The reputations of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots all took a serious hit as the New York Giants won Sunday in a huge upset.
Brady has often been compared to Joe Montana in recent years, but he didn’t look much like Montana against the Giants as he lost his first Super Bowl after three wins. Montana won all four Super Bowls in which he played and was the MVP in three of them.
No quarterback wins by himself, of course. With John Elway at quarterback, the Denver Broncos were beaten decisively in two Super Bowls. But everybody realized that, if it hadn’t been for Elway, those Broncos teams wouldn’t have come close to the big game.
That’s not true of Brady, who has been surrounded by a great cast. He also had a bad day in the AFC Championship Game, but the Patriots’ defenseheld the San Diego Chargers to four field goals to win that game. The Patriots’ defense held the Giants down for most of Sunday’s game, too, but Brady couldn’t get the high-powered offense going.
Brady was hammered all day by the Giants’ defense, but the great ones find a way under the most difficult of circumstances. I think of Montana in a regular-season game against Philadelphia in 1989, when he was rushed, hammered and flustered for three quarters, then threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to beat the Eagles. Or the January ’89 Super Bowl. The 49ers had misfired all day and trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13. They had the ball on their 8 with just 3:20 left. Piece of cake. Montana took them downfield and eventually hit John Taylor for the winning touchdown.
Two days ago, it was Eli Manning who had the Montana moment, not Brady. With just 2:42 left, the Giants were on their 17, but just over two minutes later, with 35 seconds left on the clock, Manning threw the eventual game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.
I think it will be some time before anybody compares Brady to Montana again.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s reputation took a hit, too. Belichick has been regarded, legitimately, as the best coach in the game, but his players seemed without passion compared with the Giants. And the Giants outcoached the Patriots, too, holding back some defensive strategies in their regular-season-ending game. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots had no answer for the Giants’ defensive tactics.
And so, the Patriots fell short of their goal of that perfect 19-0 season. They will still have the distinction of going undefeated in 16 regular- season games, but the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who played two fewer
regular-season games, are still the only team to go undefeated through the regular season and postseason.
Losing the Super Bowl also denied the Patriots the right to call themselves the best ever. By definition, you can’t be the best if you can’t win the Super Bowl. Several champions who lost during the regular season will rank ahead of them because of resounding Super Bowl triumphs. Among them: the ’92 Dallas Cowboys, who buried the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in the Super Bowl; the 49ers of ’89 (55-10 over Denver) and ’84 (38-16 over the Dolphins); and the ’85 Chicago Bears (46-10 over New England).
It was, literally, a very upsetting day.