, it’s tough to argue with a guy who played against Brady’s Patriots twice during that 2001 season.
Former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, who led his team to a Super Bowl win in 2000 and went up against Brady during both the 2001 regular season and that year’s Super Bowl, seemed to side with the new generation in the great Brady-Jones debate.
“Well I mean, if you’re going to go back to that season, I would say you’re getting more from Mac Jones than you got from Tom Brady,” Warner said in an interview with Rich Eisen.
“Brady was really a placeholder that first year,” Warner continued. “Even in the Super Bowl, Brady threw for  yards in that game where they beat us. It was really built on defense and running the football. Mac, he’s not in that same mode. Yes they’re running the football well, but they’re putting a lot on his shoulders and they’re asking him to make plays.”
Now, let’s not get it twisted. No one is guaranteeing that Mac Jones is going to go on and win seven Super Bowls throughout his career because of a statistical comparison that only spans 12 games.
No one is saying Mac Jones is going to be better than arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, and who knows if he could’ve even done what Brady wound up doing in 2001.
The two even went head-to-head in the early stages of the 2021 season, and Brady came out on top in that closely-contested battle.
But, on the 20-year anniversary of one of the most important seasons in Patriots history, it’s tough to not think about what the rookie will be able to do in Bill Belichick’s system, considering the success Brady had over the span of two decades.
If Jones can keep up his impressive pace throughout the rest of the 2021 season, and if he can maintain that momentum over the years to come, then those comparisons to the G.O.A.T. will only get more and more interesting to follow.