Josh Schrock

Tom Brady idolized, then surpassed 49ers' Joe Montana in GOAT debate

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Tom Brady idolized, then surpassed 49ers' Joe Montana in GOAT debate

Growing up in San Mateo, Tom Brady was a huge fan of Joe Montana. He was at Candlestick Park to witness "The Catch" and saw Montana play his final game with the 49ers.

Decades later, Brady and Montana sit alone as the two greatest quarterbacks of all time. The debate will go on long after all of us have turned to dirt, with neither side giving an inch even as the apocalypse inches closer. That's just how sports and tribalism work.

But there are no sports and "The Last Dance" has left us all debating hypothetical matchups, top 10 lists, GOATS and who knows what else until we're blue in the face. So, let's take a brief and relatively painless look at why the San Mateo kid -- who once idolized Montana and similarly chose to finish his career on his own terms -- caught and passed the 49ers legend as the greatest of all-time.

Montana's credentials are well known. Joe Cool went 4-0 in Super Bowls and was a three-time Super Bowl MVP. He threw for 40,551 yards, 273 touchdowns and had a 92.3 passer rating. More important than the numbers, Montana was calm, cool and collected under pressure.

With Montana under center, the 49ers were never out of a game. That includes the 92-yard drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. Montana rarely made mistakes when it mattered. In the 1988 and 1989 playoffs, Montana threw 19 touchdowns and only one interception.

There's a reason he was the unquestioned GOAT until recently, but Brady's comeback from the 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI gave him a lead that he won't relinquish.

Brady has gone to nine Super Bowls and won six of them. In those three losses, the New England Patriots defense gave up two game-winning drives to Eli Manning and was torched by Nick Foles. Playing in a passer-friendly era, Brady's stats dwarf Montana's. Brady has 219 regular-season wins and 30 postseason wins. He has thrown 541 career touchdown passes. Brady has also thrown for 11,179 yards in the postseason, besting Peyton Manning by almost 4,000 yards and beating Montana by more than 5,000.

Plus, Brady has done more with less during his career. While Montana got to play alongside the likes of Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark and Roger Craig, Brady got limited time with Randy Moss and has had to win with an average group of pass-catchers -- outside of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch were decent NFL receivers, but that's a lot less than a lot of marquee quarterbacks are given to win Super Bowls.

At age 41, Brady threw for 4,355 yards and won the Super Bowl. This past season, with almost no offensive help, he threw for 4,057 yards. The Patriots won at least 12 games 12 times in the Brady era and won the AFC East a whopping 17 times (due to a combination of the Patriots' greatness and the lack of quality opponents in the division).

[RELATED: NFL history would have been different if Bears drafted Montana]

Heading toward age 43, Brady followed in Montana's footsteps and left the only team he has ever known, choosing to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason. Montana, Manning and Brett Favre are the only legendary quarterbacks to switch teams late in their career and find success, with only Manning winning a title thanks to a vaunted Denver Broncos defense.

Montana was successful during his final run with the Kansas City Chiefs but failed to win a title.

Debating greatness across eras is relatively pointless. Those who watched Montana in his heyday will undoubtedly claim he's the GOAT no matter how many titles Brady wins, just as grandparents everywhere scold their grandkids for thinking LeBron James is in the same conversation with Michael Jordan.

Brady watched Montana and dreamed of doing what his idol did on Sundays. Then, he went out and eclipsed him.

Tom Brady might not say it. But I will.

What Warriors' Steph Curry needs do to join top-10 NBA players ever

What Warriors' Steph Curry needs do to join top-10 NBA players ever

During his two MVP seasons, Steph Curry was one of the most transcendent talents the NBA has ever seen. The greatest shooter in league history forever altered the way the game of basketball is played.

Kids used to want to "be like Mike," soaring through the air for an acrobatic dunk. Now, they wish to pull up from anywhere on the hardwood and drain a dagger 3-pointer ala Curry.

Curry already is the best player under 6-foot-3 in NBA history. He passed Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas and Jerry West during his meteoric rise to the top of the game. He's already, according to my very scientific list, a top 20 all-time player.

But the top 10 is rarified air. It's reserved for the undisputed greats. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and the like. It's a group that's hard to crack into, with the guardians of basketball history always standing watch.

It's an almost impossible group to enter. In order to do so, you must not only have a lasting impact on the game -- which Curry undoubtedly has -- but you must also have unimpeachable credentials when it matters most.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

To be clear, the "Curry hasn't performed well in The Finals" narrative is tired and lazy. But he also hasn't always played his best when the lights are brightest.

The 2015 NBA Finals MVP going to Andre Iguodala isn’t important. What likely will matter is the fact that -- even in the loss -- LeBron James was the best player in that series, as he was in the 2016 Finals when Curry and the Warriors blew a three-games-to-one lead.

Kevin Durant undoubtedly was the best player in both the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals. The injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson played a factor in the Warriors' loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals, but Curry once again was outplayed by Kawhi Leonard. The difference between being the No. 11 player of all-time and No. 8 is razor-thin, so these things will matter.

To be clear, Curry was very good in the 2019 Finals with Durant missing all but a quarter and Thompson missing Game 3 before tearing his ACL in Game 6. Curry averaged 30.5 points per game, 6.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He scored 47 points in Game 3 and forced the Raptors to use a box-and-1 defense to try and contain him. Curry did just about all he could to will the Warriors to a title and keep the dynasty alive.

But he didn't hit the shot to breathe life back into the dynasty. With fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Curry had a good look at a 3-pointer that would have given the Warriors the lead, sent the series to Game 7 and silenced all the doubters who believe Curry fails to deliver in the biggest moments.

Yet the ball clanged off the back of the rim and the Warriors' dynasty, as it was currently constructed, was no more.

In fact, Curry is 0-for-8 on go-ahead shots with fewer than 20 seconds to go in his NBA playoff career.

When debating the best of the best, all of that matters. All those above him have had their moments. Jordan had a number of game-winners. James erased a three-games-to-one deficit against one of the greatest teams of all-time. Magic's skyhook in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals will live on forever. The list goes on.

Another hurdle Curry will have clear is proving he can once again win a title without Durant. Yes, Curry led the Warriors to the 2015 title. But after blowing a three-games-to-one lead in 2016 and falling to the Raptors last season, questions will remain about Curry's ability to carry a team to the title if Durant's not there.

The 2015 title is often viewed with a blemish with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers playing short-handed without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

[RELATED: Warriors' end better than 'maddening' finale for MJ, Bulls]

There are no knocks on Curry. To be considered a top-10 player of all-time is an honor you must earn by proving you are better than some of the greats that came before you. Curry already has cracked the top 20 and perhaps even the top 15. His impact on the game of basketball never will be forgotten, and he'll finish his career as one of the best statistical players ever. Full stop.

But he still has work to do to reach the pinnacle. Perhaps he won't reach it. No player under 6-foot-5 is in the top 10. It's almost universally reserved for dominant post players or transcendent wings capable of hauling a team to a title.

Curry won't ever have the usage rate of a James Harden. The Warriors don't play that way, and he doesn't want to. He's the embodiment of an unselfish superstar, willing to do whatever is needed to win.

But he'll need to win again, without KD, and do so as the most impactful player in The Finals. That doesn't mean win Finals MVP, a subjective award that has been given to the wrong player a number of times. Curry must lead the Warriors back to the title and have a Finals moment that has eluded him thus far.

Only then will he be allowed into the NBA's hallowed ground.

Why hypothetical Odell Beckham Jr.-Raiders trade is perfect 2021 move

Why hypothetical Odell Beckham Jr.-Raiders trade is perfect 2021 move

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports Bay Area will theorize hypothetical front-office acquisitions for each of our teams. Today, we examine a potential move the Raiders could make.

The 2020 Raiders are all but set after adding cornerback Prince Amukamara. The Silver and Black added a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, and loaded up on offense in the draft, setting quarterback Derek Carr up for what could be a career year during the inaugural season in Las Vegas.

I expect the Raiders to be better in 2020, but there still will be room for improvement after Jon Gruden's third season back.

That leads me to a hypothetical trade idea for the 2021 offseason, one the Raiders might be hesitant to pull the trigger on but one that could complete the offensive overhaul. I've been on the record as saying the Raiders should never again trade for a wide receiver after the Antonio Brown fiasco. But ... I just can't help myself. If the Cleveland Browns' 2020 season goes up in flames and Odell Beckham Jr. wants out of the Dawg Pound, Gruden would be salivating at the opportunity to "let it fly" with the three-time Pro Bowl selection in silver and black.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

The trade

Browns send: WR Odell Beckham Jr., 2021 second-round pick

Raiders send: 2021 first-round pick, 2021 third-round pick and G Gabe Jackson

This hypothetical trade assumes a few things. The first is that Carr proves he is the long-term answer at quarterback in 2020 and the Raiders no longer have worry about the most important position in sports. The second it assumes is that the Silver and Black will cut ties with Tyrell Williams and Lamarcus Joyner after 2020, taking all of Williams' salary off the books and being only dinged $2.5 million for cutting Joyner.

With at least that $20 million off the books, plus Jackson's $9.3 million going to Cleveland, the Raiders easily could take on Beckham's contract. This also takes into account that rookie guard John Simpson has proven he can take over for Jackson, and the Raiders send the high-priced guard to Cleveland where he can slot in and help complete the Browns' offensive line rebuild.

Yes, Beckham is outspoken and brash, but he's never been a problem in the way Antonio Brown was and continues to be. Beckham, by all accounts, was a valued member of the Giants' locker room and his work ethic and desire to play through injury quickly won over his Browns teammates.

Beckham, 27, is one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL and he comes at a relatively modest price for a star wide receiver at $15.75 million in 2021 and $15 million in 2022 and 2023.

If Carr is able to make another leap in Year 3 in Gruden's system, then adding a No. 1 receiver of Beckham's caliber would take the Raiders' offense from good to great.

An offensive skill group that includes Beckham, Henry Ruggs, Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow would be one of the most loaded offensive attacks in the NFL.

When healthy, Beckham is a top-five receiver in the NFL. His ability to stretch the field vertically and occupy the defense's attention would undoubtedly give Ruggs, Waller, Renfrow and Edwards more room to operate. It also gives Carr a bonafide No. 1 receiver to go to at key points in the game, while relieving some pressure from Ruggs to be that guy immediately.

Admittedly, the first- and third-round picks were a steep price to pay, but getting a second-round pick back lessens the blow and it's a talent like Beckham is hard to come by.

Everyone is chasing the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver Broncos edge rusher Von Miller put it best when saying you can't stop the Chiefs' offense, you just have to get lucky on defense and then outscore them.

In order to do that, you need explosive offensive weapons who can change the course of the game in an instant. The Raiders added a few this offseason in Ruggs and Edwards. They have a top-tier tight end in Waller and a feature back in Jacobs. But they are missing a weapon of Beckham's caliber, one that could truly give them an arsenal to match the firepower the Chiefs bring to the table.

[RELATED: Edwards' highlight reel shows Raiders WR's sky-high ceiling]

In his five healthy seasons, Beckham is averaging 84 catches, 1,241 yards and nine touchdowns. Four of those came with an aging Eli Manning at quarterback and last year a sports hernia injury hampered Beckham as he put up mediocre numbers for an underperforming Browns team.

Carr hasn't had a receiver approach Beckham's averages since Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree both did so in 2016. Waller did catch 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three scores last season as the top receiving option, but you need that production on the outside as well to be a truly dynamic offense.

This underscores the lack of dynamic receiving options Carr has during his career, something that is essential to close the gap on the Chiefs.

You might shudder at trading for another high-priced receiver. That's an understandable reaction. But Beckham doesn't come with Brown's baggage. He'll come in, work his tail off and be the final piece of Gruden's offensive puzzle. But a few things have to fall into place first.