Few could have predicted Tom Brady’s rapid ascent from college backup and late sixth-round pick to bona fide stardom, except perhaps Brady himself. Even fewer could have predicted the dynastic success that the Brady-led Patriots would enjoy, and now, absolutely nobody can accurately predict when, if ever, this revolutionary, boundary-pushing, out-of-this-world team will begin its slippery slope into decline. And yet, after the Patriots stumbled to a disappointing 2-1 start, hordes of NFL pundits, anonymous GMs, and twitter users alike predicted that New England’s reign of supremacy atop the NFL was coming to an end. In the blink of an eye, the entire sporting world had decided that the Patriot’s time was up – that Brady fought a losing battle to Father Time; that the Super Bowl was no longer a guarantee for the five-time champions; that one of the up-and-coming young teams would finally, finally, dethrone the Patriots.
It is never a good idea to bet against Brady; nor his head coach of 19 seasons, Bill Belichick, for that matter. Not only has this duo effectively rewritten record books as the most successful quarterback-head coach tandem in the history of the NFL, but their careers have been built on doing that which is nigh impossible. Just two years ago, the Patriots rallied back from a seemingly insurmountable (and now infamous) 28-3 deficit to steal Super Bowl LI from our hometown Atlanta Falcons, stunning viewers across the nation and breaking the hearts of the Atlanta faithful whose professional teams have celebrated just three titles within the last 50 years. With Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz stadium playing host to Super Bowl LII, there seemed to be no better time for an Atlanta-based franchise to flip the script and capture an ever-elusive world championship in their own backyard.
“This may sound biased, but I really thought that the Falcons were going to make the Super Bowl this year,” said freshman Reilly O’Neal. “It felt like stars had aligned, with the Super Bowl being in Atlanta and the Falcons having all the talent needed to do it.”
Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the Falcons never returned to championship form after sustaining a bevy of injuries within the first few weeks of the 2018-2019 regular season. Meanwhile, the Patriots were able to rebound from a highly-criticized slow start and secure a first-round bye in the playoffs before punching their ticket to the Super Bowl, where they would face the Los Angeles Rams, an once-downtrodden franchise revitalized by third-year quarterback Jared Goff and offensive wunderkind Sean McVay, the crafty head coach who engineered the rebirth of the Ram’s now-second ranked offense and sparked hope unfamiliar to the Jeff Fisher era.
“Despite their early season struggles, the Patriots were always a dark horse to make the Super Bowl,” said sophomore Kennedy Howard. “They have Brady and Belichick, so basically anything was possible.”
Coincidentally, the Patriots entered Super Bowl LII as underdogs for the first time since 2002, when they played and defeated the then-St. Louis Rams, whose supercharged offense was nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Turf” in Brady’s first year at the helm. Though 2019’s rendition of Brady and Belichick versus a high-flying offense was more of a slugfest than offensive gun show, the Los Angeles Rams fell to the Patriots just as the St. Louis Rams did 17 years prior. In fact, Super Bowl LIII may have set the stage for Belichick’s most masterful coaching performance since his innovative defensive strategizing allowed the Patriots to stymie the legendary Rams offense in Super Bowl XXXVI. Belichick once again employed an unexpected game plan, but this time featuring defensive wrinkles so complex that it was vaunted Rams offense of ‘19, not ‘02, that was left sputtering. With the implementation of a six-man front that was able to simultaneously shut down the Todd Gurley-led run game and thus disrupt the Ram’s overall offensive cohesion, Goff was forced to face a slew of third downs where intense defensive pressure left him with very little time to scan the field and make the play-action throws he is most comfortable with.
“Goff’s a system quarterback.” said O’Neal. “ He’s not like Patrick Mahomes, he’s not a fantastic decision-maker and a lot of his success can be attributed to his fit within the Ram’s new offensive system. That’s why he wasn’t able to perform in the Super Bowl- when the run game was taken away, he just wasn’t able to adjust.”
Given that much of the Ram’s offensive firepower was swallowed by Belichick’s ingenious game plan, it’s no surprise that the Patriots pulled out a 13-3 win, though many fans were hoping for a different team to finally take the Lombardi out of Goodell’s hands. For the Falcons fans who had suffered through a heartbreaking defeat in Super Bowl LI at the hands of New England just two years earlier, the Patriots were especially hated. To nobody’s surprise, “Anybody But the Patriots” became a rallying cry of sorts for the embattled Atlanta fan base.
“I don’t even particularly like the Rams, but I justed wanted the Patriots to lose,” said sophomore Sam Cohn. “I think everyone, especially in Atlanta, was sick of seeing them win time and time again.”
To add insult to the injury, many viewers were underwhelmed by the un-aesthetically pleasing grit-and-grind of Super Bowl LIII – a far cry from the offensive fireworks that were put on just one year earlier. A Super Bowl with such low scoring (the lowest ever, in fact) felt rather foreign amidst a record setting season that saw the league set new highs in points scored and the emergence of exciting young players such as Patrick Mahomes, the dynamic 23-year-old MVP quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Brady and Belichick remained a constant. Even during a night when the Rams were mostly able to keep Brady on his heels, he remained an ever-steadying presence for the Patriots, delivering a decisive drive in the fourth quarter where he connected with Rob Gronkowski twice before handing the ball off to Sony Michel to give the Patriots a late 10-3 lead.
“Brady does what it takes to win,” said O’Neal. “If that means giving the ball to Michel, so be it. He’s the best decision maker I’ve ever seen and the fact that he is doing all of this at the age of 41 is just beyond me.”
This uncanny ability to seal the deal, to win, is what separates Brady from the hundreds of NFL quarterbacks that took to the the field before him, and the hundreds that will come after. Brady and the Patriots have and will continue to win – despite cheating scandals, despite injuries, despite the ever-ticking clock attached to Brady’s right arm. The arm strength, the accuracy, the pocket mobility may wane, but the killer instinct that Brady possesses remains far outside of Father Time’s jurisdiction. The addition of a sixth ring to his collection has only bolstered his reputation as the greatest of all time – not solely among NFL quarterbacks, but among all that have ever played the game.
For the Patriots, this title is one of many banners that adorn the rafters of Gillette Stadium, another affirmation of an unprecedented and historic dynasty worth the better part of the past two decades. One that was both unprecedented for its continued dominance in this age of parity and historic for its league-leading six titles. Nobody knows how many more rings Brady and the Patriots will win. Even the most accredited sports analysts can’t fathom to predict when and where the seemingly indomitable Patriot dynasty will finally fall. Logic simply doesn’t apply to the Patriots; for every reasonable rationale there is for the end of New England’s dynasty, Belichick and Brady have a trick up their sleeves. My advice? Enjoy the ride. We may never see anything like this again.