Friday, February 6, 2015

Tom Brady's Third Triumph

Last weekend, Tom Brady joined the most elite of NFL quarterback groups, the QBs who won four Super Bowls in their careers. Brady was the third to achieve that feat.

The other two are Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana.

There were plenty of times in the last decade when Brady must have wondered if he would ever win his fourth Super Bowl ring. In fact, he did get a couple of opportunities in the last 10 years, but the Patriots lost both to the New York Giants.

Brady has now played in six Super Bowls, more than any other quarterback. But the gap between his most recent victory and his triumph last Sunday was almost exactly 10 years.

Ten years ago today, the Patriots took on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. It was New England's third appearance in four years.

The Eagles were playing in a Super Bowl for the first time in a quarter of a century. The Patriots were back after being absent from the big game the year before.

Brady had a good game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but he wasn't named the MVP. That went to receiver Deion Branch, who caught 11 of those passes for 133 yards.

It may have been the most consistently close Super Bowl ever played. Neither team scored in the first quarter, and both teams managed to score a touchdown in the second and third quarters. Heading into the fourth quarter, it was 14–14.

The fourth quarter began with the Patriots marching downfield. The drive began at their own 34 with 3:35 left in the third quarter and concluded at the 13:49 mark of the fourth quarter with Corey Dillon scoring a touchdown from two yards out. Dillon was in his first season with the Patriots after seven fruitless years in Cincinnati, and he led all rushers in this, his only Super Bowl appearance, on this day 10 years ago.

New England padded the lead a few minutes later with Adam Vinatieri's 22–yard field goal. Nearly midway through the final period, one of the teams finally had a two–score lead, but it wouldn't last. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb led Philadelphia downfield for a touchdown with just under two minutes to play, and the Eagles were within a field goal of tying the game and sending it to overtime.

But New England recovered the onside kick and went on to claim its third Super Bowl title.

Dillon was on the winning side, and that is almost always where you'll find the Super Bowl MVPs. (Chuck Howley of the Dallas Cowboys took home the MVP in spite of losing Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts, but he is the only exception to the rule.)

That being the case, it is only natural to wonder who would have been the MVP if the Eagles had won.

McNabb is as likely a candidate as any. He completed almost as many passes as Brady did (30 of 51) for 357 yards and three touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions, two of which came on New England's side of the field.

Try as he might, McNabb just couldn't lift the Eagles past the Patriots. They lost by three points — just as the Rams and Panthers did before them. By comparison, last Sunday's four–point win over the Seahawks was a breeze.

Actually, in the Tom Brady era, the Patriots have played in six Super Bowls, and each was decided by less than a touchdown. New England's two losses to the New York Giants were by four points or less.

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