Super Bowl XLIX is the sixth appearance in the big game for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, an unprecedented feat in NFL Playoff history. When the New England Patriots square off with the Seattle Seahawks, history will be on the line. Looking back at the film has helped Inside The Pylon prepare for this season’s game, but knowing the Patriots Super Bowl history of the Belichick-Brady Era is also part of the story for this game.
Since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots, there have been 13 Super Bowls played including seven with margins of four points or less. Five of those tight battles have involved Brady’s team, and they account for all of the Patriots’ trips to the NFL’s championship game over that span:
+3 (vs. StL)
+3 (vs. Car)
+3 (vs. Phi)
-3 (vs. NYG)
-4 (vs. NYG)
Sunday’s game, which many fans and analysts consider an extremely close matchup, should be no different. Let’s take an in-depth look back at New England’s past five Super Bowls:
Super Bowl XXXVI
February 3, 2002 ‒ Louisiana Superdome ‒ New Orleans, LA
Patriots 20, Rams 17
The game was a rematch of a regular season meeting, which the St. Louis Rams won 24-17. Despite that loss, the close final margin showed that the Patriots could hang with the high-powered Rams. Heading into that Week 10 contest, New England had overcome the loss of starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, sidelined in Week 2 by a vicious hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. In stepped the Patriots’ 6th round pick in the 2000 draft.
Brady had led the Patriots to five wins in his first seven games, but The Greatest Show on Turf™ presented a unique challenge. The Rams, led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, had averaged nearly 38 points in their previous three games, but they found the sledding tough against the Patriots in Foxborough. The Rams amassed 482 total yards but the Patriots forced three turnovers, which helped keep the explosive St. Louis offense in check.
The Rams were known for their offense (leading the NFL in both points scored and offensive yardage), but they were not a one-dimensional team. The St. Louis defense yielded the 7th-fewest points and 3rd-fewest yards. They could beat you with offense or defense. The Patriots, meanwhile, were similarly solid and balanced, ranking 6th in both offensive scoring fewest points allowed. However, their scoreboard stinginess on both sides of the ball was offset by their subpar rankings in yards gained (19th) and fewest yards allowed (24th).
The Super Bowl played out that way. St. Louis gained more yards (427-267) and held the ball longer (33:30 to 26:30). But the Rams had three turnovers, including a 47-yard Ty Law interception return for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Warner threw another interception and the Patriots forced a key fumble to stifle a Rams drive. A key reversal on what would have been the Rams’ fourth Rams turnover came in the fourth quarter when New England safety Tebucky Jones scooped up a Warner fumble at the goal line and returned it the length of the field for a touchdown. However, a Willie McGinest holding penalty negated the play, which would have boosted the Patriots lead to 24-3, and the Rams punched it in moments later to cut the margin to 17-10.
New England rode Antowain Smith’s 92 rushing yards and a staunch defense, but the Rams tied the game at 17 on Warner’s 26-yard touchdown connection with Ricky Proehl with 1:30 to play. That set the stage for Brady. As the Patriots took possession, FOX announcer John Madden opined that the Patriots should be playing for overtime. Nonetheless, New England moved down the field smartly, with the key play coming on a 23-yard completion to Troy Brown. With no time left on the clock, Adam Vinatieri split the uprights from 48 yards away, giving the Patriots a 20-17 victory. As Vinatieri prepared to kick, Madden said, “I’ll tell you, what Tom Brady just did gives me goosebumps.”
The three-point victory launched the Patriots’ dynasty.
Super Bowl XXXVIII
February 1, 2004 ‒ Reliant Stadium ‒ Houston, TX
Patriots 32, Panthers 29
The Patriots failed to make the playoffs in 2002 despite finishing in a tie for first place in the AFC East, losing out to Miami on tiebreakers and rendering them unable to defend their Super Bowl title from the previous year. In 2003, the Patriots rolled through the NFL, compiling a 14-2 record behind a well-balanced team. They boasted the 12th-highest scoring offense but also the league’s stingiest defense, ranking first in fewest points allowed (14.9 per game). In the playoffs, New England defeated the league’s co-MVPs (Tennessee’s Steve McNair and the Colts’ Peyton Manning) in back-to-back games.
The Carolina Panthers were solid but not spectacular, finishing at 11-5 with an average offense (16th in scoring) and a good defense (10th in fewest points allowed, 8th in fewest yards allowed). Their defensive line was considered one of the best in football, and the offense featured playmakers in Steve Smith, DeShaun Foster, Stephen Davis, and Muhsin Muhammad. Carolina had advanced through the NFC playoffs by knocking off Dallas, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, yielding just 36 total points (12.0 per game) in those three contests.
The Super Bowl was one of the most exciting of all time, yet also one of the strangest. It featured the longest scoreless drought to start a game in Super Bowl history, as neither team scored in the first 26:55. Then, in the final 3:05 of the opening half, the teams combined for four scores, capped by John Kasay’s 50-yard field goal that cut New England’s lead to 14-10.
The second half played out in similar fashion, as neither team scored in the third quarter, but then came the explosion in the fourth. The Patriots went up 21-10 on an Antowain Smith touchdown, but Carolina came right back with a dynamic 33-yard TD run by Foster. The Panthers’ two-point conversion attempt failed, but on their next possession quarterback Jake Delhomme hit Muhammad for 85 yards to give the Panthers a 22-21 edge (with another failed two-point conversion attempt) midway through the fourth quarter.
The Patriots opened their bag of tricks as Brady hit linebacker Mike Vrabel for a 1-yard score to put the Patriots up 29-22 with 2:51 to play, but the Panthers answered with a TD pass to Proehl (the first player to score Super Bowl touchdowns against New England for two different teams) with just 1:08 left.
Carolina’s special teams struggles surfaced again when John Kasay’s kickoff went out of bounds, allowing New England to start their final possession from their own 40-yard line. In a finish eerily reminiscent of Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady moved the Patriots downfield to the Panthers’ 23-yard line, and with just 4 seconds left on the clock Vinatieri hit a 41-yard field goal to give the Patriots the victory.
Super Bowl XXXIX
February 6, 2005 ‒ Alltel Stadium ‒ Jacksonville, FL
Patriots 24, Eagles 21
The defending champions put together another dominating effort in the 2004 season, posting a 14-2 record with perhaps the best overall Patriots team in franchise history. New England had the league’s #4 scoring offense (27.3 points per game) and the #2 scoring defense (16.3 points allowed per game). They had been dominant in the playoffs, throttling Indianapolis 20-3 in the divisional round, and then crushing the vaunted Steelers 41-27 at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. Running back Corey Dillon was the key offensive addition, with more than 1,600 rushing yards on the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, had been building up to this game for several years. In 2001, 2002, and 2003 they had made it to the NFC Championship Game, only to lose each time. They finally broke through in 2004, following a 13-3 regular season with impressive playoff victories over Minnesota (27-14) and Atlanta (27-10). They featured the #8 scoring offense (24.1 points per game) and the #2 scoring defense (tied with New England at 16.3 points allowed per game). Philadelphia’s offense was loaded with weapons, from QB Donovan McNabb to WR Terrell Owens to RB Brian Westbrook.
The game was evenly matched through three quarters, with the score tied at 14. The Patriots then scored 10 consecutive points to go up 24-14 before Philly cut it to 24-21 with 1:48 left on a beautiful 30-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to WR Greg Lewis. But the Eagles had mismanaged the clock, allowing nearly four minutes to elapse on their drive. After holding New England to a three-and-out and getting the ball back once more, Philadelphia had just 46 seconds to work with from their own 4-yard line. With McNabb forced to throw deep, a Rodney Harrison interception sealed the Patriots’ third Super Bowl victory in four seasons.
In this game, the Eagles outgained the Patriots 369-331, but committed four turnovers to just one for New England. Once again the Patriots had outplayed their opponent in a critical facet.
Super Bowl XLII
February 3, 2008 ‒ University of Phoenix Stadium ‒ Phoenix, AZ
Giants 17, Patriots 14
The first three Patriot Super Bowls in the Belichick/Brady era ended on happy notes for New England. Such was not the case in their last two league championship games. The 2007 season was one of the most remarkable in NFL history. For the Patriots, it began with a 38-14 demolition of the New York Jets. But that was hardly the biggest story to come out of that game. It was later learned the Jets had accused the Patriots of cheating, by videotaping their defensive signals, which spawned the Spygate saga ‒ a scandal (of sorts) that has stuck with the team since.
Following that game, the Patriots steamrolled the NFL like no team before or since. Over the first 10 games of the season, led by Brady and newly acquired receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss, the Patriots scored an average of 41.1 points per game ‒ putting 48 or more on the board in four contests. The criticisms over Spygate morphed into accusations of running up the score. New England had a few tougher games as the season wore on, including three-point wins over the Eagles and Ravens, they finished the regular season 16-0 after a thrilling 38-35 victory over the New York Giants in Week 17.
The Patriots averaged 36.8 points per game over that campaign, but the team was losing a little steam down the stretch. Their average victory margin in the first 10 games was 25.4 points; over the final six games, that figure dropped to a “mere” 10.2 points per game. Still impressive, but no longer the ultra-dominant team that had crushed the opposition for 10 consecutive weeks.
The muted trend carried into the playoffs. In the divisional round, the Patriots knocked off Jacksonville, 31-20, and then struggled to fend off San Diego in the AFC Championship, 21-12. Did they have enough left to win one more and complete the greatest season in NFL history?
On paper, the Giants did not appear to pose much of a threat to the Patriots. At 10-6, they made an almost miraculous run through the NFC playoffs, beating Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round, then knocking off Dallas by four in the divisional round, and capping it off by beating Brett Favre and Green Bay in overtime, 23-20, despite being outgained 377 yards to 264.
The Patriots came in featuring the #1 scoring offense and the #4 scoring defense in the league. The Giants, meanwhile, were at #14 and #17 respectively in those categories. Despite that disparity, the Week 17 matchup showed that the Giants could compete with New England, and they entered the postseason with confidence.
The game turned out to be a defensive struggle, with the Patriots leading just 7-3 after three quarters. But the fourth quarter featured 21 points and one of the greatest finishes the sport has seen. After an Eli Manning to David Tyree touchdown early in the fourth quarter gave the Giants a 10-7 lead, Brady led his team down the field in the final minutes. He connected with Randy Moss on a 6-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 14-10 lead with 2:42 left in the game.
The Giants needed to go 83 yards for the win. They faced one fourth down (RB Brandon Jacobs converted by inches) and three third downs on the drive, the most dramatic of which turned out to be one of the most memorable play of the game.Manning came under tremendous pressure on 3rd and 5 from the Giants’ 44-yard line, but evaded the grasps and tackles of several New England defenders. He wriggled away and heaved the ball downfield to Tyree, who reached up and made the famous “helmet catch” with Rodney Harrison draped all over him. The reception gave the Giants the ball at the New England 24. After a 12-yard completion to Steve Smith on 3rd and 11, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the left corner of the end zone to give the Giants a 17-14 lead over the shell-shocked Patriots.
New England had one last chance, but Brady’s 70-yard pass to a streaking Moss was just barely tipped away at the last moment, and the Giants ended the Patriots’ quest for a perfect season.
Super Bowl XLVI
February 5, 2012 ‒ Lucas Oil Stadium ‒ Indianapolis, IN
Giants 21, Patriots 17
Another year, another dominant regular season for the Patriots, who logged a sterling 13-3 record and earned the AFC’s top postseason seed. They knocked off Denver (45-10) and Baltimore (23-20) in the AFC playoffs en route to the fifth Super Bowl appearance of the Belichick/Brady era.
The Giants, the only NFC East team to finish above .500, took a 9-7 record into the playoffs, where they beat Atlanta (24-2), Green Bay (37-20), and San Francisco (20-17). Though not as deep or talented as the 2007 edition, especially on defense, the 2011 Giants harbored no fear of New England. New York beat the Patriots during the 2011 regular season in Foxborough, 24-20, with Eli Manning once again leading them down the field in the final minute for a touchdown to erase a 20-17 deficit.
The Super Bowl began with the Giants setting the tone. They jumped out to a 9-0 lead on a safety (thanks to an intentional grounding penalty against Brady in the end zone) followed by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Victor Cruz. But the Patriots reeled off 17 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, taking a 17-9 lead. During that stretch, Brady completed 16 consecutive passes, a Super Bowl record, and it looked like New England was on its way to vanquishing the Giants.
But it was not to be. New York kicked two field goals to cut the deficit to 17-15. After Brady and Welker failed to complete an open pass on 2nd and 11 from the Giants 44-yard line, the Giants took over at their own 12 yard line with 3:46 left. Did Eli Manning have yet another last-minute touchdown drive in him against the Patriots?
Yes. On first down, Manning threw an absolutely perfect ball to a streaking Mario Manningham to give the Giants a first down at midfield. They smartly marched from there, completing the drive when Ahmad Bradshaw scored a touchdown. Bradshaw actually tried to stop himself at the 1-yard line in order to run more time off the clock, but fell into the end zone. The two-point conversion failed, and the Giants led 21-17 with 1:04 remaining.
Brady managed to march the Patriots to their 49-yard line with 9 seconds left, but on the last play of the game his Hail Mary pass dropped to the turf ‒ just beyond an injured Rob Gronkowski’s hands ‒ and the Patriots once again fell short against Big Blue.
Fans will be hoping for another victory on Sunday to make Patriots Super Bowl history.
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