PHOENIX — Tom Brady and Bill Belichick need one of those catchy super couple portmanteaus, like Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). For now, we’ll just have to settle for calling them a couple of four-time Super Bowl champions.
The Patriots aren’t the model NFL franchise of the new millennium because of deflated footballs or candid camera tapes of opposing teams’ signals. They are that franchise because of Brady and Belichick and their blessed union of football souls. Their success and their legacies are handcuffed together in history.
Super Bowl XLIX was about as Patriots a win as you can get. It was textbook Brady and Belichick that nudged them both higher in the record books, joining the elite clubs of quarterbacks and coaches who have won four Super Bowls.
Brady and Belichick don’t get their redemption in the desert and the Patriots don’t win Super Bowl XLIX, 28-24, over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night if both the alchemist quarterback and the genius coach don’t flash their Canton credentials in concert.
What other team can ask its quarterback to throw the ball 50 times against the most celebrated secondary in the league? What other coach would unearth an undrafted rookie free agent corner from Division 2 West Alabama to make the game-saving interception?
The Patriot Way is located at the intersection of Brady and Belichick’s greatness.
“In my opinion, that’s the best coach-quarterback combo in the history of this game,” said Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater.
Aesthetically, the two may seem like an odd couple — the GQ quarterback and the hobo chic coach — but they’re one of the most perfect player-coach matches ever.
They persevered through player personnel changes, coaching departures, and two bitter Super Bowl disappointments to lift the Lombardi Trophy 10 seasons after they last did it.
Trailing, 24-14 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots put the game in Brady’s hands. They asked him to operate with precision and patience. They asked him to outwit and out-execute the best defense in the NFL.
He did, throwing the ball 50 times and completing a Super Bowl-record 37 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The fourth quarter was like defusing a bomb, one wrong decision by Brady and the whole thing was going to blow up in his face. On the go-ahead drive he was 8 for 8, his last pass a 3-yarder to Julian Edelman with 2:02 left.
“He’s a great player,’’ said Belichick on Monday. “It’s been a great privilege to coach Tom for the last 15 years, 14 years as starting quarterback. We have a great relationship. We meet on a regular basis weekly several times. I can’t think of a more deserving player than Tom to be the recipient of the accolades that he has this week, and particularly [Sunday] night and today here.
“He’s our leader. He competes as well as any player I’ve ever coached. He’s well-prepared. He has great poise and great presence. There’s no player I respect more for that than Tom. That’s been a great pillar of strength for our football team for the past decade and a half. I sincerely appreciate that.”
Brady’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible if Belichick’s re-tooled defense didn’t hold Seattle scoreless on its last four drives.
“Our whole thing as a defense was to create turnovers or go three and out and get the ball back to Tom,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis. “We did that, man. We played lights out on defense. We know Tom in these times he is very clutch. He is very poised. He is going to get us out of certain situations, so that was our main goal as a defense. Let’s lock down and get the ball back to the magic man, Tom.”
New England got an assist from Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who literally threw away the game by calling a pass on second and goal from the Patriots 1 with 26 seconds left.
Malcolm Butler cut in front of wide receiver Ricardo Lockette like he had road rage in rush-hour traffic for the game-sealing pick.
He jumped the route because he had been schooled by Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff to look for a pick play out of that particular formation.
Butler represents the hallmarks of a Belichick-built team. He evaluates players on performance, not pedigree, and has them better prepared than the opponent.
That’s why it was Butler, who said no other teams were interested in signing him, who made one of the most memorable interceptions in Patriots history.
The problem with setting such a high bar of excellence, as Brady and Belichick have done, is that when you don’t clear the bar everyone judges your attempt to be a complete flop.
Six Super Bowl appearances speak for themselves, so does being the winningest coach-QB combo in NFL playoff history (21 wins).
But both men had failed to live up to expectations in the Patriots’ prior two Super Bowls, soul-crushing late-game losses to the New York Giants.
Brady left the field in the fourth quarter of both of those games with the lead, only to watch Belichick’s defense falter.
In both losses, Brady failed to score more than 17 points, and in Super Bowl XLVI he made costly mistakes.
In Super Bowl XLIX, they lifted each other up, instead of letting each other down.
“We’ve been on the other end of this two times in the last seven years, being ahead late in the game with the chance to win it, and not closing it out,” said Brady. “I’m glad we had the opportunity to do it. Coach talked all week about how it was going to take all 60 minutes, and it certainly did. It never broke our will.”
The Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX because they have the NFL’s ultimate power couple.