Monday, February 2, 2015

New England's Improbable Super Bowl Win Cements Brady & Belichick's Legacies

By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty)

What a finish to the 2014 NFL season!

The Patriots thought they played the game of the year when they erased two 14-point deficits against the Ravens to reach the AFC Championship Game. Then Seattle outdid them with an improbable comeback against the Packers to book a place in the Super Bowl. But when the Patriots and Seahawks met on Sunday, they managed to produce an even more memorable game that will go down as one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.

Defense dominated early on while the teams settled in. Action picked up when Tom Brady threw a perfect 22-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski with 31 seconds remaining in the first half. Seattle answered with a few big plays to set up 1st down at the 11-yard line with 6 seconds left. Coach Pete Carroll made a bold decision to go for the touchdown instead of kicking a field goal before halftime. His gamble paid off and the teams headed to the locker rooms tied at 14.

Seattle kept its momentum going into the fourth quarter and built a 24-14 lead. Then Brady led the Patriots on two long drives culminating with touchdown passes to take a 28-24 lead with 2:02 to play. The Seahawks responded with one of the most spectacular plays in Super Bowl history to set up 1st and goal. On 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line with a timeout and 26 seconds remaining, the Seahawks made a decision that has quickly been given the dubious title of “worst play call ever."

Instead of handing the ball off to superstar runningback Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson dropped back to throw, and his pass was picked off by undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler to seal the Super Bowl for the Patriots. It was the first interception thrown from the 1-yard line by any quarterback all season, and it could not have come at a more inopportune time.

Pete Carroll explained the play call by saying that the Patriots defensive formation was built to stop the run, and he felt that it would leave a hole that the Seahawks could exploit for an easy passing touchdown. He simply credited Malcolm Butler for making an incredible play to close that hole in an instant.

Another statistic that backed up the decision was the fact that Marshawn Lynch had been stuffed in four of his previous five rushing attempts from the 1-yard line this season. Still, a Lynch rush would have had far greater odds of success than a quick slant pass through traffic. This play will be second-guessed in Seattle for decades to come, but fans from New England will forever be grateful for it. The play ended a decade-long drought between Super Bowls for Tom Brady, the longest ever stretch between wins for any quarterback.

With the win, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick made emphatic statements that they are the greatest of all time at what they do. Brady surpassed Joe Montana to become the all-time leader in Super Bowl touchdown passes with 13, and he tied Montana’s marks with 4 Super Bowl wins and 3 Super Bowl MVP awards. His 4th Super Bowl ring also tied him with Terry Bradshaw for the all-time lead among quarterbacks.

Many still consider Montana the greatest of all time because he won all four Super Bowls in which he played, and his overall numbers would have been much closer to Brady’s if the rules he played under had favored quarterbacks as much as they do now. But the fact that Montana did not lose any Super Bowls simply means that his teams lost earlier when they were not at their best. Brady has two more Super Bowl appearances and an undefeated regular season to his name. He led a number of under-talented teams to impressively deep playoff runs.

The only other quarterbacks whose stats stack up with Brady’s, in some capacity, are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino. None of them won multiple Super Bowls, and many of them have folded on the big stage.

Brady has dominated his biggest rivalry against Peyton Manning, posting an 11-5 record against the "other" great quarterback of his generation. Manning lost his first playoff game this year for a record 9th time. Manning is on the wrong side of the record books when it matters most, but Brady owns more playoff and Super Bowl records than any other player.

Bill Belichick also etched his name in the history books on Sunday. He has won more playoff games and coached in more Super Bowls than anyone else, and his four wins as head coach tie Chuck Noll for the most ever. Belichick’s win totals and winning percentage far outstrip Noll’s, however.

While Don Shula’s other numbers match up well with Belichick’s, he won only two Super Bowls, as did the great Vince Lombardi. No coach even approaches Belichick’s record of 14 consecutive winning seasons as an NFL head coach. His ability to consistently field a championship caliber football team has never been matched.

This game gave Brady and Belichick’s legacies a massive boost. The Patriots had been a phenomenal team for the last decade with no rings to show for their efforts. Finally, they captured their elusive fourth title and propelled the greatest player-coach duo in league history to legendary heights.


Anonymous said...

Alcoa fantastic finish.

Anonymous said...

great summary

Anonymous said...

They might need to have "modern era" or Super Bowl era caveat like tennis has "Open Era" as Lombardi had no Super Bowl to win when he won the NFL Championship in 1961, 1962, 1965. He then won the NFL and the Super Bowl the next two years for a total of five, and a sustained period of unrivaled dominance. And that was less than his predecessor, Curley Lambeau, who won six Championships. Pre SB might want to consider Paul Brown and George Halas as well.