MINNEAPOLIS – When it was over and Tom Brady had logged the greatest passing performance in Super Bowl history, his last emotional completion came on one knee. Moving through deafening silence just minutes after a 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the toughest and most prolific losses of his career, the New England Patriots quarterback stepped behind a black curtain and dropped down as his wife and kids closed around him.
“Group hug,” Gisele Bundchen said.
Brady buried his face in Bundchen’s shoulder for a moment, then turned and whispered to one of his crying children.
“Hey buddy, it’s OK. We did our best and tried our hardest,” Brady said. “It will be OK. Now I get to pick you up and take you to school every day.”
For the GOAT, it was a rare and vulnerable moment in Super Bowl defeat, when there is hollow solace in having put on one of the greatest offensive shows in the history of the NFL’s biggest stage. But in the final equation, Sunday night meant little more than frustrating failure. After one of the more trying seasons of his career, the ultimate payoff had eluded him. And it did so in the cruelest fashion: beginning with the ball in his hands, in the waning moments that have come to define his career; but essentially ending with a sack and fumble that scuttled a potential game-winning drive.
“Losing sucks,” Brady said afterward. “That’s part of it.”
This is how Brady and the Patriots will be remembered after this one – with the Eagles hoisting the Lombardi Trophy; with Nick Foles at the MVP podium; and with significant change ahead for the franchise. Two coordinators will depart in the coming days. Roster changes appear inevitable, including the departure of once-beloved cornerback Malcolm Butler, who was benched by the coaching staff Sunday. And maybe even a little contemplation from Brady himself, who fought off questions Sunday night about another black curtain that is naturally and methodically drawing nearer.
“I expect to be back, so we’ll see,” Brady said. “I mean, it’s 15 minutes after the game ended, so I would like to process this a little bit. I wouldn’t see why I wouldn’t be back.”
From a performance standpoint, there’s little question of whether Brady can return and lead the Patriots after an offseason of retooling. He smashed his own Super Bowl record with 505 passing yards, meticulously dicing up an Eagles defense that repeatedly knocked him around. In arguably any other Patriots season, coming back from a 22-12 halftime deficit to a 33-32 lead deep into the fourth quarter would have resulted in a win. But this wasn’t like most other seasons. Instead, a Patriots defense that rebounded from a horrendous start in the regular season finished with a bookend of failure, allowing the Eagles to roll up 538 yards on offense.
If the punishment Brady took on offense doesn’t leave him with something to think about this offseason, parts of a mini rebuild should. Not only did tight end Rob Gronkowski say he’s going to contemplate his future in football this offseason, but the Patriots seem to have given up on Butler, who didn’t play a single defensive snap in a stunning coaching decision.
There’s also the overall performance of the defense, which was more overmatched against the Eagles than any other Patriots Super Bowl team. All of this has to be a bitter pill for Brady, who has consistently played with one of the most undervalued contracts in NFL history. In offseasons where football mortality is contemplated even more, it’s no small thing surrendering maximum earning capacity in a way that allows the Patriots to invest in the defense.
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