FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – To finish the job, the Eagles must beat the team that is never finished. Just a little warning for the Eagles ahead of Super Bowl LII: When you think the New England Patriots are dead, they are not. Tom Brady is going to play quarterback until the age of 50, live into his 100s, and never look older than 30.
Bring a stake to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the fourth quarter because just when you start shoveling dirt on the Patriots, that’s when Brady’s right hand – even when it’s bloodied, stitched and bandaged – rises from the grave and cuts your throat.
It happened again Sunday at Gillette Stadium. For three quarters and then some, the Jacksonville Jaguars outplayed Brady and the Patriots. Blake Bortles was the better quarterback, completing 18 of 23 passes for one touchdown, and the Jags were the better team, building a 20-10 lead.
And then Brady completed 10 of 14 passes for 140 yards, including a couple of touchdowns to Danny Amendola, the kind of unassuming star the Patriots have been counting on since the turn of the century. The defense, after giving up yards in chunks for much of the day, stopped Jacksonville’s final effort to win it. Bortles went from white-hot to ice cold, completing just 5 of 13 passes for 68 yards in the fourth quarter. Jags rookie Leonard Fournette carried the ball 20 times for 73 yards in the first three quarters. He had four carries for 3 yards in the fourth.
“That’s why you play all four quarters,” Brady said. “The game is never over after halftime, and you’ve got to go to the end.”
All teams know that. All teams say that. The Patriots are the only team that thrives on it.
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Fourth-quarter, double-digit leads do not typically disappear during the NFL postseason, but Brady, coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have the magical code to make it happen time and again. Brady has 42 career fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit, second only to Peyton Manning’s 45. But eight of Brady’s fourth-quarter comebacks have come in the postseason, including three in the Super Bowl. Manning had just two fourth-quarter comebacks in the postseason and none in the Super Bowl.
Age has only made Brady better at rescuing the Patriots from defeat. His last three postseason comebacks in the fourth quarter have come with New England trailing by double digits.
“It is not easy, especially when you were leading most of the game,” Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack said Sunday. “You have to give them credit. It is what the Patriots do. They stay in the game, and they make plays.”
If it makes Jack feel any better, the Jaguars were just New England’s latest fall-from-ahead victim. Go back to last year’s Super Bowl in Houston when the Atlanta Falcons were primed to celebrate the first NFL title in the franchise’s history. Atlanta led by 28-3 early in the third quarter and 28-9 going into the fourth. Penn Charter’s Matt Ryan was going to be the MVP of the Super Bowl as well as the regular season. The parade route was mapped out along all of those Peachtree Streets in Atlanta.
And then Brady started completing a pass per second in the fourth quarter. He went 16 for 21 for 196 yards in the quarter. Amendola caught a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion throw, which tied the game with 57 seconds left. Brady went 5 for 6 for 50 yards on the game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.
Two years earlier, the Seattle Seahawks had a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz. They were going to join the Patriots as the only teams to win consecutive Super Bowls in the 21st century. And then Brady completed 14 of 16 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter – yes, of course, one of them was to Amendola — and little-known cornerback Malcolm Butler picked off a goal-line pass from Russell Wilson. Sure, the whole world still wonders why the pass was thrown, but it was, and the Patriots made the Seahawks pay.
In the Patriots’ three double-digit postseason rallies over the last four seasons, Brady has completed 45 of 57 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns during the fourth quarter, which computes to a 133.6 passer rating. Add in the overtime against the Seahawks, and he has hit on 50 of 63 throws for 566 yards and a 130.6 rating.
So now all that stands in front of the Eagles as they try to finish the job are the man and the team that never seem to be finished.