Say whatever you want about the New England Patriots. “They’re the NFL’s greatest dynasty.” “They cheat.” “Their coach is a genius.” “Their coach is a villain.” “Their quarterback is an all-time winner.” “Their quarterback is a little too good to be true.”
You love them. You hate them. But no matter where you come down on New England, give the Patriots this: over the past 15 years, they’ve entertained hundreds of millions of Americans on Super Bowl Sunday. They’ve made Super Bowl an even bigger spectacle, which is a pretty tough task. They do Super Bowls right.
All but one of the seven Tom Brady—Bill Belichick Super Bowls this century were decided in the final minute. The team’s first win, in 2002, came on a field goal as time expired; the second, in 2004, came on a field goal with 4 seconds left. A last-second interception won the fourth; on Sunday the Pats clinched the fifth, the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, on a walk-off touchdown in overtime, the first ever extra session in a Super Bowl.
New England’s 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI Sunday night settled more than a few debates. No team had ever won a Super Bowl when trailing by more than 10 points. The Pats were down 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. President Trump bailed on his Super Bowl party. Mark Wahlberg appeared to leave Houston’s NRG Stadium.
And then New England scored 31 unanswered points to stun the Falcons.
Brady won his fifth Super Bowl; he’s now the first starting QB to have earned that many titles. He set new records for most passes completed (43) and most passing yards (466) in Super Bowl history. He won his fourth MVP, another records. He’s the best ever, full stop. Same for Belichick, the first head coach to win five Super Bowls.
Brady had plenty of help. In the two Super Bowls New England lost, to the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012, freak catches cost the Pats. David Tyree caught a ball against his helmet to help end New England’s quest for an undefeated season. Four years later, Mario Manningham’s footwork helped give the Giants another win. In the Super Bowl New England would have lost were it not for the Seattle Seahawks calling boneheaded plays, Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse made a juggling catch while rolling on the grass.
So New England was due for its own freak play. On a first down with 2:28 left and the Pats down 28-20, Brady threw a pass to Julian Edelman over the middle of the field. Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford leapt and tapped the ball up in the air, two other Falcons, Ricardo Allen and Jalen Collins, converged on Edelman. He was utterly outnumbered. The ball, however, somehow stuck on Alford’s foot as he fell back, giving Edelman a split second to squeeze possession of the ball before it fell to the ground, and before Allen and Keanu Neal could get their hands on it. After that dazzling 23-yard pass play, Brady continued to cut the Falcons with short, surgical passes; from the one-yard-line, James White ran for a touchdown to complete a 10-play, 91-yard drive, one of the best of Brady’s career. That’s saying something. With New England now trailing 28-26, Danny Amendola took a Brady screen pass and punched the ball in the end zone to complete the two-point conversion, and tie the game at 28.
At that point, not even the most loyal Falcon fan could doubt the Pats would win the game. New England just couldn’t stop scoring. The Pats won the overtime coin toss, and put together an efficient 75-yard drive, capped off by White’s 2-yard touchdown run to clinch it.
What a year for the big-ticket sporting events. Rewind back to the NCAA championship basketball game, which took place in the same venue in Houston as the Super Bowl, when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins won the game on a buzzer-beater. The NBA Finals went down to the last minute of Game 7. The Chicago Cubs-Cleveland Indians World Series Game 7 was an extra-inning classic. Clemson beat Alabama in the last second of the college football championship.
Now this, the craziest Super Bowl of all-time. After it was over, an emotional Brady knelt on the ground: he dedicated the win to his mother, Galynn, who’s been fighting an illness for 18 month but made it to the game. “You’re the f–king greatest, bro,” running back LeGarrette Blount told him. Brady played nice and shook hands with Roger Goodell, who suspended him for four games this season for his role in the Deflategate scandal. Fans booed Goodell as he handed the Vince Lombardi trophy to Pats owner Robert Kraft, who said that this Pats Super Bowl was “unequivocally the sweetest” since “a lot has transpired the last two years.”
Translation: the game was indeed revenge. The Pats played another unforgettable Super Bowl. New England rules the NFL again.