The New England Patriots have yet again found themselves on the cusp of another title, pushing past any adversity that would decommission a lesser team’s championship aspirations with ease, getting to the franchise’s 10th Super Bowl appearance.
Tom Brady prepares for his eighth Super Bowl, which pits him against an Eagles defense that has been about their “underdog” status for a month. The task looks to be challenging, but is this the toughest challenge Brady has starred down on this stage? The answer requires a history lesson.
In 2002, the Patriots were facing the Greatest show on turf: the St. Louis Rams, the team that posted 31.4 points and 418.1 yards per game. Both marks that dwarfed the Patriots offensive statistics. The backup Brady was up against dud turned stud Kurt Warner and a lethal machine that churned up opposing defenses. But Brady guided New England to a walk-off field goal to win 20-17, while head coach Bill Belichick somehow slowed the Rams offense.
Then in 2004, Patriots survived the attempted comeback of the Jake Delhomme led Carolina Panthers. The Panthers, who trailed by as many as 21-10, made a game of it in a 27 point fourth quarter. Brady was there again, capping his 354 yards, three score performance by leading the Patriots down the field for another walk-off field goal to win 32-29.
In 2005, the Patriots and Eagles went toe to toe in a tight game that was 14-14 headed into the fourth quarter. The final quarter started with 10-unanswered points for a 24-14 Patriots lead. While Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb tried to his best to pull the heroic comeback, his 357 yards and three scores were tarnished by three interceptions, including the game-sealing turnover. Brady played a clean game, throwing for 236 yards and two scores in a 24-21 victory.
The most damning Patriots Super Bowl performance (and the top contender for toughest Super Bowl) was when the 16-0 Patriots took on the 10-6 New York Giants. The front of the Giants produced five sacks and controlled the game, constantly applying pressure to Brady. The Patriots came out flat, falling 17-14 after giving up 14 fourth-quarter points and stumbling to a surprisingly good Giants front seven.
The Patriots were outdueled by the Giants yet again in 2012, with another top-level offense led by Brady and company stumped by the Giants front seven. Eli Manning threw for 296 yards and a score in another upset game.
As the Seattle Seahawks prepared in 2015 for their second Super Bowl in as many years, the pressure was on the Patriots. They would be trying to get their first Super Bowl victory in 10 years and avoid a 3-3 record under the Brady/Belichick era. With the deflategate story swirling around the Patriots as they were about to face a defense that let up the least points in the league for the second straight season, the Seahawks seemed to be the favorite.
But in the fourth quarter, Brady did something no one else had: he scored 14 points, marking the first time anyone had made up a double-digit deficit in the final quarter against Seattle’s defense. Brady had 328 yards and four scores while cornerback Malcolm Butler made a circus interception to steal the 28-24 win.
In 2017 too, the odds seemed challenging, as yet again Brady would have to try and outpace a historic offense. The Atlanta Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game, putting up points with ease and giving the Greatest Show on Turf a run for their reputation. The game looked even more out of reach as the Patriots fell behind 28-3, seemingly not having an answer for anything the Falcons did on either side. But the Patriots did, it was Brady.
In the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, Brady led the Patriots scored 31-unanswered points to win 34-28 in the games first overtime period. Brady set a record for passing attempts (62), completions (43) and yards (466). He was unstoppable and dominate in his effort to get his fifth ring.
Now he is playing, yet again, for a ring. This is Brady’s toughest challenge and if he can succeed, it will be his crowning achievement. Why? Because Brady is fighting time in this Super Bowl.
The 40-year-old quarterback will not only be taking on the fourth best defense after coming back from down 10 against the second-ranked defense, he will be expected to do it at an extremely high level. This is not the Denver Broncos in 2016, Brady cannot rely on his defense to win the game.
The Patriots offensive line is not good enough to run the ball down the Eagles throat. The Patriots front seven is not good enough to thwart the running game of the Eagles. The Patriots defense is not good enough to shut down the Eagles offense. At 40, Brady will be expected to not only win a Super Bowl, he is expected to be the best player on the field and the best version of himself to get the ring.
This is Brady’s toughest challenge because another year has come and gone, yet he is still in the most destructive sport in the world. He needs to be the best despite everything and continue to cheat father time for another ring.