With nine minutes and 44 seconds remaining in Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots found themselves trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-12, chipping away at what was once a 25-point half-time deficit that seemed like an impossible wall to scale. The shift in the atmosphere within NRG Stadium seemed palpable, a cautious excitement exuded by the Patriots’ fans beginning to obscure a rapidly escalating sense of dread creeping into Falcons supporters.
Still, even with this reversal in momentum, at this moment in time the Patriots had a statistical win probability of 0.4 percent – it would take the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history for them to secure their fifth championship since the turn of the century.
During the following 14 minutes of game time that extended into overtime, the impossible, yet somehow expected, occurred – it was not Matt Ryan and the Falcons hoisting the Lombardi trophy, but Tom Brady and the Patriots yet again, miraculously emerging victorious in a 34-28 modern classic thriller. Like the Eagles and Panthers before them, the Falcons were denied their first franchise Super Bowl victory by a Bill Belichick-era New England team that simply refused to lose.
The red, white and blue confetti streaming across the field was a familiar sight for football enthusiasts, one that reaffirmed for many New England’s status as the team everyone loves to hate, the villains of the NFL in the eyes of many for their consistency and occasional controversy.
However, after the past 12 months, it’s time to grow up and recognize some truths about the fortitude of the Patriots organization. First, Tom Brady. Scapegoated for the “Deflategate” controversy, Brady was suspended despite no irrefutable evidence existing to suggest that the incident was his fault. Upon returning, Brady produced results at a torrential pace, entering the MVP conversation despite missing four games and setting the record for most career wins by a quarterback. Furthermore, he did it without top receiving tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was placed on injured reserve in December.
For the past 17 years, Brady has simply been the most consistent performer in football, an unprecedented stretch of success that no other quarteberback has rivaled. At age 39, when most quarterbacks begin to lose arm strength and durability, Brady looks better than ever. Love him or hate him, following his seventh Super Bowl appearance and fifth victory, there’s no questioning that he is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. He now stands in a tier all his own, and he isn’t slowing down.
Second, Bill Belichick. Often criticized for his biting stoicism, Belichick, like Brady, might not be the most likable character. However, his results are undeniable, coaching New England to the playoffs in every single season since 2000 but one. After Brady’s suspension, Belichick adapted to accommodate backup Jimmy Garoppolo’s inexperience – when Garoppolo got hurt, Belichick adapted yet again, molding the Patriots into a run-heavy offense led by third-stringer Jacoby Brissett. When the defense started faltering, Belichick traded his best defender, Jamie Collins, for better team chemistry, which actually improved the defense’s production. When the Patriots seemed defeated against Atlanta, Belichick kept his cool and coached his veterans to yet another title. His status as one of the greatest tacticians in the history of the sport is embedded in the record books, regardless of likability.
Taken as an example of the 2016-17 New England Patriots’ story of endurance in the face of constant obstacles, the Super Bowl has proven one thing: even if you despise them with every fiber of your being, Belichick, Brady and the Patriots form arguably the greatest dynasty in the history of American football. At the very least, like it or not, they have earned your respect.