By Bry McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor
After a 36-17 pummeling of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in the AFC Championship, the New England Patriots are heading to Super Bowl LI with quarterback Tom Brady leading the way yet again.
Love them or hate them, the ‘Pats’ have been the National Football League’s most consistent team since the 2001 season and Brady has been the model of the franchise. New England has made it to the postseason 14 times in Brady’s 15 seasons as a starter, winning at least one game in 12 of those appearances and taking home the Vince Lombardi Trophy four times.
Now Brady, alongside head coach Bill Belichick, will make their seventh showing together in a Super Bowl. For comparison, no other franchise has appeared in more than eight.
What the Patriots have accomplished over the last decade and a half is no small feat. The AFC has accounted for nine of the last 15 Super Bowl Champions, and New England is at the top of that competitive conference.
The Steelers are the closest in comparison to the Pats but still find themselves far behind New England. The two teams have faced off in the AFC championship game only three times in the last 15 seasons, with the Pats claiming victory each time and outscoring Pittsburgh a combined 101-61.
Pittsburgh has only made the conference championship three other times during that span, winning all three and claiming two Super Bowl titles. However, New England has made 11 AFC Championship appearances and won seven, going on to win four Super Bowls, including three in four years.
It seems that no matter how good of a team the Steelers assemble, the Patriots come out and outperform them in every aspect of the game.
A major component of this dominance is Tom Brady. If New England can take down the Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5, Brady will have five championship rings, the most of any NFL quarterback ever.
Brady has more career playoff wins (24) than all but six NFL franchises. The man with the second most playoff wins is Joe Montana with just 16, and only 13 other quarterbacks have even started that many playoff games.
The University of Michigan alumnus also has more completed playoff passes (788) than Montana (460) and Troy Aikman (320) combined.
One of Brady’s most notable traits is his ability to spread the ball around the field. In the opening drive of last Sunday’s AFC Championship game, Brady connected with four different receivers (Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola) in a 64-yard push that ended in a field goal for the Patriots.
Nine separate receivers made catches by the end of the game, from all over the field utilizing both short and long routes. It was the third time Brady connected with at least nine receivers in a playoff game.
Patriots’ wide receiver Chris Hogan posted 180 receiving yards in Sunday’s game, becoming the eighth different receiver to have had at least one 100-yard receiving game with Brady as the quarterback, according to pro-footballreference.com.
But, a metaphorical asterisk will hang over Brady’s legacy and the Patriots’ success under Belichick. The acts of Spy Gate and Deflate Gate will not, and should not, be forgotten.
These two scandals showed major flaws in the league and questioned the intentions of those in power, but they should not take away from the incredible tandem that Brady and Belichick have been for over a decade.
No matter which team you root for, everyone should acknowledge the generational player Brady is as he enters his seventh Super Bowl looking to make history.
From a Los Angeles Chargers fan devoted to Philip Rivers, I tip my cap to the greatness that is the career of Tom Brady.