Column: With a record fifth Super Bowl win, Brady cements his legacy as the greatest ever

After a first half in which he played like that impostor in a Tom Brady mask, the New England Patriots quarterback put on a Super Bowl performance for the ages Sunday, leading his team back from a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in over


On the goal line, James White dragged three Atlanta Falcons into the end zone.

Ten yards back, Tom Brady tore off his helmet and stepped into history.

It was as breathtaking as the roar that filled NRG Stadium, as glittering as the red, white and blue confetti that fell from the ceiling, and as simply unbelievable as anything ever seen in the 51 years of America’s greatest game.


It was Lady Gaga flying down from the stadium roof during the halftime show, only it was without the rope. It was Brady and the Patriots flying back from a 25-point deficit and swooping into history Sunday with a 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Super Bowl LI.

“We’re bringing this sucker home!’’ a dazed Brady shouted to the thousands of Patriot fans afterward as he stood on a field stage and shook the giant silver Lombardi Trophy in his right hand.

It will be carried in the arms of a man who must now be recognized as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, directed by the man who has now been crowned the greatest coach in NFL history, and earned after the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Brady won his record fifth Super Bowl championship, Coach Bill Belichick coached his record fifth Super Bowl championship, and they did it all without leading for one minute in regulation before playing the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

They did it with a stunning strip, an incredible Falcon play-calling blunder, an impossible catch, and, ultimately, a victorious coin flip and a 75-yard overtime drive that ended in White’s two-yard touchdown run.

It was arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever, followed by one of its most human celebrations. Brady wept. Several of his teammates collapsed. Others bounced around on the turf in a rolling hug. By the time the trophy was carried to the celebration stage, several Patriots shakily lined up to touch it and loudly curse in disbelief.


Then it was time for the real craziness, when Commissioner Roger Goodell handed over the trophy to a Patriots organization still angry over this year’s four-game suspension of Brady for allegedly deflating footballs.

The boos for Goodell were so loud, one could barely hear his congratulations. Only when Patriots owner Robert Kraft began speaking did the roars return.

“A lot has transpired during the last two years, and I don’t think that needs any explanation, but I want to say to our fans, our brilliant coaching staff, and our amazing players who were so spectacular, this is unbelievably the sweetest,’’ said Kraft.

Yes, the moral of this story is, in the end, the Patriots got the last laugh, again.

“I ain’t got no words, man,’’ said Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. “Ain’t nobody believed in us.’’

That last statement is one of the only things about this night that made sense. When the Falcons took a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter, the game was over. Brady was rattled, the defense was worn, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was already dancing in his suite.

But down on a desolate sideline, the Patriots kept telling themselves the same thing they’ve told themselves for nearly 20 years while forming the NFL’s greatest dynasty.

“Just play every play,’’ said receiver Julian Edelman. “Play every play.’’

Thus began a string of 31 consecutive points that pushed the Falcons into what history will also remember as a legendary collapse.

“For sure, it hurts like hell,’’ said Falcons Coach Dan Quinn.

The Patriots scored on a five-yard pass to White, then on a 33-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, then it got interesting. With 8:24 left in the game, Hightower stripped the ball from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan deep in Falcon territory. Five plays later, Brady hit Danny Amendola for a six-yard pass to close the gap to eight points.

As unreal as it seemed to those watching, it was equally as startling for the most important player. As Brady was throwing for a Super Bowl record 466 yards while winning a record fourth MVP, he was also being battered and bruised into a fog.

After announcing this week that he wanted to win the game for his ill mother, Galynn Brady, he fought for nearly four hours to make it happen, and the effort knocked him silly.

“There was a lot of (bleep) that happened tonight,’’ he said later, unable to describe certain situations. “I got hit pretty hard.’’

The Falcons had a chance to salt the game away, moving into range for a potential game-clinching field goal in the final four minutes. But instead of utilizing a safe run, the Falcons made the bone-headed decision to order Ryan to pass, and he was sacked to the edge of field-goal range. Then a holding penalty against tackle Jake Matthews pushed them farther back and they were forced to punt.

The Falcons have never won a Super Bowl in their 51-year history, entered this game with a reputation of folding under pressure, and will leave with that reputation intact.

“Yeah, it sucks,’’ said Matthews. “We didn’t finish well.’’

Meanwhile, the Patriots finished not only historically but incredibly, when their ensuing drive was powered by a flopping, flailing, funky catch by Edelman between two Falcons defenders. With all three men flying and diving, Edelman caught the ball off the left leg of Robert Alford, then the arm of Ricardo Allen, landing on the Atlanta 41-yard line.

Brady remembered that play, saying, “Yeah, I couldn’t believe it.’’

Edelman said he’s been believing it for most of his life, admitting, “What is going through my mind is when I was 11 years old practicing every day with my father, crying, bleeding, sweating, dreaming for this moment.’’

Four plays after the catch, the Falcons were clearly exhausted and seemingly surrendering to their fate. White scored on a one-yard touchdown run, followed by a two-point conversion that tied the game with less than a minute remaining.

“When they got hot, it was hard for us to deal with,’’ said Quinn.

Of course the Patriots won the overtime coin toss. And of course they drove easily down the field and won the game.

This is what Tom Brady does. This is what Bill Belichick does. This is who the New England Patriots are, and it doesn’t matter if you are tired of their perceived arrogance or agree with some of their proclaimed politics or just love to hate them.

“You feel like you’re kind of immortal,’’ said Patriots defensive end Chris Long.

On a night when greatness tackled history, it kind of looked like it too.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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