The New England Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers showdown lived up to the great expectations anyone could have had for it, and everyone will remember one of two things from it: Jesse James’ controversial non-catch, and Ben Roethlisberger turning a spike play into an interception.
What shouldn’t be lost is that once again, Tom Brady showed why he’s the greatest quarterback in NFL history and the Patriots showed why they’re champions.
The Patriots probably should have been done long before the wild ending. They led for about only three of the game’s first 59 minutes. They didn’t light up the scoreboard and Brady threw a rare interception deep in his own territory in the third quarter. When the Steelers held New England to a field goal with 3:56 left, that should have been it. The Steelers led 24-19 and hadn’t gone three-and-out the whole game. Then, when the Patriots held the Steelers to a three-and-out when they needed it most, you knew what was coming next.
For most teams, and most quarterbacks, needing 77 yards and a touchdown in 2:06 would seem like a difficult challenge. For Brady, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. He hadn’t had a fantastic day to that point, but you had to know what was coming.
Brady completed three passes to Rob Gronkowski for 69 yards. Then Dion Lewis strolled into the end zone for the final 8 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. This is just what the Patriots do. Had they lost, the Steelers were probably going to get the AFC’s No. 1 seed and the Patriots were in danger of getting stuck with the No. 3 seed behind the Jacksonville Jaguars. A loss Sunday would have changed the Patriots’ playoff outlook in a dramatic way. Other teams and quarterbacks might shrink in the moment, but that drive exemplified what makes Brady the greatest quarterback of all time (it showed why Gronkowski is great too). We might as well just give him the MVP award now.
You’re sick of hearing it. The Patriots and Brady have been great for so long, and not always in the most loveable way. Patriots fans love the team – try criticizing the Pats sometime and you’ll find out – and everyone else is waiting for their dominance to finally be over. Or at least for Brady to look like he’s 40 years old. For most of Sunday afternoon it seemed like the Patriots were going to get some comeuppance. New England looked bad in a Monday night loss to the Dolphins. It rarely looked Sunday like they were going to pull out a crucial win. And somehow, with a clutch drive at the end and a finish that was borderline miraculous, the Patriots won. Again. They won the AFC East, for a ninth straight time. That’s an NFL record. With home wins over the Bills and Jets the next two weeks, they’ll be the first seed and the AFC will go through Foxborough. Again.
The last time the Patriots weren’t a part of conference championship weekend was 2010. Had a two-point conversion in the final seconds against the Denver Broncos in the 2015 AFC championship gone their way, we might be talking about a Patriots team trying to win its fourth straight Super Bowl. This run has been unlike anything in NFL history, and given the challenges of the salary cap and in a league set up for parity, it’s arguably the greatest sustained run in American professional sports history. The only player that was around for the first Patriots title and the last one is Brady. He’s having the greatest season for a 40-year-old quarterback in NFL history. The only other good season for a quarterback that old was Brett Favre in 2009. You’d think Brady would fade and the Patriots would follow. Instead, Brady has been incredible and the Patriots have lost one time since Oct. 1.
This Patriots team might not win it all. They have looked vulnerable at times. The Kansas City Chiefs dominated the Patriots in Week 1, and they’re a likely divisional round opponent. The Steelers can play with the Patriots and might finish the job in the AFC title game, even if it’s on the road. Sunday’s loss doesn’t mean they can’t beat New England in a rematch. But this much remains true, especially after the win in Pittsburgh: If any future opponent has the Patriots on the ropes, you better bury them. If Brady has a chance to win it, he’s going to find a way. [/restrict]