GLENDALE, Ariz. — It seems silly, the Super Bowl measuring sticks we sometimes place on quarterbacks.
Tom Brady came very close to losing in his third straight Super Bowl appearance Sunday night and the argument, by some, would have been that he didn’t warrant mention as the greatest, especially in light of “Deflategate.”
The Patriots of Bill Belichick and Brady faced their largest deficit ever in a Super Bowl and the Seahawks, with a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, looked as if they could not be beaten.
But Brady, undaunted, rallied his team, tossing two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Patriots survived a back-and-forth affair and toppled the defending champion Seahawks, 28-24, in Super Bowl XLIX.
“It’s been a long journey,” Brady said. “It’s just a great win. We left it all on the field.”
It wasn’t Brady’s best performance, but it may have been his grittiest. It will certainly be his most memorable. The first three titles he won came so fast — three in four years as the starter. And then he lost two — in 2007 and 2011 — and the clock began ticking on the 37-year old.
But Brady is now the most successful quarterback in the modern era of football. He matched Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with his fourth Super Bowl championship and added to his previous record with a sixth start.
When cornerback Malcolm Butler stepped in front of Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockett and intercepted Russell Wilson at the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left in the game, Brady bounced up and down on sideline as if he were a schoolboy.
He said for the entire week preceding the game that a victory Sunday would be the sweetest because he may have taken his first crowns for granted. Brady won two MVPs in those games, but he was more of a game manager in those days, when the Patriots were led by a stiffening defense.
Brady earned his third Super Bowl MVP on Sunday night, matching Montana. The Patriots were victorious because he carried them as he has done for most of the last decade. Brady completed 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns. His 15 career Super Bowl touchdown passes are an all-time record.
He tossed two interceptions, though, one of which the Seahawks turned into seven points. But those turnovers will be forgotten. The only negative for Brady that could still come from the Super Bowl win is the findings of the NFL’s investigation into whether the Patriots had footballs deflated in the AFC championship game last month.
Brady’s nearly crystal-clean reputation took a hit.
But on the field he was brilliant when it counted most. On the drive that regained the lead for the Patriots, starting from their own 36 with 6 minutes, 52 seconds remaining, Brady surgically moved the offense down the field, completing 8 of 8 passes.
The series culminated with a Brady-to-Julian Edelman 3-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes left that gave the Patriots a 28-24 lead.
Earlier, just when it seemed the Seahawks had a hold on the outcome, Brady rallied the troops early in the fourth quarter. He drove the Patriots 68 yards on nine plays and capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone with 7:55 seconds left in the game.
It trimmed Seattle’s lead to 24-21.
Whether Brady had any role in “Deflategate” or not, footballs that were likely tested as many times as a rocket at pre-launch didn’t appear to affect the quarterback in the first half. He completed 20 of 27 passes for 177 yards and tossed two perfectly-placed touchdowns.
Brady dinked and dunked the Seahawks to near-death in the first half, finding Edelman, Amendola and running back Shane Vereen on quick hitters. He stayed away from the most lethal members of the Legion of Boom — cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor — and took advantage of a mismatch before the half.
With tight end Rob Gronkowski split wide, the Seahawks sent linebacker K.J. Wright outside to cover. Brady then lofted a strike on a corner fade to the bigger Gronkowski for a 22-yard score and a 14-7 lead.
Brady’s interview with Bob Costas was aired on NBC before the game, and he mostly dodged questions about his speculated role in the deflated footballs from the AFC championship game against the Colts.
Costas wondered how a quarterback who could feel the difference between balls that were inflated to 12.5 pounds per square inch vs. 13.5 — the minimum and maximum allowed by the league — couldn’t tell that the balls from the first half were deflated.
“The last thing I was thinking about was, you know, how the ball was inflated,” Brady said.
Asked directly if he had no prior knowledge of the footballs being purposely deflated, Brady, who had initially laughed off a report about the investigation and then denied any wrongdoing, took the stance he and Belichick had taken the entire week leading up the Super Bowl.
“I’ve talked about that in the past and I don’t what that to continue to be a story about this particular game,” said Brady, who met with Costas on Saturday. “All the facts will come out after this Super Bowl. However, those facts come out that will be news to me, too.”
It would have been difficult to feel sorry for Brady had he lost.
The guy seemingly has it all. Athletic skill. Good looks. A supermodel wife. He’s a prepackaged combination of east coast grit and Midwestern charm, except that he grew up on the west coast.
But if you appreciate greatness or persistence, his losing a third time wouldn’t have mattered.
There is no inflating Brady’s legacy.