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(Love) Letter from Houston: Bad Brady, good Brady and GOAT Brady all on show

If football is a religion in Texas, they found their God last night.

Tom Brady. GOAT.
Tom Brady. GOAT.
Image: Jae C. Hong

Steve O’Rourke reports from Houston

I STARTED WRITING this at 4am because I couldn’t sleep.

It’s not the usual things that keep me awake, like if (SPOILER ALERT) they stole the only plans for the Death Star in Rogue One, and killed all the engineers who designed it, how did the Empire build a second?

No, it’s trying to get my head around what happened at the NRG Stadium last night.

I can’t undersell just how bad the Patriots, but particularly Tom Brady, were in the first 40 minutes of Super Bowl LI.

If he wasn’t overthrowing receivers by five yards, he was forcing the ball into double coverage and that folly was eventually punished by Robert Alford just before half-time to put the Falcons into a seemingly unassailable 21-0 lead.

It was an uncharacteristically nervous performance from the (then) four-time Super Bowl winner and, when asked to describe his own performance after the game, admitted “there was a lot shit tonight.”

For the thousands of Patriots fans in the stadium — and they outnumbered their Atlanta rivals by about five to one — the first 40 minutes were a frustrating, and expletive-filled, experience.

But game knows game and even with a 25-point lead — and knowing the largest Super Bowl comeback was just 10 points — Falcons fans were nervous.

Neutrals told them not to be, to enjoy the experience, but so too did family and friends waving people off on the Titanic.

Slowly, methodically, Brady found his rhythm, completing 43 passes (a Super Bowl record) for 466 yards (a Super Bowl record) to become the first quarterback to secure three Super Bowl fourth quarter comebacks.

He, of course, became the first quarterback to lift his fifth Vince Lombardi trophy on his way to being named Super Bowl MVP for a fourth time (guess what, a Super Bowl record).

He was helped of course. James White can count himself unlucky not to be named MVP with three touchdowns including the game-winning one in overtime, while I still don’t believe we can trust the laws of physics any more after Julian Edelman’s circus catch.

And the Falcons helped him too.

For all of Brady’s heroics, Atlanta were leading by eight points on second down at the Patriots’ 23-yard line and four minutes left on the clock. A field goal there and they’re Super Bowl LI champions.

But Kyle Shanahan — who is the best offensive co-ordinator in football — inexplicably decided to pass the ball. Matt Ryan took a sack to move them out of field goal range before a holding penalty drove them back even further.

(As an aside, what is it about the Patriots that Jedi-mind tricks opposition coaches into throwing the ball late in games when they have an explosive back field at their disposal?)

On the game-tying drive (and two-point conversion) and in overtime, every single person in my immediate vicinity knew Brady would win this game for the Patriots.

There was no doubt and that alone is enough to put him into consideration for being the greatest quarterback we have ever seen grace a football field. Add in the five Super Bowl rings, the 11 AFC Championship Game visits and the fact he’s been doing this since 2001 in a league where the players’ association say the average length of career is 3.3 years.

I’ve never seen anything in my life like last night. Never before have I seen a team 28-3 down midway through the third quarter and thought ‘yeah, they still have a chance.’

Just to exist at the same time as the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Brady is a privilege. But to witness the latter’s greatness in person last night was something that I will never forget.

I still won’t forgive him for the Tuck Rule though.

Brady inspires greatest comeback in Super Bowl history

As it happened: New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons, Super Bowl LI

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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