Tom Brady has now won seven Super Bowls and five Super Bowl MVPs, none by himself, though it might seem that way. This last title was the oddest—with a new team, Tampa Bay. In a strange uniform in a mostly empty stadium during a pandemic, against a quarterback who is widely considered his superior at this moment. He did it with the same quality that has separated him from everybody in NFL history: Brady is the master at being as good as he needs to be.
He completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards, with three touchdowns and no real mistakes. His team played clean football in its 31–9 win over the Chiefs. It was a vintage, Patriots-style performance: Excel on defense, win the special-teams battle, let the other team beat itself and let Brady do the rest. Some will say Brady proved Bill Belichick wrong, and that’s a fun argument. But he also proved Belichick right.
Here was Belichick when Brady announced he was leaving New England last March: “Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone setter and a bar raiser.”
Brady took that culture, stuffed it in an expensive designer suitcase and hauled it to Tampa. Does anybody think the Bucs would’ve won a championship without him?
“Everybody believed we could win,” Brady said Sunday after the game. “All year we believed in ourselves.”
They believed, surely, largely because they had Brady, and Brady makes people believe. He has played for better teams, had better seasons and even played better in Super Bowls. But he has never been so clearly alone at the center of his franchise’s orbit.
This was the season when Brady turned all the insults into compliments. People said he was the product of a great franchise, so he deftly chose another franchise he could make great. They used to say he was a product of those around him, and so he figured out how to get great players around him.
He chose a team that, as Bruce Arians said Sunday night, had talent but didn’t know how to win—and while that seems obvious now, it was not obvious last winter, not with Tampa Bay’s coming off a 7–9 season, its third straight losing campaign. Brady saw it. He understood what he could do. And then he persuaded his old friend Rob Gronkowski to come back and join him, which was a lot of fun. And he persuaded the Bucs to sign Antonio Brown, which was a lot less fun. Brady, who was mad when the Patriots released Brown, sees what he wants to see in Brown.
Gronk would not have come back to play with anybody else. The Bucs probably would not have signed Brown unless they had Brady. Leonard Fournette probably would have gone elsewhere if not for Brady. Gronkowski, Brown and Fournette scored Tampa Bay’s four touchdowns Sunday. They had two-thirds of the Bucs’ yards from scrimmage.
They were there because of Brady, and they succeeded mostly because of Brady. He does everything—not spectacularly, and certainly not perfectly, but he still does it. Brady has always been a team-first grinder, but the more he accomplished, the more that attitude influenced his teammates. When he chose a new team, everybody knew whom they had to please. Gronk summed up the effect: “Whoever got the ball, got the ball. We were all happy for each other.”
Coming into this game, most analysts agreed that if this came down to the quarterbacks, the Chiefs would win, because Patrick Mahomes is better than Brady at this stage of their careers. And most analysts agreed that it might not come down to the quarterbacks, because Kansas City’s offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and Tampa Bay’s defensive front is excellent.
What do we think about that analysis now, after Brady won the Super Bowl MVP and Mahomes completed just 26 of 49 passes with no touchdowns?
Well ... it was dead-on.
Mahomes had no shot in this game. None. He was running for his life on every play. He ran so much that when he left the field, somebody should have hung a “13.1” medal around his neck. I am not even joking when I say the Chiefs would have been better off lining Mahomes up in punt formation. At least then he would have had a couple of seconds to see the field, and, with his arm, what’s another 10 yards on every throw?
People who question Mahomes after this game are like the nitwits who questioned LeBron James in the 2015 NBA Finals, when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt and LeBron tried to beat the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors with Tristan Thompson and three auto mechanics. Just admit you know nothing about the sport and move on.
Sometimes the best player in a sport loses because the other team is better. You know who knows that as well as anybody? Tom Brady.
Brady has now beaten Patrick Mahomes and Kurt Warner in Super Bowls—and lost to Nick Foles and Eli Manning (twice). Brady’s best year and best team both came in 2007, but he lost the Super Bowl, to Eli’s Giants, because the other team’s defensive line kept getting to him.
It’s never just about the quarterbacks. We know this but we forget it; Brady knows it and never forgets it. In his two decades of unprecedented dominance, has he ever looked like he was trying to win a game by himself? He rarely forces throws. He doesn’t get distracted by his own talent, in part because he has always known there are more talented players.
That’s what we saw Sunday. Mahomes’s incompletions were more spectacular than Brady’s completions, but they were still incompletions.
In the past year, Brady found a team that was transformable, and then he transformed it. The Chiefs suffered from the mismatch on the line, but they also played the first half like a team that believed it could fall behind and win. The Chiefs have done that against a lot of teams. Nobody should ever try that against Tom Brady. He focuses for the whole game, the whole practice, the whole film session, the whole workout, and he has now gotten his reward for the seventh time at the end of the whole season, because he gets his whole team to think, act and believe like Tom Brady.