The psychology of winning is something that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have perfected during their 17-year run of dominance that has included seven Super Bowl appearances. They haven't won them all, but they've learned that other teams will falter at some point, and capitalizing on those moments is winning the mental tug of war.
You can talk about bad coaching decisions, Brady’s record number of passing yards, regular season MVP Matt Ryan’s inability to avoid crucial sacks at critical moments or the ineptitude of the Falcons running game down the stretch in the Pats' 34-28 overtime win over the Dirty Birds in a thrilling Super Bowl 51.
It's all valid, but it doesn't soften the devastation for Dan Quinn's Falcons squad. They will live with the nightmare of of this Super Bowl forever.
Patriots fans, on the other hand, are used to winning and losing Super Bowls in thrilling fashion. This is Brady’s fifth Super Bowl title, which gives him more than any QB in NFL history and ties him with Bart Starr for the most overall championships (Starr won three NFL titles before the advent of the Super Bowl, of which he won the first two with the Green Bay Packers).
That’s nothing to sneeze at and makes Brady the supreme winner in his Era. Whether he’s a better pure QB than the retired Peyton Manning in his prime is another story for another slow football day.
There was no shortage of stories, spins, twists and turns on Sunday night and in the end, the better franchise won. The team with the legendary coach, QB, track record and resilience prevailed.
Brady, who was maligned by some in light of the Deflategate scandal that led to a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season, played with a chip on his shoulder upon his return and definitely got the last laugh when his main prosecutor, commissioner Roger Goodell, had to basically bow at Belichick's feet as he presented the Lombardi Trophy.
Always calm. Always stoic in demeanor, brick-by-brick Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady worked their way back in this game. It was masterful actually, but not surprising coming from a three-headed monster that can outmaneuver the best defenses on the planet and do it without one definitive star on offense other than the QB.
Atlanta’s huge lead provided great banter and excitement among the 114 million or so watching the mega-event as anti-Pats fans were basking in the glory of what appeared to be a route in progress. We’d never seen Brady so at a loss for words or answers. Down 28-3, he was looking dejected, sitting on the bench with his head down and the golden boy’s body language was more pessimistic than we have seen in quite some time.
But anyone who has studied football over the past decade and a half knew that the Pats would make adjustments, take Julio Jones out of the game and then chip away with Mr. Clutch capitalizing on any mistake ATL made.
"We all brought each other back,” Brady said after his team had scored the last of its 31 consecutive points to end the game. “We never felt out if it. It was a tough battle.”
Even at 21-0, nobody outside of the great state of Georgia considered Superbowl 51 over. The Dirty Birds had the momentum, they were smacking Brady around the field and moving the ball at will in that first half.
Problem is, they didn’t save any of that offense for crunch time. The Atlanta defense, which most analysts felt was iffy coming into the game, totally collapsed in the fourth quarter. Brady sliced and diced them up like a Wu Tang track.
The game wasn’t over at halftime. It was just as a matter of whether or not Atlanta could hold on and how badly they really wanted to win.
The 19 unanswered fourth-quarter points, with the Pats trailing 28-9 led to Atlanta making history, but not the kind they wanted to by completing the greatest Super Bowl collapse ever.
It was almost like watching the game in slow motion. If you took yourself beyond the lines and the action and strip it down to the white meat, this game came down to strategy, coaching and the psychology of being able to close.
One team just knew how to win. They had been there before and the moment was just another one in a history of mythical games and improbable comebacks, The other had an MVP QB, who is very good, but proved to be a paper champ in the clutch.
Sometimes, the game is no more than a battle of attrition. You can attack it like a sprint or a marathon, but keep in mind that when you sprint against a long distance runner, eventually you run out of gas just as they are picking up steam.
The Pats played the perfect rope-a-dope game. Atlanta punched itself out by the late rounds and fell victim to the knockout against the Muhammad Ali of NFL franchises.