Keeping Score: With Brady and Belichick, a Patriots Super Bowl Means a Dramatic Finish
In the last 16 seasons, the New England Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls and won five of them, including their improbable victory Sunday night. It is a remarkable achievement for Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who were front and center in all seven of those games. Perhaps even more remarkable is that every one of them was close.
As in really close. The Super Bowl has had plenty of blowouts over the decades, but not when the Belichick-Brady Patriots are on the field. For whatever reason, their Super Bowls have always been decided at the end of the fourth quarter and not before. On Sunday night, it took overtime to get a final result, the first time that has happened in 51 Super Bowls.
So whether you admire the Patriots or hate them, it is worth pondering the tightrope they have walked for a decade and a half. The Patriots could, with just a few breaks, be 7-0 in the seven Super Bowls with Belichick and Brady. They could, in fact, be 0-7. Here is how they have ended up 5-2.
Feb. 3, 2002: Patriots 20, Rams 17
This was the first Super Bowl for Belichick as a head coach and the first for Brady, and it was decided by Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal as time expired. St. Louis tied the game with 90 seconds left, but then Brady, operating without timeouts, took the Patriots down the field close enough for Vinatieri to win the game.
It was the first time the Super Bowl had been decided on the final play. Since we’re talking about the Patriots, it would not be the last.
Feb. 1, 2004: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
The ending of this game was almost a carbon copy of what had occurred two years earlier. Carolina tied the game at 29-29 with a touchdown that came with 1 minute 8 seconds to go.
Back came Brady. Two 13-yard passes to Troy Brown and a 17-yard completion to Deion Branch moved the Patriots deep into Panthers territory, and Vinatieri then kicked a 41-yard field goal to give New England the lead with four seconds left.
Feb. 6, 2005: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
Of the seven Belichick-Brady Super Bowls, this was perhaps the least suspenseful, but only slightly. The game was tied, 14-14, entering the fourth quarter, when a Patriots touchdown and a 22-yard field goal by Vinatieri made it 24-14 with 8:40 left.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb then led Philadelphia to a touchdown that cut the lead to 24-21. But the drive took a while because the Eagles chose not to go to a no-huddle offense.
Philadelphia did get the ball back one more time — but with only 46 seconds remaining — and a third-down pass by McNabb was intercepted.
Feb. 3, 2008: Giants 17, Patriots 14
The Patriots came into the game with an 18-0 record. They departed 18-1.
They probably would have won if the Giants’ David Tyree had not come up with a magical 32-yard catch by clutching the ball against his helmet as he fell to the ground. That play, and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress, gave the Giants a 17-14 lead with 35 seconds to go.
Brady had one last gasp left, but the Giants thwarted two long, desperation passes to Randy Moss.
Feb. 5, 2012: Giants 21, Patriots 17
The Patriots sought revenge in this game but didn’t get it. And once again, the Giants took the lead in the final minute, with Ahmad Bradshaw running the ball in from 6 yards out with 57 seconds remaining after a remarkable catch by a different Giant, Mario Manningham.
As in 2008, Brady had one more chance. On fourth-and-16, he completed a 19-yard pass. Then came an 11-yard completion. But at midfield, his final pass, a Hail Mary, fell incomplete.
Feb. 1, 2015: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
In one of the more befuddling decisions in Super Bowl history, Seattle, needing 1 yard to score a touchdown and take a last-minute lead over the Patriots, decided to pass on second down rather than run.
In an outstanding defensive play, New England’s Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s quick toss to protect the Patriots’ lead.
Feb. 5, 2017: Patriots 34, Falcons 28
You know what happened. Trailing Atlanta 28-3, the Patriots somehow prevailed. The final margin, 6 points, actually is the biggest of these seven Super Bowls, in which just 26 points separated the winners from the losers.
So while the Patriots are already a betting favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl, a better wager might be that it will be close if they indeed get there.