Can we exhale now?
Can we breathe?
Shame on us. Shame on us for thinking it would be that easy. That after three quarters and three hours of repeated poundings and drops and happy feet and mean tweets and snarky memes and deflated ball jokes, Tom Brady would throw up his arms and roll into a fetal position.
That the man who kept a running tab of personal slights at Michigan or in the NFL could let the haters have the last laugh on the biggest stage of his life.
Patriots 34, Falcons 28.
Hate on that.
Down 28-9 in the biggest sporting event on American soil, the ditch dug, dirt being thrown on him from all directions, the best postseason quarterback — hell, the best quarterback, period — of this century, of his generation, put up the following fourth-quarter line: 16-for-21 passing, 196 yards, 1 touchdown.
Joe Montana needed 92 yards to stun Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII.
Some 28 years later, Brady — a Bay Area kid who grew up idolizing Joe Cool — needed 91 to bring the Pats back from the dead in Houston.
New England has been spoiled for these moments, the stuff of legend, the kind tailor-made for dissection, destiny and documentaries. Big Papi. Belichick’s ruthless, sometimes joyless, dynasty.
And yet they might’ve saved the best, and the sweetest, for last.
Scoreboard 34, Deflategate 28.
This Lombardi Trophy — Brady’s fifth, the most of any signal-caller to play the game — speaks for itself. But the sight of Roger Goodell demurring to a franchise, to an owner, and to a fan base who had so eviscerated him the last 20 months as confetti fell all around them was one of the most surreal snapshots in NFL history.
While we’re on the subject of surreal, before Sunday, teams leading by 19 or more points in the big game after three quarters had never failed to finish the deal. Even Pats fan Mark Wahlberg bailed early on his beloved:
— Allen Reid (@Allen_Reid) February 6, 2017
In his defense, New England trailed 21-0 midway through the second quarter and 28-3 early in the third. It was the largest deficit by a Brady team in any game, playoffs or otherwise, since they were smothered by the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in a warm Monday night in September 2014.
For three quarters, Atlanta’s young, hungry front seven squeezed the New England pocket like a boa constrictor. Even in the rare windows in which Brady had more than four seconds to scan and fire, the veteran looked off. A little high. A little wide. A little short.
He was pressured on 13 of his 29 first-half drop-backs, one short of his career-high for pressures over an entire Super Bowl game. When one of those desperation heaves turned into a pick-6 midway through the second period, pushing the Falcons’ lead to 20-0, America flipped, en masse, to the Puppy Bowl.
please enjoy tom brady’s epic fail of a tackle over and over again pic.twitter.com/0D5uxVGbON
— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) February 6, 2017
Only the old dog wasn’t done.
On 3rd-and-10 from his 9, down 28-20: 16 yards.
On 2nd-and-10 from his 25: 11 more.
On 1st-and-10 from his 36: A wounded duck to Julian Edelman that his favorite target somehow pulled from the grasp of two Atlanta defenders while also keeping it off the ground, a 23-yard gain for the ages.
— Football GarbageTime (@FBGarbageTime) February 6, 2017
To Danny Amendola for 20.
To James White, the former Wisconsin Badger hammer and the game’s unsung hero, for 13, then to White again for 7 more that brought the ball to the Falcons’ 1-yard line with 57 seconds left in regulation.
In a blink, the Falcons went from America’s Team to the new Bengals.
Tom Brady, The Greatest Football Player of All Time! End of Discussion!!!!!
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 6, 2017
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) February 6, 2017
Doubt 12 if you like.
He can answer with a finger.
Actually, he can answer with five.
One bar. Forever raised.