In the first conference championship game Sunday, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan put on a 392-yard show that legitimized his likely MVP season, as if there were any doubt.
Then in the second game, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had to remind everyone that he’s just as good as ever.
If you like quarterback play, Super Bowl LI will be a treat. If Ryan doesn’t win this season’s MVP award, it’s because Brady barely beat him. Ryan and Brady were the two best quarterbacks over the entirety of this season, and they’ll meet in Houston on Feb. 5 with a championship on the line. The Patriots punched their Super Bowl ticket with a surgical 36-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC earlier on Sunday.
The win was historic in a few ways for New England. The Patriots set an NFL record with their ninth Super Bowl berth. Bill Belichick will set a record for a head coach by appearing in his seventh Super Bowl, breaking a tie with Don Shula. Brady will also play in his seventh Super Bowl, setting an NFL record for a player, breaking a tie with Mike Lodish.
Brady is one win from a fifth Super Bowl championship, and if he accomplishes that it would be tough to argue he’s not the greatest quarterback ever. And he could add to his accomplishments for at least a couple more seasons. At an age in which almost every quarterback in NFL history has slowed down, the 39-year-old Brady looked as good as ever in dissecting the Steelers.
Brady has been New England’s starter since 2001 and has put together a resume that is unmatched in NFL history. But he hasn’t had many games better than his masterpiece on Sunday.
Brady was 32-of-42 for 384 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He did a great job controlling the game at the line of scrimmage, and was as accurate as ever. He found open receivers time and again, and the Steelers had no answer. Brady was the best player on the field, yet again.
It’s amazing what Brady is doing at this stage of his career. History says he doesn’t have many more games like Sunday left before he retires, but he has also shown no signs of slowing down. Only two 40-year-old quarterbacks, with a minimum of nine starts in a season, have posted a rating of 80 (Brett Favre in 2009 and Warren Moon in 1997). Brady turns 40 on Aug. 3. While there’s almost no track record of success for quarterbacks in their 40s, Brady looks like he can be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks for a few more years.
Just in case, the Patriots shouldn’t appreciate every Super Bowl opportunity they get with Brady leading the way. It’s not going to last forever. The Falcons stand in the way of an incredible fifth Super Bowl title during the Brady-Belichick dynasty. In an otherwise anticlimactic playoffs, it looks like a great Super Bowl matchup.
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