A Few Thoughts with Bob Ryan


       There’s no such thing as a dull Belichick/Brady Super Bowl.
       The greatest coach/quarterback duo of all-time have been there seven times. The Patriots have won by 3,3,3,4 and 6. They have lost by 3 and 4, each in the final minute. They have lost to a miracle (e.g. Manning’s once-in-a-lifetime escape and Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII) and won by a brain fart (e.g. Hey, Pete, give Marshawn the damn ball! in Super Bowl XLIX). They could easily be 7-0 or 0-7. After Sunday night, they are 5-2, thanks to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Or biggest choke, depending on your point of view.
      There was a great deal of legacy talk in the run-up to Super Bowl LI. Well, the legacies are now cemented. With five Super Bowl triumphs stretched over three presidential administrations and eight Olympics, Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All-Time for you Social Security folks) among quarterbacks. Bill Belichick is the G.O.A.T among NFL coaches. They have prevailed over time. They have prevailed in a salary cap world in which turnover is enormous. But they have prevailed, one way or the other.
       Brady was magnificent when it counted, but he did not do it alone. James White had the game of his life, catching 14 passes for  110 yards while scoring three touchdowns, including the game-winner on which he was hit hard well short of the goal line but demonstrated great strength and determination to reach the Promised Land. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell came up very big with 6 catches for 70 yards, many of those grabs during the comeback. And, of course, Julian Edelman made a catch you can’t make at a most propitious moment. there was an offensive line that did the job in pass protection when it most mattered, and there was a defense that submitted a shutout in the second half and overtime.
    Not surprisingly, the Day After issue is that great modern phenomenon: whom shall we blame? Rather than celebrate the positive act of an historic comeback, many. many people are spewing venom at the Falcons, who are said to be choking dogs. After all, who loses a 25-point halftime lead in the Super Bowl? That’s never been done before.
    Of course, it hadn’t. That’s how it works. In sports or politics or entertainment, something is true until it’s not true. A retired B-movie actor can’t become President of the United States. But somehow Ronald Reagan managed to do it. Lavish Hollywood musicals are relics of the past. But “La La Land” has 14 Oscar nominations and may very well win Best Picture. And no one in Super Bowl history has come back to win from anything larger than a 10-point deficit. Oh, yes, they have.
      What is being lost in the sad vilification of the Falcons is that there has never been a noted sports comeback, in either a team or individual sport, in which the team coming from behind did not profit from the “mistakes” or “miscues” or “imperfections” of the opponent. We have all seen basketball comebacks. Yes, a team, is now making shots when previously they weren’t. But the other team starts missing, or turning it over or missing free throws (or being hosed by the refs; we’ll save that discussion for another day).  Just getting hot doesn’t matter if the other team is matching you. Baseball? I;’m sure more game-winning homers are hit on hangers or bad locations than off “pitcher’s pitches.” Mistakes are made and an opportunistic foe takes advantage.
       Did the Falcons mess up? Absolutely. Poor play-calling with a lead. Poor clock management. Poor execution. Matt, you must throw that ball away and avoid the strip-sack. There were lots of screw-ups by the Atlanta Falcons.
       But was there a guarantee the Patriots could capitalize? No, they had to go out and do it. Brady was Osweilerian in the first half. Yuck. But once he found his mojo he was the G.O.A.T in a way few QBs could have matched. Ask the TV QB analysts. They all marveled at the strength and accuracy of his fourth period and OT throws. Just because the Falcons were screwing up didn’t mean Brady was automatically going to throw for 276 yards, three TDs and no picks in the fourth quarter and OT. No, he had to go out and do it. Which he did.
        One more thing. In order to pull of this great, historic, epic, unforgettable comeback the Patriots had to succeed on two two-point conversions. Consider the fact that the league-wide conversion percentage of twos is less than 50 percent. They got them both, the first on a gorgeous direct snap to White (one of my companions immediately yelled out, “It’s the Faulk play!” remembering that we had first seen that when Kevin Faulk was the all-purpose New England back of choice). The second was a pass play to Danny Amendola, and that required a special effort to break the plane. Had either of those failed, we would not be having this particular session, you and me.
      An aside: I was at a home where there were two TVs, one on a slightly higher floor. with one exception — my wiife, bless her heart — the ladies were upstairs and the men were watching from the lower level. But the TV upstairs was a second or two ahead of ours, and so during the fourth quarter and OT we already knew downstairs that a Patriots play had gone well because of the screaming upstairs. That was pretty cool.
      Once again, it was the kind of experience not available to those among us who do not have sports at their personal entertainment smorgasbord.
      Lucky us.