HOUSTON – Tom Brady and the New England Patriots couldn’t be deflated by the almighty Roger Goodell or defeated by an underdog Atlanta Falcons team that led by 21 points after an 82-yard pick-six, by 25 points midway through the third quarter and by 19 points entering the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI.
So the season that began with the Patriots quarterback surrendering to the NFL commissioner’s four-game “Deflategate” suspension ended with Goodell awarding Brady and coach Bill Belichick their record-breaking fifth Lombardi Trophy after New England’s shocking 34-28 overtime victory Sunday night at NRG Stadium.
“It was a hell of a football game,” Brady said after the first OT in Super Bowl history.
Presumed dead after Brady’s first career postseason pick-six in the second quarter, or certainly when league MVP Matt Ryan orchestrated an 85-yard touchdown drive to give the Falcons a 28-3 lead midway through the third, the Patriots posted a historic second-half run in shattering the record for largest comeback in Super Bowl history (25 points).
“Coach Belichick never changed; he just kept telling us that we could come back if we just did our jobs,” New England receiver Chris Hogan said. “We knew this was going to be one heck of a comeback. A story people would be talking about for the rest of history.”
Brady completed a record 43 of 62 passes for a record 466 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. On his last two drives, he completed 11 of 14 passes for 140 yards. He was 6-for-9 for 90 yards leading up to James White’s 1-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion toss to Danny Amendola with 57 seconds left in regulation that tied the score at 28-28.
After New England won the overtime coin toss, Brady went 5-for-6 for 50 yards to set up White’s winning 2-yard run. A 13-yard pass interference penalty on former Gophers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell gave the Patriots the ball at the 2.
“I can’t say enough about our players,” Belichick said. “They give it everything they have for 60 minutes, and sometimes a little longer.”
Brady won his record fourth Super Bowl MVP — moving ahead of Joe Montana. Ryan, who fell to 3-5 in postseason games as Atlanta dropped to 0-2 in Super Bowls, completed 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he lost a fumble at his 25-yard line on a sack by Trey Flowers on third-and-2 while leading 28-12 with 8:31 left in regulation.
Ryan was the sixth MVP with the league’s highest-scoring offense (33.8) to play the league’s No. 1 scoring defense (15.2) in the championship game. The record of those quarterbacks in those games: 2-4, with Ryan joining Johnny Unitas (1964), Dan Marino (1984) and Cam Newton (2015) as the losers.
Brady, meanwhile, turns 40 in August, but he has a strict mental and physical training regimen that he believes will allow him to play at a high level beyond his 45th birthday. Belichick turns 65 in April, but he said this past week that he “really hasn’t thought about” retirement.
Brady surpassed Terry Bradshaw and Montana in number of Super Bowl wins, while Belichick moved ahead of Chuck Noll. Next to fall could be Packers quarterback Bart Starr, who won five championships from 1962 to ’67; and George Halas, who helped form the league in 1920 and coached the Bears to six titles over a 42-year span from 1921 to 1963.
“I don’t care about that stuff,” Belichick said when a reporter asked to rank this team. “Rank it wherever you want. That’s your job.”
In their first five possessions, the Patriots had three punts and two turnovers that led to 14 Falcons points. But New England finished with four touchdowns and a field goal in its final six possessions.
Belichick not only kept the Patriots focused while down 25, his coaching mastery also included the foresight to spend more time working on two-point conversion plays because of Atlanta’s high-scoring attack. They converted both two-point attempts in the fourth quarter.
“Those were key,” Belichick said. “[Offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and I just had a feeling we would need those plays in this game.”
Not that he needs any luck, but Belichick finally ended up on the positive side of those a wild, down-the-field catches that went against the Patriots in their first loss to the Giants (David Tyree) and in their win over the Seahawks two years ago.
As Brady was driving the Patriots for the tying score, cornerback Robert Alford — the same guy who had the pick-six and a fumble recovery — got his hand on a pass to Julian Edelman over the middle. The ball bounded through the air as Edelman tracked it. He and three Falcons defenders collided and tumbled to the ground but Edelman was able to bobble and finally secure the catch millimeters from the ground. It took replay to confirm the 20-yard gain.
“I don’t know how the hell he caught it,” Brady said. “I don’t think he does either.”
“It still hasn’t hit me,” Edelman said, “but it feels good.”
McDaniels just smiled when asked about the catches like that which have gone against the Patriots.
“Yeah, we kind of flipped the script there a little bit,” he said. “In games like this, you need to have plays like that.”
So what’s next for Belichick and Brady, now that never are ready to retire? Perhaps a date in Minneapolis for their sixth Super Bowl title. U.S. Bank Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, a mere 364 days away.
Good luck trying to top this one.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @MarkCraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org