HOUSTON — That does it. There can be no more argument. There can be no more debate
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of the Super Bowl era and maybe, just maybe, the greatest ever.
Yeah, I know, there will be a rush to judgment on that, too, and there should be. I mean, seven Super Bowls and five Lombardi Trophies in … what … 16 years (15, if you exclude 2008 when he had only one start)? Geez. But those who saw Johnny U. … or Otto Graham, who went to 10 straight championship games and won seven … will push their guys, and I get it.
But those were different eras with different rules. What Brady has done is incomprehensible – with all this coming in a salary-cap era that was supposed to end dynasties. And it has … everywhere but New England.
Once upon a time, there was the Brady vs. Joe conversation. Each won four Super Bowls, and Montana was 4-for-4 – with no interceptions. But there is no more comparison. Not after what we just witnessed.
The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. The greatest game in Super Bowl history. And the most memorable performance of Brady’s long and storied NFL career.
At the age of 39, no less.
“Whoever says he is not the greatest,” said safety Patric k Chung, “you guys are stupid.”
Before the game, Brady dedicated Super Bowl LI to his mother, who has been battling an illness for the past 18 months. But afterward … afterward we dedicate it to Brady and his failure … his team’s failure … to quit after falling behind by 25 in the second half.
With the victory, Brady not only cemented his place in history; he delivered a knockout punch to commissioner Roger Goodell and all those Brady bashers who labeled him a cheater for his alleged role in Deflategate. But this just in: Since Brady and the Patriots were accused of something that amounted to nothing more than the NFL version of jaywalking, Brady has won two Super Bowls in three years.
To Brady’s credit he mentioned nothing about it afterward, preferring to credit his teammates and the losing Falcons – saying, “we just made a few more plays than them.” But owner Robert Kraft couldn’t resist the temptation to poke Goodell … and can you blame him?
“A lot has transpired during the last two years,” he said, “and I don’t think that needs any explanation. This is unequivocally the sweetest (victory).”
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS
The Patriots could not … would not … have completed the comeback without that strip/sack of Matt Ryan midway through the fourth period.
But don’t fault Ryan. Blame the play-caller, coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who – until then – had been calling a superb game. But Shanahan was to the Patriots what Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell were to them two years ago – making the wrong call at just the wrong time.
Rewind the videotape, and you find the Falcons up by 16 with eight-and-a half minutes, faced with third-and-1 at the Atlanta 36. They had Devonta Freeman in the lineup, and all he had done was average 6.8 yards a carry. So you give the ball to Freeman, and move the chains … right?
Shanahan must have missed that memo.
“Well,” said losing coach Dan Quinn, “we thought we’d have a good look based on the personnel that was in the game for them. We trust our guys, so we thought that was the opportunity to let it rip. When it doesn’t go that way it’s easy to question it.”
He should know. Quinn was in Seattle when the Seahawks thought it was a good idea to throw from the 1-yard line instead of hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch. So let’s just call it what it was: A stupid decision.
“I don’t second-guess our play-calling or wanting to throw it,” Quinn said.
Too bad. He should have.
AND WITH MORE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS
Shanahan had another brain freeze on the following possession when, set up on the New England 23, he called another pass on second-and-11. This time there were four minutes left, and the Patriots trailed by 8. So he has a gimme field goal, and he can force the Pats to use timeouts by burning the clock (aka, running the ball).
But nooooooooo. He calls another pass, and Ryan is dropped for a 12-yard loss. Now, on third-and-23 from the New England 35, there is … you guessed it … one more pass, and, yep, the Falcons are called for holding. The rest you know.
“The thought,” Shanahan said of the first pass, “is to get as many points as you can. It was by no means an easy field goal.”
It was’nt? It would have been a 42-yarder, and it would have iced the game. Shanahan has some explaining to do.
MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
Now comes the best part. Goodell vs. Brady.
The two will be together Monday morning in downtown Houston for the award of the MVP trophy. The commissioner will hand it to the MVP … Brady … and the two will stand together for photos. After what we heard Sunday night there almost certainly will be no angry words, and there will be handshakes.
But, trust me: Though Brady declined to call this his greatest Super Bowl ever, saying, “They’re all great,” this was more than a collossal victory. This was vindication, and while Brady won’t say it, his father has … and he almost certainly reflects what his son believes.
ANOTHER MAGICAL MOMENT
The Patriots were victimized in Super Bowl XLII by the David Tyree catch. Then it happened again in Super Bowl XLVI with a miraculous Mario Manningham catch. At some time, in some far-off galaxy, the Patriots were due for one of their own.
And they got it, with a stunning Julian Edelman catch off a deflected pass that led to the Patriots’ game-tying score. You’d have to see it to believe it, but suffice it to say that somehow, some way, a twisted Edelman snatched the ball inches before it hit the turf.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said running back LeGarrette Blount.
I bet the Falcons haven’t either.
- Consider the NFL fortunate. The moment James White scored in overtime, confetti fell from the ceiling, and the Patriots sideline emptied, with players rushing on to field. It was a perfect ending to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. But then someone questioned if White’s knee hit the ground before he crossed the goal line, and it was close. But replays indicated he scored, and that was that. But imagine if they didn’t. The field would have had to have been cleared, and a wonderful ending would have been lost.
- Fair question: Miraculous comeback or Falcons’ choke? All I know is that New England could not have done this without help from Atlanta.
- You gotta feel for Dan Quinn. He was the defensive coordinator for a Seattle defense that blew a 10-point lead two years ago in Super Bowl XLIV. Now this.
- So does this mean we see Goodell in New England for the 2017 season opener?
- Blount said he that if he had a vote he would have chosen teammate James White as the game’s MVP, and I get it. He scored three times – including the game-winner – had 14 catches for 110 yards and produced a two – point conversion. But, c’mon, LeGarrette. Brady just threw for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards.
- How appropriate that Brady broke Kurt Warner’s Super Bowl record of 414 yards passing in a Super Bowl. Warner was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. One day later, Brady reminded us why he will be a first-ballot choice.
- Oddball note: The Patriots won a Super Bowl without ever leading in regulation.
- What is it about the Patriots and byes? They struggle after them. They lost to Seattle at home this season after a bye, and they barely survived Houston in the playoffs after a week off. It took them two-and-a-half quarters to wake up Sunday.
- Attention: Stephen Gostkowski. Spend your offseason practicing extra points.
- Key stat: New England ran 93 plays (95, counting the two two-point conversions). Atlanta ran 46. No wonder the Falcons ran out of gas.
- Maybe Belichick had his Patriots watch the Lady Gaga halftime show. They needed a pulse, and that would have done it.
- Look at it this way, Falcons’ fans. Your team upheld history. No offense that led the league in scoring has won a Super Bowl since the 2009 Saints.
- Last 23-1/2 minutes: Patriots: 31 points, 338 yards; Falcons: 0 points, 69 yards. “When they got hot, said Quinn, “it was hard for us to deal with.” Apparently.
- Guess this means the only guy who can beat the Patriots is Eli Manning.
- Not sure what Josh McDaniels was doing on first-and-goal in overtime from the Atlanta 2. Borrowing a page from Pete Carroll’s playbook, he threw to the corner of the end zone. It was incomplete and lucky for him. It was nearly intercepted. Look, with the Falcons on their heels, you drop the hammer four times if you have to … WITH YOUR BACKS.
- That’s two straight Lombardi Trophies for 39-year-old quarterbacks.
- Edelman’s catch was so good it overshadowed the sideline grab Julio Jones had one play earlier. No wonder he says no one player can cover him.
- Memo to Dan Quinn: Next time, cover the backs on patterns. Two years ago Shane Vereen lit up Quinn’s Seattle defense for a game-high 11 catches and 64 yards.
- The Patriots had so much trouble running that Brady had their longest gain. It was 15 yards.
- Had the Falcons won, defensive lineman Grady Jarrett might have been the MVP. The guy had three sacks, tying a Super Bowl record, and four hits on Brady.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Never underestimate Tom Brady. He beat Peyton Manning after falling behind by 24 at the half. Now this.
Never count on the Patriots to score in the first quarter of a Super Bowl. They haven’t in seven Super Bowls. Honest. To quote Tom Rock of Newsday, “Buzz Aldrin has been to the moon more times than Tom Brady has scored in the first quarters of Super Bowls.”
If this loss affects Atlanta as Super Bowl 50 did Carolina, we have a new leader in AFC South clubhouse for 2017.
Deion Jones is one helluva linebacker.
Big-game experience does matter.
… AND WHAT WE DID NOT
What happened to Brady’s game jersey. He lost it afterward, telling club officials he could not find it.
What’s next for Brady. He says he wants to play forever, but this would be a perfect ending to a near-perfect career.
How this loss affects the Falcons and Ryan.
Why it took New England nearly three quarters to wake up.
Why Atlanta got greedy.
QB Tom Brady. All he did was break Super Bowl records everywhere, throwing 39 more times than Matt Ryan (Brady had 62 attempts), completing 43 for 466 yards and scoring the last 31 points. He was the game’s MVP, but he is more than that. He is someone to be treasured …. not punished … by Roger Goodell and his league. “He’s a great leader, said James White. “We followed his lead. He was motivating us the whole game, even when we were down. He just willed us to another victory.”
Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. There is no explaining that third-and-1 call with the Falcons up by 16 midway through the fourth quarter. It was stupid, plain and simple. The Falcons have Devonta Freeman, and all he’d done was average 6.8 yards a carry. Give him the ball, get out of his way and move the chains. But, nope, the Falcons tried to get cute, and the strip-sack that followed changed everything. But it doesn’t stop there. Nope, he fumbles a sure field-goal on the following possession by getting greedy, and, instead of burning the clock, has Matt Ryan throwing again. What is it with these coaches?