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.
When it was done, James White’s unlikely monster game ends with a historic walk-off touchdown when White inched over the goal line in overtime for his third touchdown and the sideline slipped into delirium, Brady fell to the field and put his head down and cried, tears falling with the confetti. He’d taken a physical beating – five sacks and so many more hits. He’d been drained emotionally – belief in the face of doubt is sapping.
This was the toughest and longest game of the toughest and longest year of his career. It wasn’t the deflate-gate suspension that did it, although having his integrity questioned hurt. Team owner Robert Kraft accept the Lombardi Trophy from Roger Goodell, as Patriots fans booed the commissioner lustily, and declared it the sweetest championship of all because, “a lot has transpired over the last two years.”
Brady had other motivations than just showing up Goodell, although that was something, too. He has been dealing with an illness to his mother, Galynn, watching the 72-year-old fight gallantly out in California as he worked in Massachusetts. There were times he felt helpless. There were times he felt powerless.
He doubled down on his core principles: next play, next step, next day.
“We talked at his locker before the game,” said Kraft, a box of Padron Imperials under his arm. “This is the first game his mother has been at. She’s been going through a lot. And he said, ‘Let’s win this one is for her.’ And I was thinking when we were down, when it was 28-3, how he must have felt.”
In the postgame chaos Galynn was hustled out onto the field, surrounded by family, overcomed with joy.
“Unbelievable,” she told Yahoo Sports.
Soon her husband, Tom Sr., was crying, and Tom’s sisters were crying, and his wife and kids were offering up kisses to their dad, and the whole thing was overwrought with emotion.
“I wear my emotions on my jersey sleeve,” Brady said. “I’ve got my family here. A lot of emotion.”
The end result was one thing. The journey, the fact he kept coming and coming in the face of dwindling odds, the fact he did what he did, what he always preached, the way everyone looked to him and rallied with him, that’s what this is about.
“The greater the pressure,” Kraft said, “the better he performs.”
Now, as it’s been forever.