Is the ride over for Brady’s Patriots?
There will be time to assess legacies later, when the white-hot horror of losing this game and the jubilant high of winning it have somewhat subsided for each team.
Still, in the New York Giants’ 21-17 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI, this fact remained: Tom Brady — one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and a man with three Super Bowl rings on his resume — again could not muster his men and eliminate enough of his own mistakes to claim No. 4.
Perhaps this indeed is how dynasties look when they near their end:
–With Brady heaving a last-second desperation shot as his team’s final hope, in effect meaning his best chance to win this particular Super Bowl was to pull an Eli Manning.
–With Brady — having broken free from a crucial sack at the start of the fourth quarter — deciding to throw a deep ball on first down despite holding a two-point lead … and watching his pass turn into a potentially game-changing interception.
–With Brady, at the game’s start, using his first play from scrimmage to turn pressure in the end zone into an intentional grounding call that doubled as a safety and put the Patriots in an early 2-0 hole.
–In short: With Brady having a 27-of-41 passing night, two touchdowns, one interception and a respectable but not stellar evening — which is Brady doing enough to get his team close, but unable to do enough to get it done.
Genius and greatness, and their decay, can always be found in the details. And it is true that the details of the Giants’ remarkable win — their second such in a Super Bowl against the Patriots — included botches by the Patriots that Brady had nothing to do with, as well as strokes of good luck that went the Giants’ way.
There were dropped passes on the final and failed drive (as well as a crucial one by Welker earlier that quarter), revoked turnovers from too many men on the field, and Giants fumbles that kept finding their way back home. All were among the reasons the Giants won and the Patriots lost.
And yet, despite these things, Brady still had a chance at the end to win it all, and many chances throughout to close it out.
In the fourth quarter, there were 57 seconds left and 80 yards to go for Brady to pull off another game-winning drive. It seemed most everyone on that Patriots team believed he would do so, extending their dynasty.
Brady surely believed it, based on both his history and on how a man must believe in that situation to make it so. He told Bob Costas earlier this week that given the choice between the lead and the ball late in the fourth quarter, he would take the ball.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick must have believed it, too, having allowed the Giants to score at the end so that his quarterback could again have a shot to work his magic.
His teammates believed as well, and why wouldn’t they? This was Tom Brady, superstar, legendary quarterback still in his prime, top-end competitor, leader of a team on the verge of its fourth Super Bowl victory since 2001.
Despite having struggled in four of the Patriots’ five elimination games since their 2007 Super Bowl loss to the Giants, this was still Tom Brady.
“We’re always confident with Tom as our quarterback,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said, summing it up.
Of course they are. Dynasties always believe they can last forever, until they begin to crumble. And their greatest men and fiercest warriors — their Tom Bradys — always believe in their own excellence and its nearly immutable power to make things work out as they’re supposed to.
Until they are bested enough times to know better.
“We just didn’t make enough plays,” Brady said. “We all wish we could have done a little bit more. It comes down to one play at the end. If we make it, we’re world champions; if we don’t, we wish we were.”
Yes, but the fact is the Patriots had to have it come down to one miracle play. And the Giants, in not getting beaten by the long-shot throw, may have shown Sunday that the Patriots’ time is over. Super Bowls are incredibly difficult to get to, even for teams that have made five of the past 11.
Brady was at times pitch perfect. At the close of the first half and the start of the second, it could have been Tom Brady circa 2001, 2003 or 2004.
First, with 4:03 left in the first half and the ball on the four-yard line, Brady engineered a 96-yard drive to give his team a 10-9 lead. The drive tied the record books for the longest in Super Bowl history.
Then the Patriots came out of halftime and started right where they’d left off, with Brady putting together a 79-yard drive that took only about four minutes and was capped with his second touchdown of the game.
Just like that, a Patriots team that should have been dominated in the first half — the Giants won the time-of-possession battle 19:45 to 10:15 — was up 17-9. The rout seemed to be a possibility, only now in favor of New England.
There was only about 11:20 left in the third quarter, all the momentum in the world and Tom Brady at the helm. The Patriots would not score again.
The Tom Brady of 2012, he who has emerged in big games these past four years, emerged again to be just not good enough.
He threw the deep interception at a time when, on first-and-10 in the third quarter, there was simply no need. His receivers began dropping the ball. Midway through the fourth quarter, he got his team to the Giants 44-yard line, still with the lead, before the drive puttered out.
And then with the lead gone and those 57 seconds left, Brady simply couldn’t get it done. He got his team to its own 44-yard line. And then like an average quarterback — like anyone else, for whom on this particular drive there would be little blame but no glory — this happened: A spiked ball to stop the clock, time suddenly pressing down on him. Second down. Incomplete pass. Third down. Incomplete pass.
And then the bomb, the prayer, the ball rising up and coming down, toward Hernandez, his arms outstretched, the impossible suddenly possible … and then the ball skirting across the Patriots’ end-zone logo and the other team storming the field.
And there stood Tom Brady, a very good quarterback in this Super Bowl. Just not good enough.
Facing the media afterward, Brady said time and again that they’d been close, that they’d just come up a little short, that all those guys wish they had a few plays left.
He was gracious in defeat, and clearly disheartened, and perhaps even a tad pale. As he walked off the podium, he even smiled at a reporter who caught his eye, with a look of acceptance, politeness and defeat.
His wife, Gisele, appeared, the media stormed, and Brady found her. They hugged. She whispered in his ear. They held hands and walked out, out of the interview room, down one passageway and then into a large hallway.
Together, Brady and Gisele walked past awed fans, down the same route Eli Manning had walked about 30 minutes earlier, only Eli had been holding his young daughter instead of his wife’s hand.
Those two walks, in the same place in front of the same people, summed up the night.
Eli had led his team to another fourth-quarter comeback, and so he carried his little girl with the giddy glow of a champion. And Tom Brady, once again, moved with a slow, weighted look — and no such glow.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.