Under the leadership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the Patriots have enjoyed nearly two decades of consistent playoff runs. Patriots fans have been able to watch two seasons worth of playoff games, as Brady has started in 36 postseason games in his career. As the Patriots are set to head to their eighth Super Bowl in the past 16 years, let’s look back at the ten best and most memorable playoff games of the Brady-Belichick era.
Ed Note: Part I is available by clicking here
5. Super Bowl XXXVI – New England vs. St. Louis
This is the Super Bowl that started it all. The Patriots weren’t supposed to win this, going up against the Greatest Show on Turf. However, Belichick proved that defense wins championships as the New England defense held the vaunted Rams offense to just three points through the first three quarters. Ty Law, arguably the best cornerback of the late 90s – early 2000s, picked off Kurt Warner and returned it for a touchdown to give the Patriots an early lead. A stunning fourth quarter St. Louis comeback tied the game at 17 with a minute and a half to play. This is the moment that the legend of Tom Brady was born. Despite legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden suggesting that New England should just kneel it and play for overtime, Brady methodically drove his offense down the field. Troy Brown and J.R. Redmond made a number of key catches, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a game winning 48 yard field goal that set off the start of the Patriots run.
4. 2014-2015 Divisional Round – New England vs. Baltimore
This game gets this high on the list because it has meaning, and the gameplay was absolutely amazing. New England needed this win to prove that they were still the best team in NFL history. The inter-years of 2005-2013 had seen the Patriots visit two Super Bowls and complete a 16-0 regular season, but it was still considered more of a failure because the team had not come away with any rings. They needed another Super Bowl to establish their legacy, and this game started off that run. The Ravens had owned the Patriots in the playoffs in recent years, and it looked like they were going to do it again as they managed to get not one but two 14 point leads throughout the game. However, the Patriots overcame both thanks to brilliance by the Hall of Fame quarterback, and creativity by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady went 33/50 for 367 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Rob Gronkowski led the way with seven receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. This game is memorable for two reasons. the first of which was Julian Edelman’s pass to Danny Amendola for a 51 yard touchdown. The trick play is one of the greatest plays in Patriots playoff history, and caused Gillette stadium to erupt. Less well known, but equally as important, is “Your Love” by The Outfield entering Patriots legend. With two minutes to go in the fourth and the Patriots needing a defensive stop, the iconic song began playing over the Gillette Stadium loudspeakers, and the crowd began a sing along for the ages. They could be heard through the television, and the song became a rallying cry for the Patriots over the next few seasons.
3. Super Bowl XXXVIII – New England vs. Carolina
This is easily the most underrated Super Bowl in history. After a deafeningly quiet first quarter, there was an explosion of offense as the Patriots and the Panthers traded heavyweight blows. The game saw six touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone. Tom Brady put on a show, finishing 32/48 for 354 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also led the Patriots on another Super Bowl winning drive that ended in another Adam Vinatieri game-winning field goal. This game gets less publicity because it is smack dab in the middle of the Patriots first run, and has less back story because of almost no animosity between New England and Carolina, but this was an incredibly entertaining game that has unfortunately fallen into obscurity in Super Bowl history.
2. Super Bowl XLIX – New England vs. Seattle
Through the first 50 Super Bowls in NFL history, this was by far the best. It came in with some incredible hype: it was the best offense in the league versus the best defense; Bill Belichick vs. Pete Carroll; Tom Brady vs. the Legion of Boom. The scary thing is that it lived up to the hype. The first half saw fantastic performances by both offenses and both defenses, including an interception of Tom Brady and a beautiful Rob Gronkowski touchdown. The second half was even better, as Seattle came out firing and jumped out to a ten point lead. A furious fourth-quarter comeback led by Tom Brady put New England back in the lead. Russell Wilson then drove his Seahawks offense down the field thanks to a big run from Marshawn Lynch. Then the unthinkable happened, as Jermaine Kearse came down with a circus catch that was reminiscent of the helmet catch made by David Tyree in Super Bowl 42. Patriots fans were stunned and heart broken, wondering how this could happen again. And then Malcolm Butler made the single greatest play in Super Bowl history, intercepting Russell Wilson at the goal line and sealing the victory for the Patriots, giving Brady his fourth ring and establishing the second round of the Patriots dynasty. This was Brady’s second-best playoff performance ever, completing 37/50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns against one of the best secondaries of the 21st century. This game cemented his legacy, and the legacy of the Patriots.
1. Super Bowl LI – New England vs. Atlanta
Last season’s Super Bowl finished with the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. While there wasn’t quite as much buzz heading into this game because of a lack of animosity and backstory between New England and Atlanta, it was bound to be a good game because of the talent present on both teams. Surprisingly, the game turned out to be a rout through the first 2.75 quarters as the Falcons dominated the Patriots on both sides of the ball and jumped out to a 28-3 lead with just over two minutes to play in the third quarter. Everyone in the world thought this game was over (ESPN had Atlanta at a 99.9% chance to win at this point). Well, everyone except the New England Patriots. They methodically climbed their way back into the game with a touchdown and a field goal that brought them to within two touchdowns with two-point conversions. Then, Dont’a Hightower stripped Matt Ryan, giving New England the ball back in Falcons territory, leading to another score. After a successful two-point conversion, the Patriots were within eight points of tying the game. The Falcons drove the ball down the field and got in field goal range, only to be pushed out by a holding call and a beautiful sack by Trey Flowers. The Patriots then drove down the field and scored a touchdown, followed by a Danny Amendola two point conversion that tied the game up at 28 with a minute to go. Brady was phenomenal as he lead his team back from the depths of a humiliating defeat. James White also played a huge role in this game, setting Super Bowl records with 14 catches and 20 total points. The game then went to the first overtime in Super Bowl history, where a touchdown drive gave the Patriots their fifth Super Bowl victory of the Brady-Belichick era, and capped the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
The Patriots have provided fans with some incredible playoff games over the past 16 years. From dominating victories to heart-stopping plays, and too unbelievable comebacks, Brady and Belichick have led the Patriots through some of the toughest and most entertaining football games that we have all been witness to. There is one stat that encompasses all of this success. In Super Bowl 51, the Patriots led the game for exactly 0 seconds. This is the embodiment of the Patriots never say die attitude that has stretched from Adam Vinatieri’s blizzard kick, to Malcolm Butler’s interception, and to James White stretching across the goal line in overtime. No matter how or when it ends, you can’t say it wasn’t a fun ride.
Until next time – B$