Last night, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick firmly cemented themselves as the greatest quarterback and coach of all time, respectively. New England’s thrilling Super Bowl win after being down by 25 points in the third quarter answered any questions about their greatness, even ones that hadn’t been asked yet.
It was the most unsurprising surprise comeback in the history of sports. The league’s highest scoring offense held a 25 point lead late in the third quarter, and yet within a 25 minute span of gameplay the Patriots were champions again. There are many plays that will be dissected from this win, just as there are from the first four Super Bowls that New England won. The two biggest constants, however, are Brady and Belichick.
Their brilliance has been intertwined since Brady took over as starter just three weeks into his second season. Sunday night was a microcosm of all that greatness, the two were able to fit their legendary stories into one game, or rather one half.
Things looked bleak for the Hall of Fame duo entering the second half and even bleaker after Tevin Coleman took a pass from Matt Ryan and strode into the end zone from six yards out. From that point on, however, the Patriots methodically crushed Atlanta’s football soul and marched downfield drive after drive before James White fought his way into the end zone on a sweep that gave New England its fifth title.
The most striking part of the entire comeback, beyond the mind-boggling 31-0 run the Patriots went on, was the calm elicited throughout the game from the Patriots. Belichick has often preached that teams not “ride the wave” and let their emotions get out of control, and New England stayed steady and locked in throughout the comeback. The calm and business-like atmosphere that existed on the Patriots sideline transferred itself onto the field and the team began making critical play after critical play.
Brady’s best play of the night was likely a third down throw that will be forgotten. On their own nine yard line and down 28-20, the Patriots were faced with a third and ten. Atlanta blitzed and Brady was forced to make a millisecond decision and throw the ball into double coverage to Chris Hogan. That the pass was completed was a miracle, but with Brady miracles and sublime play has become the expectation. The two pictures below show the moment Brady released the ball and the coverage he threw it into. Given the situation, it’s one of the better plays of his entire career.
Belichick, for his part, was able to rally his team down 21-3 at half time and 28-3 in the third. The hidden story in any glorious comeback is defensive play, and the Patriots defense shut out the Falcons the entire fourth quarter and got the necessary stops to allow Brady to work his magic. The offensive gameplan employed by New England was impressive, especially once the offense adjusted to Atlanta’s heavy use of man coverage. The Patriots ended up running 93 plays to Atlanta’s 46, and that paid high dividends when the Falcons defense was completely gassed in overtime.
There isn’t necessarily one singularly brilliant move in this Super Bowl, like the Malcolm Butler pick in Super Bowl XLIX, that highlights Belichick’s brilliance, rather his subtle moves throughout made the difference. His focus on two point conversion plays in practice last week or his bracketing of Julio Jones, who despite several elite level plays, was only targeted four times overall and had only one catch in the second half were particularly prescient.
The most amazing part of it all is that the story of Belichick and Brady still isn’t ready to be written yet. The duo will likely be together for at least another three years and perhaps a couple more after that. Who knows where things will stand then, but the status of Greatest Ever is now secure. The only real question is how far they will distance themselves from everyone else. Given their performances last night, that gap is already vast.