GLENDALE, Ariz. — The New England Patriots have an extremely talented team, but as kickoff grew nearer Sunday night and University of Phoenix Stadium filled to its brim with college navy jerseys with action green accents, doubt began to creep in that they actually could pull out their fourth Super Bowl title.
That uncertainty grew stronger as the Patriots fell behind to the ultra-talented Seattle Seahawks by 10 points late in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, which only made the 12th Man more deafening. All hope nearly was lost after the Patriots were forced to punt on their next two possessions.
Then, like a writer who works best under deadline with time ticking down, Tom Brady flipped a switch in the fourth quarter, completing 13 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns to rally the Patriots.
This sounds insane, given his now fourth Super Bowl title, but Brady and “clutch” weren’t frequently being used in the same sentence around New England recently. The Patriots had lost two Super Bowls, and Brady had gone a full decade without a ring.
Well, he’s baaaaack. And by the sounds of things, he might not be done collecting rings.
?No. I?ve got a lot of football left,” Brady answered when asked if he has thought about his legacy. “It?s hard to play this game, and it takes a big commitment, a lot of sacrifice. For all the players that have played in the past and I?ve looked up to and admired and a lot of the players now who I look up to and admire ? it?s a big challenge, and it?s incredible to experience this feeling once, and I?ve been fortunate to play on four really great teams, so I?m really blessed.?
Brady isn’t pulling a John Elway, who was only one year older than the Patriots quarterback when he walked away from the game. And why would Brady? If he’s not the best quarterback in the NFL, he’s definitely in the top two, and he has the most talented team around him since the Patriots’ glory years from 2001 to 2004.
Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski might form Brady’s best receiving nucleus ever, re-signing cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Devin McCourty shouldn’t be too difficult, and the sky seems to be the limit for young players such as Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
Bill Belichick still is on top of his game, too, as he, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia continue to show creativity on both sides of the ball.
Another dynasty could be in the works for the Patriots, who don’t have a ton of competition in the AFC. Andrew Luck is dangerous, but the Indianapolis Colts have massive holes to fill. The Denver Broncos are starting anew with Gary Kubiak after John Fox and the team “mutually agreed to part ways,” and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals aren’t on the Patriots’ level.
The Patriots didn’t win Super Bowl XLIX by some fluke. They were the best team in the NFL this season, they beat the best team of 2013, and they’ll likely go into 2015 as the best team on paper.
The Patriots began to show their promise during the preseason, when they appeared unstoppable with their starters on the field. Then they came out of the gates groggy in the regular season and had to be whooped by the Kansas City Chiefs to pull it together and start playing up to their potential again.
There are ways to bring back the important pieces who will be free agents this offseason, like Revis, McCourty and running back Shane Vereen. And if they’re determined to win, maybe linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork could take pay cuts to allow those signings to get done.
Brady already has done his job to free up salary-cap room, and he’s staying in the NFL because he’ll never be content. Brady has four rings now, but so did Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Even if Brady acquires a fifth ring, that will only motivate him to get more and more and more.
Speculation that Brady or Belichick might not be back next season is looking ridiculous. This team should be together for another long haul, and as long as Brady is healthy and the roster is balanced, the Patriots will have a shot at another Super Bowl title at any time.
“Next year” rarely is an uplifting sentiment. The Patriots and their fans should enjoy this win, but good things might be coming down the road, too.
Thumbnail photo via Matt Slocum/Associated Press