Tom Brady and Bill Belichick set a pair of NFL records Sunday when they became the first player and coach, respectively, to reach seven Super Bowls. And depending on how things go in Houston, more history could be on the horizon for the most accomplished player-coach pairing the league has ever seen.
With a victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Belichick, the New England Patriots’ head coach since 2000, would become the first in his position to win five championships, breaking his current tie with legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll. Similarly, Brady, who also entered the league in 2000 but did not take over as the Pats’ starting quarterback until 2001, could join longtime 49ers and Cowboys standout Charles Haley as the only players in league history with five Super Bowl rings.
Win or lose, each man’s curriculum vitae speaks for itself, but that resume could also very easily look different for the tandem, which is either stunningly close to Super Bowl perfection or alarmingly close to being 0-for-6, depending on your point of view. With that in mind, here’s a look at the six Brady/Belichick Super Bowls — and the paper-thin margins that decided them — by the numbers.
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Of the previous 50 Super Bowls, just 13 have been decided by four points or fewer, and all six of Brady and Belichick’s appearances thus far are among them. The pair has also been a part of four of the seven Super Bowls decided by a field goal or less. New England’s two losses, each to the New York Giants, came by a combined margin of seven points, and the four wins, over the Rams, Panthers, Eagles and Seahawks, came by a combined total of — you guessed it — 13 points.
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Add up the total offense in each of New England’s last six Super Bowls, and you might be surprised to find that the Patriots haven’t just been outgained by their opponents — they’ve been outgained by a lot. In fact, the team’s total yardage margin in those games stands at a startling minus-234. And you can’t just blame that on the two losses, either. In the four wins alone, Brady & Co. were outgained by a combined 123 yards, and that includes a 94-yard surplus in Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina. Further, New England was outgained on the ground in three of six appearances (including a 105-yard deficit two years ago against Seattle), and four of the games have seen the Patriots outclassed through the air, the widest margin coming in Brady’s first Super Bowl, when Kurt Warner threw for 365 yards to Brady’s 145.
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Since Brady was drafted in 2000, 168 of 186 NFL postseason games have been decided in regulation. Of those 168 contests, 112 — or exactly two-thirds — have seen the time-of-possession winner also win the game. When it comes to the Patriots, the math roughly checks out, as New England has won time of possession in three of Brady’s six Super Bowls, with a net time of possession for all six games sitting at plus-6:38. But if you take out Super Bowl XXXVIII, which saw New England possess the ball for a hair under 39 minutes, the Patriots are looking at an 11:18 combined deficit in the remaining five games. Obviously, there are other factors to consider when evaluating the significance of time of possession, but, in any case, that’s a battle New England will want to win against Atlanta.
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In six Brady/Belichick Super Bowls, New England has run a total of 22 more plays than its opponents. However, the Patriots have also seen their opponents outgain them by nearly a yard per snap (6.07 to 5.16), as their aforementioned total yardage deficit might suggest. Overall, since the start of the 2001 season, New England has been slightly more efficient than its opponents, gaining 5.51 yards per snap to its foes’ 5.28. In the playoffs, specifically, the Pats have picked up 5.31 yards per play to opponents’ 5.27. But for some reason, those numbers — especially on the defensive side — haven’t translated to the Super Bowl itself.
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Like any quarterback, Brady has his favorite targets, but he’s also shown time and time again that he can develop a rapport with anyone on the field. And that’s no different in the Super Bowl, where he’s completed passes to 28 different receivers over the course of his six appearances. Leading the pack is Deion Branch (24 receptions), followed by Wes Welker (18) and Troy Brown (16). But many other interesting names also dot the list, including Chad Johnson, who caught a third-quarter pass in Super Bowl XLVI, and Mike Vrabel, a linebacker who caught goal-line touchdown passes in two separate title games. Of the Patriots’ current active wide receivers, tight ends, fullbacks and running backs, only Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and James Develin have previously caught a Brady pass in the Super Bowl. For the rest, their next will be their first.
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As one might expect, Brady is the NFL’s all-time leader in Super Bowl passing yards, with 1,605 spread across his appearances, and at this point he’s closer to 2,000 yards than he is to his nearest competitor, Warner, who threw for 1,156 yards in three Super Bowl starts. In addition, Brady has Joe Montana beat for the Super Bowl touchdown pass record (13 to 11), and has more Super Bowl pass attempts (247) and completions (164) than Peyton Manning, the No. 2 in each category with 155 and 103, respectively. Yet perhaps the most impressive aspect of all of this is the fact that Brady only has four total interceptions in Super Bowl play — fewer than Rich Gannon had in Super Bowl XXXVII, alone.
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In recent years, Belichick has expressed support for the expansion of the NFL’s rules regarding coaches’ challenges, but he’s been judicious with his trusty red flag with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. To date, Belichick has challenged only three calls, one in each of three separate Super Bowls. The first, in Super Bowl XXXIX against Philadelphia, overturned a David Givens second-quarter fumble but did not lead directly to a New England score. The next, in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLII against New York, resulted in a too-many-men penalty on the Giants’ Chase Blackburn, leading to a Pats first down. The third and final Belichick challenge was the most consequential. It came late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl XLVI rematch with the Giants. Officials upheld an incredible 38-yard Mario Manningham catch, and New York ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown eight plays later.