The Patriots won the fifth championship in their history after trailing 28-3 late in the third quarter, setting a Super Bowl record for the largest comeback, obliterating the previous largest of 10 points.
Like it or not (and honestly, I don’t), the Bill Belichick-coached, Tom Brady-led New England Patriots are in the midst of the best extended stretch in NFL history, stretching back to their first title together during the 2001 season, 15 years ago in Super Bowl XXXVI.
With Sunday’s victory, Belichick won his fifth championship as a head coach, tying George Halas and Vince Lombardi for the most titles in NFL history. His fifth Super Bowl victory is the most ever, breaking a tie with Chuck Noll, while his seven Super Bowl appearances is also a record.
Brady, who set Super Bowl records for completions (43), attempts (62) and yards (466), was named Super Bowl MVP for a record fourth time, breaking a tied with Joe Montana. The former sixth-round draft pick is now the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl history after his fifth title, joining only Hall of Fame DE Charles Haley in the five-time champion club (Haley won two with the 49ers and three with the Cowboys).
The Belichick-Brady era Patriots have had a sustained period of excellence over the last decade and a half, and this run may not be over yet. Although Brady is 39, he is not slowing down–this season his 28-2 touchdown-interception ratio was the best in NFL history.
The Patriots are 196-60 since 2001 in the regular season and 25-9 in the playoffs, which they have qualified for every season in the span except 2002 and 2008, the latter coming after Brady tore his ACL and missed the entire season. This remarkable stretch is with a franchise that had never won the Super Bowl when Belichick and Brady came to Foxborough.
A clutch late-game performance by the Patriots is not unique to Super Bowl LI, as the team has had to come through in the fourth quarter in all five of their Super Bowl wins, with Brady engineering a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in each win. Their ability to come through late is incomprable (even considering two late losses to the Giants in Super Bowls), although they’ve gotten some phenomenal breaks in many of these situations as well (as amazing as Julian Edelman’s catch last night was, you can’t tell me it didn’t have at least a little bit of luck involved).
Yes, there have been missteps. The Patriots guilt is clear in “Spygate” and “Deflategate”, and there have been other micro-scandals reported over the years. And yet, even after receiving stiff penalties from the NFL for Spygate and Deflategate, the Patriots are still just as good as they have always been in the Belichick-Brady era.
This is not pleasant for me to write. I have not liked the Patriots since they made me cry at 8 years old when they beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and have continued to dislike their empire-like reign on the NFL through their scandals and Super Bowl titles alike.
But at this point, all I can do is tip my cap, because this franchise, however they have done it, has put together the best sustained run of excellence in NFL history.