By Dan Wetzel
February 6, 2017
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
HOUSTON – Down 28-3 he paced the sideline and told them “to just do your job.” Down 28-9 he reminded them to “trust the process.” Down 28-12 he said to ignore the score and the quickly dwindling clock and “worry about the next play.” Down 28-20 they felt he was sure they were going to win. By the time the coin flipped for overtime, score locked at 28, he didn’t have to say a damn thing.
“You just looked in his eyes,” receiver Matthew Slater said.
Tom Brady threw for 466 yards and two touchdowns and one two-point conversion Sunday. He threw it 62 times, exhausting and then conquering the Atlanta Falcons’ defense that had been routinely stopping him. He threw the entire Super Bowl upside down, threw New England 34, Atlanta 28 into the annals and threw for his record fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The greatest of all time delivered the greatest comeback of all time, another one for the legend. No team had ever won a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points. New England was down 25. It was over, and then it wasn’t. Brady delivered one of the most masterful passing performances the game has seen.
And yet for whatever he did on the field, his teammates said he equaled it on the sideline and in the halftime locker room and in the huddle and in the years and years it took to build to such an aura that everyone trusted his words.
Super Bowls are often blowouts because even good teams quit when everything goes against them. They point fingers. They press. They doubt. It happens.
Sunday it was all going against the Patriots, all going against Brady – including an 82-yard pick-six that put Atlanta up 21-0 and left Brady sprawled belly first on the field after a futile tackle attempt.
Only Brady wouldn’t let them quit, even when Atlanta pushed to 28-3, midway into the third quarter.
“Down 25 points,” Brady said, “I mean, it’s hard to imagine us winning.”
Except it wasn’t hard on that sideline. It wasn’t hard for his teammates to imagine it at all.
Chris Hogan was 11 years old back in February of 2002, watching at his annual family Super Bowl party, when he saw Brady win his first title via a game-winning drive against St. Louis. Tight end Matt Lengel was 11 also, at his grandparents’, the O’Ravitz’s, house in Kentucky. James White was 9. Malcolm Mitchell 8. Slater was a high schooler in California, rooting against Brady because his father was a Rams legend. He was crushed but became a believer.
These are the kids Brady inspired to play football. These are the kids who grew up watching him do the impossible. These are the kids who now surround the 39-year-old, and still can’t quite believe that they share a locker room with him.
“Blessed,” Slater said.
“Yeah,” Danny Amendola joked, “he’s good.”
And so when he speaks, when he believes, of course they believe.
“I believed it the entire time,” Hogan said. “He gave us the kick. He got everyone fired up.”
And so it began. One pass and then the next. One first down and then another. A touchdown throw to White. A defensive stop. A field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. A strip sack of Matt Ryan, setting them up with a short field. Another touchdown, this time to Amendola. A two-point conversion. Another defensive stop, thanks to a clutch sack of Ryan. A miracle catch by Julian Edelman. A touchdown run by White. Another two-pointer, Amendola again.
“It was just an avalanche on them,” Brady said.
Finally, the blur of overtime, the Patriots carving Atlanta up as the Falcons gasped and wheezed and finally collapsed, the weight of 93 Brady plays and 40-plus minutes of possession on their backs and minds. In overtime, he went 5-for-6 for 50 yards. In his final five drives, he went 26-of-34 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. There was even a 15-yard scramble to pick up a critical first down.