By: Brady Gardner
In Super Bowls of years past, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have accomplished some extraordinary feats together. Defeating the Greatest Show on Turf. Upending the reigning champion Seahawks. Overcoming a 28-3 third quarter deficit against the Falcons.
And while this season’s postseason run had its fair share of drama, the quarterback-coach duo have dealt with adversity far more intense than this before. There was no major tragedy that the nation was recovering from. No ball-deflating scandal hovering over the team during Super Bowl week.
But somehow, even though this was their sixth ring, and even though there was no more drama than there has been in other years, this championship still meant the most to Brady and Belichick. Now that just doesn’t make sense.
But it’s true.
Because at the most important time, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick came up with the most impressive performances of their respective careers.
This postseason, the New England Patriots played in essentially two Super Bowls, at least in terms of magnitude and significance. The first was the AFC Championship against the heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs, and second was Super Bowl LIII against the high-flying NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams.
The meeting with the Chiefs developed into Tom Brady’s opportunity to prove that he could still produce magic as he has throughout his career. Trailing late in the fourth quarter, Brady drove the Patriots down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. After Kansas City forced overtime, Brady surgically brought the Patriots 75 yards on 13 plays for a game-winning score.
While Brady’s performance against the Chiefs did demonstrate that he still possessed the same clutch factor from the earlier stages of his career, the game meant much more than that to the 41-year old QB.
On the other side was the soon-to-be league MVP in Patrick Mahomes, a player unanimously considered above Brady in the NFL’s quarterback hierarchy in 2018. Nearly twenty years younger than his counterpart, Mahomes was the physical representation of Tom Brady’s downfall – the quick, flashy, aggressive quarterback that Brady could never be.
Off the field, Brady faced another yet challenge in Kansas City. For teams across the league, Arrowhead Stadium has long been one of the most difficult venues to play in, and Tom Brady’s Patriots had historically struggled there just as much as everyone else. With the KC crowd louder than ever, Brady had to win in Arrowhead – something he hadn’t done since 2004.
Everything was against Brady. The opposing quarterback was better than him. The stadium was his kryptonite. Brady had also uncharacteristically missed voluntary offseason workouts, looked uncomfortable for stretches of regular season, and was criticized for his apparent distraction from football. Everything lined up for Brady to fail.
But he didn’t.
With his performance in the win, Tom Brady proved that he was still on top. He could still go toe-to-toe with the up-and-coming stars of the game, outduel opposing defenses in their own building, and get back to the Super Bowl with limited weapons around him. Brady knew all this himself, and the elation expressed after the win indicated that.
Two weeks later in Atlanta, Brady had an off-day. But he had already proven his case against the Chiefs. There was someone else who had their own case to prove, and Brady’s struggles in Super Bowl LIII opened the door for them to do just that.
When Brady and the Patriots’ offense stuttered against the Rams, Bill Belichick had one of the most impressive, and important, coaching performances of his extensive career.
Three points. That was all that the Belichick-led New England defense conceded to Los Angeles in the Super Bowl. The Rams came in with one of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL all-time, but Belichick’s defense kept them to just three measly points in 60 minutes, and allowed the Patriots to win with the lowest victorious point total in Super Bowl history.
On the surface, any coach who can keep an offense to three points in a game should be commended. But when one considers the circumstances and stakes involved for Belichick, it becomes clear that this coaching job was one of Bill Belichick’s true masterpieces, which just so happened to come when the coach needed it the most.
A lot of fans in New England lost trust in Belichick after the loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, and for good reason. Belichick’s defense simply could not stop Nick Foles and the Philly offense, and the coach’s decision to keep star cornerback Malcolm Butler on the sideline was viewed as the leading cause of the defense’s struggles.
Belichick’s job became no easier after the Super Bowl loss, coming into 2018 with an underwhelming list of defensive personnel. Butler, one of the only true stars of the defense in 2017, was gone. Long-time leaders Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower were getting no younger. Promising rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was lost for the season in Week Three.
Like Brady against Kansas City, everything was against Belichick. The fans had lost trust in him. The media was critically dissecting his every move. Bill Belichick was trying to overcome one of the strongest offenses in NFL history with one of the weakest defensive depth charts he had ever worked with. Everything lined up for Belichick to fail.
But, like Brady two weeks prior, Belichick didn’t.
Bill Belichick’s strategic genius was on full display in Super Bowl LIII, turning an unimposing group of undrafted rookies and aging veterans into an unsolvable defensive unit. With his dominance over Rams’ offensive mastermind Sean McVay, Belichick won back the fans and silenced the critics. Belichick knew all this, and, like Brady again, his reaction to the win demonstrated that.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will both be first-ballot hall-of-famers, and at this point, their careers have become a matter of witnessing two active NFL legends reaching a level never achieved before. This postseason, Brady and Belichick each added another chapter to their respective legacies – another accomplishment on their unmatched resumes.
2018 was a trying year for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but against all odds, the historic duo climbed the mountain and won their sixth championship.
After a year of scrutiny and uncertainty, Brady and Belichick are back on top.