By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Everything is, truly, coming up roses for Patriots fans.
First, the Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of the Super Bowl — and perhaps in the history of professional sports championship games — to secure their fifth title since 2001. Then, Tom Brady was named MVP, thereby forcing Roger Goodell to hand the trophy to the man he spent two years trying to bring down. And, as a clown-nose-red cherry on top, news leaked that Goodell was very upset by Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia wearing a T-shirt depicting the commissioner as a clown while disembarking from the team plane following the victory.
To add to the experience, with most of New England hunkering down for an impromptu long weekend courtesy of a couple of snowstorms, the NFL Network spent the weekend airing all of the Patriots’ Super Bowls from the Bill Belichick and Brady era.
For Patriots fans, there are worse ways to spend snowed-in weekends.
And as those Super Bowls — some of which are old enough to be sophomores in high school — aired on televisions around the region, one thing became very clear: Tom Brady’s legacy could not be any easier to define. Not now, not after that historic comeback in Houston, not after the Hall of Fame quarterback went into full-on assassin mode to secure his record fifth Super Bowl victory.
Really, in watching all of those past Super Bowls with the benefit of hindsight, it feels appropriate to say this: In 10, 20 or 30 years, if someone ever needed to quickly explain who Tom Brady was and what he was all about, the explanation is as simple as putting on overtime of Super Bowl LI and hitting play.
While the eight-play, 75-yard drive was not the single defining moment of Brady’s career, it did perfectly display what makes Brady Brady.
From the very moment Matthew Slater called heads and won the toss, nearly everyone watching knew the game was over. The Patriots just were not going to lose after already having climbed back from a 25-point deficit.
Following a touchback, the drive began with a sure completion to James White for a 6-yard gain. Then Brady dropped in a picture-perfect 14-yard out that came down in Danny Amendola’s chest just as he approached the boundary. The next play: a 17-yard comeback up the left sideline from Chris Hogan. Brady threw a bullet to a spot; Hogan made a bread-basket catch while coming back to the ball, making it a gain of 18.
Following a quick pass to White that didn’t fool the defense, Brady set his feet and patiently waited for Julian Edelman to make his break on an in-cut over the middle of the field. Brady delivered a strike at what looked like 100 mph to a place where only Edelman could make the catch.
Next, a quick dump to White, which went in the books as a rushing play because Brady had to throw the ball back two yards to get it to the running back.
And then, with the victory within reach, Brady identified a height mismatch in the 6-foot-6 Martellus Bennett in man coverage with the 6-foot-3 De’Vondre Campbell and no safety help. The quarterback threw a perfect back-shoulder lob that hit Bennett in the chest; had the tight end not been tackled, he would have made the game-winning catch. Instead, he drew the game-winning penalty.
Following a risky-yet-careful-enough incomplete pass to Bennett on the ensuing first-and-goal, Brady did what had to be done on second down, pitching the ball to White and letting the running back cross the goal line to secure the historic victory.
The drive was clinical, it was ruthless, it was damn-near perfect. It was Brady.
That overtime drive works as a microcosm of Brady’s career because it featured meticulous execution in the highest pressure situation possible. And it was hardly the first time he’s done it.
As New Englanders who spent the weekend glued to the TV know (and knew before that), coming through in that exact moment has been Brady’s trademark since the moment the world learned his name.
Super Bowl XXXVI, facing the mighty St. Louis Rams, legendary color commentator John Madden saying the Patriots should take a knee and be happy to reach overtime: Brady goes 5-for-7 for 53 yards (the incompletions being a spike and a throwaway) before spiking the football, catching it above his head and holding it there for just a moment, looking as casual as a quarterback in the midst of a July training camp practice instead of in the spotlight of the biggest game in sports.
“What Tom Brady just did,” a stunned Madden told the world, “gives me goosebumps.”
Back in the Super Bowl two years later, his team trailing by one point in the fourth quarter: Brady goes 5-for-7 for 57 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
Less than two minutes later, after Carolina stormed back to tie the game: 4-for-5, 47 yards, setting up the game-winning field goal.
More than a decade later, back in the Super Bowl years after many people declared his career to be sharply declining, with his team trailing by 10 points against a historically dominant defense in the Seattle Seahawks: 13-for-15, 124 yards, two touchdowns. Victory — with some help from Malcolm Butler.
And then, of course, just two weeks ago, after the Falcons took a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter, here’s how Brady performed for the 23 minutes left in regulation and the four minutes of overtime: 26-for-34 (76.5 percent) for 284 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a passer rating of 120.2. And he also threw a successful two-point conversion pass in there while spreading the ball to six different receivers.
He left no doubt as to who is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Joe Montana may not be able to say it, but everybody else can.
Looking at those crunch-time performances in four of his five Super Bowl wins, combining them, you get this: 53-for-69 (76.8 percent), 565 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs.
All of that was done in a combined total of 47:47 of game time.
(His Super Bowl XXXIX performance is being omitted only because it lacked the dramatic quality of the other four wins. But his final statline — 23-for-33, 236, 2 TDs, 0 INTs — was plenty good in its own right. That is, it’s not a stain on his record. It just lacks the signature moment that the other four possess.)
Not all of Brady’s comeback attempts led to victories, of course. In fact, his go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII (8-for-11, 71 yards, TD, after getting drilled all night by the Giants’ relentless defensive line) and his near-game-tying drive in the ’15 AFC title game in Denver (50 yards, TD, two fourth-down conversions) both belong in the conversation for the man’s most impressive feats. And none of this is to say that Brady has been perfect; he threw hideous interceptions in the Super Bowls against Carolina and Seattle, and his pick vs. Atlanta was far from being a career highlight.
It is, however, to spotlight just how many times Brady has come through when the weight of the football world has fallen on his shoulders. Any quarterback can deliver once to win a title. Some can even get lucky and do it twice.
But Tom Brady is the only quarterback to win five Super Bowls. That doesn’t happen by coincidence.
And if you need to further understand, just rewatch that overtime vs. Atlanta. It will tell you all you ever need to know about Tom Brady.