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Dwight Freeney sacked dozens of different NFL quarterbacks throughout his 16-year NFL career, primarily spent with the Indianapolis Colts. So when the soon-to-be Hall of Famer was asked by Keyshawn Johnson on Johnson’s podcast, “All Facts No Brakes,” who were among the toughest quarterbacks for him to sack in his career, Freeney said his top choice would surprise some people.

“Tom Brady wasn’t easy,” Freeney said. “And the reason is because of how, from a system standpoint, they were getting rid of the ball in under two seconds. They knew the strength of our defense, and they knew what was going on. They said, ‘Look, I don’t care if you’re open or not, receiver, this ball is coming out.’

“I think when you’re playing against a guy like that, you better have your best move. And even if you have your best move dialed up, and you win on your best move, you still may not get there. It becomes very frustrating as a pass-rusher because you understand that this ball will not be in this man’s hand because he does not want to get sacked. I think he’s probably you know, one of the most underrated from that standpoint. People don’t talk about it enough.”

Freeney was often lined up opposite Brady’s offensive line during the height of the rivalry between Brady’s New England Patriots and Freeney’s Colts, which also featured another legendary quarterback in Peyton Manning. Brady and Manning were regarded as two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and often pitted against each from Brady’s first Super Bowl title in 2001 through Manning’s retirement in 2016. 

Brady, of course, went on to win three more Super Bowls and solidify his status as the greatest NFL quarterback ever before retiring for good in 2023. He will start his next career as the lead NFL analyst for FOX Sports this coming fall. 

Freeney’s history with Brady actually stretches back to their respective college days. Freeney’s first collegiate tackle at Syracuse was in a non-conference game against the Michigan Wolverines, who had just put in their backup quarterback — a young Tom Brady.

“And fast forward years later, I’m still playing against the dude,” Freeney said.

Freeney had another name to offer in response to Johnson’s question as well, saying the late Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was also difficult to sack for a very different reason than Brady.

“McNair was country strong,” Freeney said. “I would come around that corner, and I would hit him and I swear, I felt like he hit me back. I mean, it was like hitting a wall. The thing about him is he was also mobile, so he can also just be elusive and make you miss.

“When you’re trying to go and try to tackle that quarterback, you got to figure out what you’re gonna do, because you can go ahead and try to hit him as hard as you possibly can, but he’s gonna make you miss. So if you then say, ‘You know what, let me not go as hard as I can and try to wrap him up,’ then he’s gonna throw you off. Steve was a beast.”

Freeney said there are also two quarterbacks he wished he sacked but never got a chance to. One was Brett Farve, mainly due to Freeney’s limited opportunities against a quarterback who played most of his career in the NFC. The other was his old teammate Manning, again due to limited opportunities. When the Colts’ first-team defense would go up against their offense in practice, Freeney said if he got within five yards of Manning he would get “screamed at” by coaches not wanting to see their star quarterback get hurt.

Though Freeney never got a chance to sack Manning, his Colts teammate Robert Mathis did after the quarterback left Indianapolis for the Denver Broncos — and Mathis sent both Freeney and Manning a picture of the moment to gloat.

“It’s the greatest picture in the world,” Freeney recalled, laughing, “Peyton getting killed by Robert, and his face is all twisted up. It was awesome. That’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘We love you, Peyton, but we never got the opportunity hit you.’ And Robert finally did.”

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