New England in the Super Bowl Is Drama Guaranteed
Super Bowl LII is another reminder of the excitement that comes with every Patriots appearance in the big game.
I am already aware that most of you reading this hate the Patriots. And that's fine. You tire of Brady and Belichick, maybe because of the cheating scandals, maybe because of how Belichick handles the media, maybe because they not only always win, but they often run up the score at every opportunity too. Maybe it's simply that they've been on top for just too long. Quite understandable.
And yet they make every Super Bowl they play in unforgettable.
When you break it down, it's quite remarkable. Considering the Pats with this head coach-quarterback tandem has been seen as dominant, efficient, overwhelming, how could it be that all their championship appearances have gone down to the final snap? Not one of them has them running over a poor schlep of a team the way the '85 Bears did to uhhhh...the Patriots actually. Of course that was the Patriots of several lifetimes ago. Right now, we are only talking about the Pats as of 2001 when Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe.
Sure, they've run over plenty of teams in the playoffs with no conscience. Tim Tebow still has tire tracks on his back from the drubbing the Pats gave him in 2012. Marcus Mariota ditto in this year's playoffs. The great Steeler teams of Ben Roethlisberger have not once beaten the Pats in a playoff game. But once they get to the Super Bowl, they seem to struggle. Usually, they are just barely good enough to escape with victory, but two times against the Giants and as you saw last Sunday, the law of averages demands that you can't win all the close ones.
And that's great for the NFL and football fans. You might hate the Patriots but deep down, admit it. You love the drama and the suspense.
Who wants a championship game that's over before the halftime entertainment makes it out there? Ok, maybe if it's your team in the game, you might prefer them to go easy on your nerves. Outside of that, I'm sure most of you would prefer a game that keeps your attention to the last snap. Check.
Further, each one of these contests adds to the narrative and furthers the debate: is this the greatest team, player, head coach of all time? Putting Brady at the helm with the game on the line in the final few minutes over and over again has this added weight to it because it isn't just about who wins the title, but about his legacy, where he stands all time. As well as his team.
Is Brady better than Joe Montana? Johnny Unitas? Is Belichick better than Lombardi? We have collectively answered yes, and then no, and then yes to these questions hundreds of times over the years because of all these epic games and the decisions made in the final minutes of the seasons' final games.
So let's take a moment to go through the list in case you've forgotten
1. (2002) Super Bowl XXXVI Patriots 20, Rams 17
The first title of the dynasty. Of course, the Pats had to survive the infamous Tuck Rule game and Adam Vinatieri had to knock down two tough kicks in the snow against the Raiders just to get here. But the Rams of Kurt Warner, Issac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt were heavily favored. They were after all, the Greatest Show on Turf, and they only had one ring. It was time to validate their continued greatness with a second one.
And Brady's offense was meager, he wasn't given the full reins, he was a game manager at that point in his career, and most of the way through, he managed this game. It was the Patriots defense that kept them ahead and did much of the legwork in a surprising 17-3 lead. Only in the 4th did the Rams flex their muscles on offense, rallying for two touchdowns to tie the game at 17.
With two minutes remaining, the Pats still led 17-10 with the Rams receiving a punt. In just three plays, they had scored the tying touchdown on a thrilling catch and sharp cutback to the middle of the field by receiver Ricky Proehl. The game was tied with just 1:21 remaining. The Pats offense received the ball at its own 17 and with no timeouts, FOX announcer John Madden infamously declared that Brady should take a knee and the Pats should play for overtime. (Remember, this was before the rule changes and offensive explosion at the turn of this decade made last minute drives so much easier.) Instead, Brady took the Pats downfield on a nine play-53 yard drive to get in Vinatieri's range for a 48-yard field goal with seven seconds left. The biggest key was a 23-yard pass over the middle to Troy Brown, who was able to get out of bounds to the Rams' 36 with just 21 seconds left. That was the singular moment from the drive that made us realize "Whoa, this Brady has some real gunslinger in him."
Of course, Vinatieri too, had a gunslinger in him and nailed that 48-yard kick down the middle just as he had done with his previous two in Oakland. No time remained on the clock, the only Super Bowl to date to be won on a score at the game's final gun.
2. (2004) Super Bowl XXXVIII Patriots 32, Panthers 29
This time the Patriots were favored and the Panthers were the upstarts, in what would be more of the common trend from then on. But the Panthers, as many question marks as they may have had, did what all Pats Super Bowl opponents did and showed up quite nicely. Jake Delhomme had many great moments including a record-long 85-yard touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to give the Panthers the lead. Yet again, it was Ricky Proehl, this time in a Panthers' uniform, catching a touchdown pass from Delhomme to tie the game at 29 with just over a minute left.
Then of course, kicker John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds and doomed the Panthers forever. The Pats got to start at the 40 and while Brady struggled a bit, he came through with a huge pass to Deion Branch for 17 yards at the Carolina 23 with just nine seconds left. Had he not completed it, the Pats would have faced 4th down and 3 from the Carolina 40 and may have had to just hail mary it or play for overtime. From there, Vinatieri made a 41-yard kick after having missed one earlier kick and having another one blocked in the game. Four seconds remained, but when Carolina's Rod Smart was tackled on the ensuing kickoff, the clock read zeroes.
3. (2005) Super Bowl XXXIX Patriots 24, Eagles 21
This game had the least dramatic finish of all the current-era Patriots Super Bowls, but still the Eagles had a chance to win in the final minute. New England had built a ten-point 4th quarter lead when Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb famously fell ill and nauseous in the ensuing huddle. He was reportedly throwing up, meanwhile the FOX TV crew of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth took turns bemoaning the Eagles taking their time between snaps when they needed to make up a two-score deficit. It took them 3:45 and 13 plays before McNabb finally found Greg Lewis with a 30-yard touchdown to cut the lead to three with 1:55 to go.
The Eagles tried an onsides kick, which they did not recover. At that point, they had to use their timeouts to force a three-and-out, which they did. But a perfect Josh Miller punt pinned Philly at their own four with 46 seconds left and no timeouts. They needed just a field goal to tie, but how could they possibly get there? It would have taken a miracle. This was the least dramatic of Patriots Super Bowls but still, you waited to see if that miracle would happen. Matters ended predictably with a deep 3rd down pass intercepted by Rodney Harrison at the Eagles own 28 with just three seconds left. This cemented the Pats dynasty status with their third title in four years, and their last one for a decade.
4. (2008) Super Bowl XLII Giants 17, Patriots 14
This is the one that hurts Pats fans the most. The team that was 18-0, just needing one more win against the measly 10-6 Giants and the good-again-bad-again saga of Eli Manning. Of course, their week 17 regular season matchup that the Pats won by the skin of their teeth gave you an inkling that the G-Men might give them some trouble, but come on, that game was a fluke, right?
Most of the game was a defensive battle that was stuck at a 7-3 Patriots lead. Tom Brady got sacked a bunch but by the start of the 4th, they still had that lead. Then crazy things started to happen. Eli found Kevin Boss for 45 yards that sparked a go-ahead touchdown drive, culminating in a five-yard TD pass to David Tyree, of all people. The Giants had the lead. The Pats would counter as time wound down in the game.
On a drive that took up 5:15 of game clock and 12 plays Tom Brady led the Pats 80 yards and hit Randy Moss on a six-yard touchdown pass to get the lead back with 2:39 to go. Yes, corner Corey Webster fell down, leaving Moss open, but this appeared to be the play to complete their perfect season.
Eli Manning had a stunning answer for them. The Giants final drive seemed written by a Disney script. It had everything. Brandon Jacobs on a 4th and 1, stopped at the line, falling forward and pushing the ball just enough to get the yard. Eli throwing wide to the sideline with corner Asante Samuel ready to intercept, leaping and having the ball go off his fingertips to keep the season alive again. The David Tyree catch (I know you know what that is if you've read this far), a nifty sideline out route to Steve Smith on 3rd and 11 for 12 yards and getting out of bounds. Finally, Eli hit Plaxico Burress with a 13-yard floating fade in the back of the endzone with 35 seconds left for the go-ahead score.
Tom Brady tried desperately to answer, including two hail mary's to Randy Moss, one of them very nearly connected and put New England in field goal range, but Corey Webster broke it up at the last minute running stride for stride with the big guy all the way down the field. The 4th down pass was similarly deep but also broken up with one second on the clock as the Giants celebrated a next-to-impossible championship at the expense of New England's perfect season.
5. (2012) Super Bowl XLVI Giants 21, Patriots 17
This ending was strikingly similar to four years prior, only the Pats did not score to go ahead. The Giants snuck up on New England, making field goals until they were within 17-15. Wes Welker dropped a crucial first-down pass with four minutes left that would have put the Pats in field goal range and allowed them to run perhaps another two minutes off the clock. Instead, the Giants would get the ball again with 3:46 left, and Eli would hit Mario Manningham with a brilliant drop-in-the-bucket sideline pass for 38 yards on the first play. Manningham was hit immediately by Patrick Chung but held onto the ball like a champ, and got both feet inbounds. The Giants were able to burn the clock down to 58 seconds before running back Ahmad Bradshaw scored a reluctant (to say the least) touchdown, falling backwards into the end zone as New England blatantly let him right through their defensive line.
This meant New England had more time but needed a touchdown. With only one timeout, Brady struggled to move the ball until converting on a remarkable 4th and 16 from his own 14. Brady would get the ball to midfield for one last hail mary which got into the end zone but was deflected by Giants safety Kenny Phillips. Tight end Rob Gronkowski fell short diving for the deflected ball as it hit the turf with no time left. The game's final play had a remarkable resemblance to last Sunday's finale. It's worth noting that the Gronk was playing on a badly sprained ankle from the AFC title game and was not a factor, otherwise New England may have won the rematch.
6. (2015) Super Bowl XLIX Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
The Pats trailed by ten in the 4th quarter before Tom Brady brought them back with two fourth quarter touchdowns, including a three-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman to take the final lead with 2:05 to go in the game. Of course that often gets forgotten in the wild swings of emotion in the Seahawks final drive.
There's the deep ball to Jermaine Kearse that appeared incomplete when he fell down, of course when it deflected off the defender and Kearse tapped it back to himself, there was a delayed but quite wild reaction nationally when fans eventually realized he did catch the ball. Kearse got up to run it further but was quickly tackled by Malcolm Butler at the New England five with 1:06 to go. Seattle seemed to have it all but locked up.
The next play was predictably a hand off to Marshawn Lynch, only the most feared running back in the league, and he took it to the one before being brought down. They now had three more chances to score with Lynch as the clock dwindled, neither coach wanting to use a timeout. Finally on second down, quarterback Russell Wilson threw the ball when all they needed was another yard out of Lynch. The pass to Ricardo Lockette was intercepted by Butler, who bumped into him at the last possible moment, at the one-yard line. Pass interference could have been called, but wasn't, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll still hasn't lived down the decision to pass.
The Patriots were trapped at their own one, unable to kneel the clock out with 20 seconds remaining until Seattle's Michael Bennett jumped offsides, effectively ending the game, except for a massive skirmish that broke out following the penalty as the Seahawk players aired out their collective frustrations. Finally the Pats took a knee and put the game away for their 4th.
7. (2017) Super Bowl LI Patriots 34, Falcons 28
This will always be the 28-3 game. New England was utterly embarrassed in the first half and Atlanta continued to turn up the heat on an early third quarter drive for their fourth touchdown of the game. The Falcons had never won a title and all signs turned to them getting their first one here. New England finally got a touchdown to cut it to 28-9 in the third and missed the extra point. From that point on, Atlanta could not find any points. New England settled for a field goal on their next drive. 28-12. They forced a fumble from Matt Ryan deep in Atlanta territory and quickly turned that into a six-yard Brady-to-Danny Amendola touchdown. Two point conversion was good, 28-20.
Atlanta then got into field goal range (the New England 22 actually) only to take a 13-yard sack and a ten-yard holding penalty, forcing them to punt to the Pats with 3:38 left. Brady took the Pats 91 yards, including a zany first down catch by Julian Edelman deflecting off the hands and legs of several Falcon defenders just an inch off the ground, losing it then re-grabbing it again. The 23-yard catch seemed like a karmic redemption for the David Tyree catch. The Pats scored with 57 seconds left in the game with a James White 1-yard rush, followed by Brady hitting Danny Amendola on the 2 point conversion. Danny was tackled right at the goal line and driven back but he had gotten just enough to break the plane and tie the game at 28. Neither team could score in the remaining time and the Super Bowl went to its first ever overtime. Of course, the Pats won the coin toss.
The Pats needed a touchdown on that opening drive to end the game, but Brady was perhaps at his Bradiest that day, bringing the Pats downfield again on nine plays and ending the game with a toss back to White who rushed to the right end. It was only a two-yard rush but the physical battle against two defenders and the last desperate lunge across the goal line, while still keeping his knees off the ground was perhaps the most dramatic finish to a Super Bowl of all time, not to mention by far the greatest comeback.
8. (2018) Super Bowl LII Eagles 41, Patriots 33
It's the one you just saw, the one I just wrote about. Eagles QB Nick Foles making good on his unlikely Cinderella run as a backup in the playoffs and having the game of his life. Brady still threw for a herculean 505 yards as he played from behind, coming back from deficits of 15-3, 22-12, 29-19 and 32-26 before finally giving the Pats their first lead at 33-32 with 9:22 left in the game. Yes, this was the most offensive game in terms of yardage in NFL history. That's right, not just Super Bowl history, NFL history.
And Foles continued that with another touchdown drive to get the lead back, and draining the clock down to 2:21 before hitting Zach Ertz for the 11-yard score, replay notwithstanding. Brady's attempt at an answer got busted up by the Philadelphia pass rush, specifically Brandon Graham with the sack/fumble and Derek Barnett with the recovery. Philly would make another field goal to make it an eight-point game with 1:05 to go.
Brady was pinned at his own nine due to a poorly executed special teams trick play and still managed to get the ball to New England's 49 with nine seconds left. Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie, Brady heaved to the endzone with Gronkowski in the middle of the action but again, the pass was broken up by Eagle defenders with no time left, and Philadelphia, and all the wild lunatics therein, created much havoc in celebration of their first ever Super Bowl win.
There have been a few Super Bowls that have been great without the Patriots in them over the past 20 years as well but no one can question just how much the above games have added to the excitement and history of the biggest game in American sports.