After what we witnessed, bestowing the unquestioned G.O.A.T. status on Tom Brady simply doesn’t do enough justice. Greatest quarterback of all time?
We passed that point long ago, specifically when Brady orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback to beat a renowned Seattle defence in Super Bowl XLIX for his fourth ring. Greatest player in NFL history? Yeah, we’re there too.
Comparing players across different positions in is a difficult task, but with all due respect to the likes of Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown, quarterback is by far the most important role on the field and Brady is a winner like no other.
With all that being said, Brady now sits on a higher plane of existence than was previously imaginable. What he did to bring the New England Patriots back from a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI wasn’t just surreal, but should be considered one of the most, if not the most, clutch performance in the history of team sport.
The stakes, the legacies on the line, the odds against it happening… all of those circumstances inherently made it a moment dripping with importance.
It’s the way Brady did it though, coming back from the dead and playing damn-near flawlessly for the final 27 minutes in a situation he had to be practically perfect in, that truly made it transcendent.
Former Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell recently told The Ringer there are moments when Brady looks “like he’s zoned out” and “got a song playing in his head”.
Maybe he was hearing Jay-Z, 4 Non Blondes or one of Beethoven’s symphonies, but whatever was going on inside Brady’s mind during the comeback assault put him in a calm, laser-focused state which made it feel inevitable that he was going to complete what he set out to do.
As Brady and the Patriots were climbing up the mountain, getting a foothold closer to pulling off the impossible, the sentiment was less ‘oh my God is he actually going to do this?’ and more ‘of course Brady is going to do this’.
There’s only been one athlete in the modern era of team sports that has invoked similar emotions of dread and confidence, depending on your vested interest: Michael Jordan.
MJ was of course a perfect six-for-six in the NBA Finals and finished his legendary career with a highlight reel full of clutch shots, but even he never had to engineer a comeback to this extent with everything on the line in a Game 7.
The funny thing is, Brady is topping himself at this point. In that aforementioned win over Seattle two years ago, he overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter hole by completing 13-of-15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
If Brady went Super Saiyan in that Super Bowl, then the win over Atlanta saw him go at least Super Saiyan 2. In the fourth quarter and overtime against the Falcons, Brady hit on 21-of-27 throws for 246 yards and a touchdown.
So, Brady in the last two Super Bowls has combined to go 34-42 for 370 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while leading two historic comebacks, the previous one more ridiculous than the one before… and he’s 39.
If you were a Hollywood producer and this was a movie script, you would chuck it out for being too far-fetched. Tom Brady, however, is very much real, even if his continued storybook endings don’t feel like it.
We just witnessed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Considering the stakes and what was on the line, it is the greatest comeback in NFL history. Period.
How did the New England Patriots overcome a 25-point second-half deficit? Here are the six key plays that, in concert, made the difference.
Tom Brady said after the game you could point to 30 plays that, if they had gone the other way, might have changed the outcome. The Patriots needed more than just six plays to make history, but the following moments stood out:
New England were pretty much in four-down territory for most of the second half, but they only found themselves having to go for it in one situation.
It may seem like an afterthought now because it was so early in the comeback, but Tom Brady’s 17-yard completion to Danny Amendola on fourth-and-three with 6:04 left in the third quarter was crucial. It kept the drive alive that led to the Patriots’ first touchdown of the contest.
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THE STRIP SACK
This might have been the play that turned the tide and gave New England serious hope for a comeback.
With the Patriots down two possessions in theory (16 points), the defence came up huge as Dont’a Hightower sacked and stripped Matt Ryan, while Alan Branch recovered the ball with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter. It gave Brady a short field, which he capitalised on.
THE FIRST TWO-POINT CONVERSION
Anyone who has followed New England during the Brady and Bill Belichick era remembers this play vividly.
It’s one they utilised so often with running back Kevin Faulk, but this was the first time they’ve dusted it off in a while.
Needing the two-point conversion to pull within eight and get within a possession, James White, standing next to Brady in shotgun, took the direct snap and plunged up the middle into the end zone with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter.
THE PUSH BACK
This wasn’t just one play, but a series of three straight plays that was as important as any in giving the Patriots an opportunity to keep it a one-score game.
After Julio Jones made a magnificent, back-breaking grab at New England’s 22-yard line, the game looked all but over. Atlanta just needed to run some clock, kick a field goal and go up by two possessions. Instead, the worst-case scenario (other than a turnover) happened to them.
First, Trey Flowers sacked Ryan to push the Falcons back to the 35-yard line. Then a holding penalty on Jake Matthews pushed Atlanta even further back to the 45-yard line. Finally, on third-and-33, the Patriots held Ryan to an incompletion, forcing a punt and preserving the one-score situation.
New England has had some ridiculous catches go against them in their past three Super Bowl appearances – David Tyree, of course, in 2008, Mario Manningham in 2012 and Jermaine Kearse in 2014. They were due for one in their favour and Julian Edelman couldn’t have picked a better time to deliver it.
On first-and-10 with 2:28 left in the fourth, Brady fired a pass down the middle which was tipped by Atlanta, only for Edelman to make a miraculous catch that defied gravity and physics. Somehow, some way, the ball didn’t touch the ground as it bounced off Falcons’ body parts and Edelman used unreal concentration to reel it in. It was easily the most jaw-dropping play of what was a jaw-dropping Super Bowl.
THE SECOND TWO-POINT CONVERSION
The funny thing about being down eight points is you can march down the field with a phenomenal drive, have everything go right and be dominant en route to reaching the end zone, only for none of it to matter if you can’t convert on one play from the 2-yard line afterwards.
With everything riding on the two-pointer with 57 seconds left in the game, Brady threw a screen to Amendola who sneaked across the goal line to tie the game. It was a great play-call that was executed brilliantly, ultimately sending the contest to overtime where a red-hot Brady would not be denied after receiving the kickoff.
No quarterback or head coach had previously won more than four in those posts, and signal caller Brady, who threw 466 yards, and his boss Belichick elevated themselves above the pantheon of other NFL greats, though they had to do it the hard way despite being tipped to win by eight points by American President Donald Trump.
Atlanta were cruising at various points, having led 21-0 and 28-3, yet an incredible Julian Edelman catch and 19 fourth-quarter points took the contest to overtime where New England won the toss and James White's rushing touchdown completed a quite astonishing comeback in a 34-28 victory.
No other team had ever come from more than 10 points down before in a Super Bowl, yet the Pats defied the odds before winning the all-important coin toss ahead of overtime and scoring a touchdown to ensure Atlanta would not receive possession again.
The Patriots therefore received the Lombardi Trophy again, on a podium also occupied by commissioner Roger Goodell, the man who upheld a four-game suspension against Brady for 'deflategate' at the season's start and was roundly booed on stage.
A New England victory had been predicted before the game by President Trump, who said in his pre-game Fox interview "you have to stick up for your friends, right" in reference to Brady, Belichick and Pats owner Robert Kraft.
The game's first coin toss, conducted by 92-year-old former President George Bush Senior, was won by Atlanta and they deferred, allowing Brady and New England's offence the chance to put the first points on the board.
However, neither they or the Falcons were able to make an early statement as a forgettable first quarter ended without score.
Atlanta's offence soon found their stride and after Devonta Freeman ran in the opening touchdown, Matt Ryan's glorious throw dropped into rookie tight end Austin Hooper's path for another score before Brady tossed his first pick-six in the play-offs as Robert Alford's 82-yard touchdown put Atlanta 21-0 up.
With only a Stephen Gostkowski field goal at the break, New England trailed 21-3 as Lady Gaga took to the field for her half-time show.
The Falcons' advantage only increased after the interval as Ryan, who posted a perfect passer rating during the first half, connected with Freeman's running back colleague Tevin Coleman on a check down to make it 28-3.
New England were getting desperate - wide receiver Edelman attempted a pass on third down, and they went for it on fourth down in a series where White was able to score his team's first touchdown late in the third quarter.
However, Gostkowski's missed extra point summed up their struggling night at that point, and when his subsequent onside kick was recovered by Atlanta, the result looked all-but-certain before the fourth quarter had even started.
But a 25-point advantage was trimmed to only eight with just under six minutes remaining as another Gostkowski field goal was added to by Brady's first touchdown pass to Danny Amendola, with the successful two-point conversion from a White rush bringing New England back within one score.
Brady then had 91 yards to make with three minutes, 30 seconds remaining on the clock and 23 of those came on a jaw-dropping play by Edelman, who someone managed to complete a pass that was tipped by Alford, despite the fact the Pats' receivers hands were balancing on Ricardo Allen's left arm and Alford's foot, and he bobbled the ball before claiming it again.
Having been on the wrong end of circus catches in previous Super Bowls, notably David Tyree's helmet catch and Jermaine Kearse's multi-juggled attempt, it seemed fortune was for once favouring New England.
And White plunged home from one yard out before Amendola caught a two-point conversion from Brady to level things up at 28-28.
The all-important coin toss was won by New England and against a stunned Falcons team bereft of confidence and energy, with White's two-yard touchdown capping the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, in perhaps the best ever of the 51 NFL finales.