The Patriots. Again. Hooray.
For the eighth time in 17 years, they’ll play in a Super Bowl. Unless you live in New England or unless you’re from New England, you’re sick of them.
Enough of Bill Belichick and his grumpy coach act.
Enough of Ron Popeil wannabe Tom Brady peddling magic pajamas.
Enough of Ben Affleck. Just because your favorite team wins a few Super Bowls doesn’t mean you’re worthy of the Batsuit.
They’re insufferable, and they’ve all been accused of cheating.
But I digress.
You have Patriots Fatigue. Maybe a dash of Patriots Envy, too.
Do you remember, though, what the Super Bowl was like before Belichick and Brady?
It was a snoozefest. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, it was basically a coronation ceremony for whichever team emerged from the NFC. Year in and year out, it obliterated the AFC representative. 46-10, 42-10, 55-10, 52-17, 49-26 — that was the norm. Games were over by halftime. Once, the Bears used their Refrigerator to score a touchdown just to test whether anyone was still watching.
The Super Bowl was a joke, and we got used to it. We stopped paying attention to the game and started paying attention to the commercials.
Yeah, Steve Young was amazing, but how about those croaking frogs!
Belichick and Brady changed that. They saved the Super Bowl.
Of the first 35 Super Bowls, nine were decided by one score. Of the past 16? Ten. And the Patriots have played in seven of them.
Underdogs. Favorites. Win. Lose. It doesn’t matter. If New England is in it, it’s close.
• 2002: Adam Vinatieri connects on a 48-yard field goal as time expires to complete the Patriots’ upset of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. New England 20, St. Louis 17.
• 2003: The Patriots miss the playoffs. The Super Bowl is lopsided again, with the Buccaneers trouncing the Raiders 48-21.
• 2004 and 2005: The Patriots return, and so does the drama. Like the Rams, the Panthers and Eagles fall victim to Vinatieri’s size 10 right foot. New England 32, Carolina 29 and New England 24, Philadelphia 21.
• 2008: The Patriots are 18-0 and are supposed to beat the Giants by two touchdowns. Instead, we see three lead changes in the fourth quarter, the final one set up by David Tyree’s miraculous “helmet catch.” New York 17, New England 14.
• 2012: The Patriots and Giants clash again, and again an incredible catch (Eli Manning to Mario Manningham down the left sideline) sets up a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. New York 21, New England 17.
• 2015: The Seahawks drive to the Patriots’ 1-yard line with 26 seconds left, but Malcolm Butler’s interception preserves the win. New England 28, Seattle 24.
• 2017: The Patriots overcome a 28-3 deficit and force the first Super Bowl overtime period. New England 34, Atlanta 28.
The final scores don’t fully convey just how close the Belichick-Brady Super Bowls have been. All of them have been decided in the fourth quarter or overtime. Five of them have featured a lead change in the final minute. Before the Belichick-Brady era, only two Super Bowls featured a lead change in the final minute (Colts-Cowboys in 1971 and 49ers-Bengals in 1989).
So how is it that the Patriots — the most dominant force in the NFL over the past two decades — have never dominated a Super Bowl?
They’re not built to overwhelm teams; they’re built to grind them down. They prepare, they execute and they rarely make mistakes.
Even when they fall behind, as they did against the Seahawks in 2014 (10 points) and against the Falcons last season (25 points), they don’t waver. They don’t press. They don’t take more risks. Doing so would make a bad situation worse.
In the Patriots’ seven Super Bowls since 2002, they’ve committed eight turnovers, and only three when trailing. Whether up by 14 points or down by 14 points, they almost always look like the same team.
No player epitomizes that steadiness like Brady.
“He was the same as he always is: cool, calm and collected,” receiver Danny Amendola said of his quarterback’s demeanor during last season’s Super Bowl.
Brady doesn’t drop back and look for kill shots. He’s a quick decision maker who takes what the defense gives him.
Since 2000, teams have executed 53 plays of 30 or more yards in the Super Bowl. Brady and the Patriots have been responsible for two of those gains. Instead, they relentlessly jab opponents with gains in the 15 to 25-yard range. They’ve gained 49 of those — more than twice as many as any other team.
And then they wait. They wait for their opponent to make a mistake. That’s how they won their past two Super Bowls, by capitalizing on the Seahawks’ and Falcons’ overly aggressive pass calls late in the fourth quarter. Are they lucky? Or are they the beneficiaries of extreme patience and an understanding that the difference in a championship football game can be one decision, one throw, one step, one kick, one injury or one penalty?
Hate Belichick, Brady and the Patriots all you want. But the Super Bowl wouldn’t be the same without them.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.