Of all the Patriots’ staggering achievements in their two-decade dynasty, there’s one obscure statistic that I struggle to comprehend.
In their nine Super Bowl appearances, they never scored a first-quarter touchdown, and in fact scored just 3 points in the opening quarter in total, a Stephen Gostkowski field goal in Super Bowl LII versus the Eagles.
Given the potency of their offenses through those years, that makes no sense. But it’s also a reminder of something else: Tom Brady and the Patriots usually made the magic happen in the fourth quarter.
With a little bit of envy kicking in that Brady — who was supposed to be in the fourth quarter of his career a decade ago — has taken a new team to the Super Bowl, I thought it would be cathartic to rewatch the fourth quarters of all of Brady’s Super Bowl appearances, to relish what we remember, and remember what we forgot …
Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Patriots 17, Rams 3
Random observation: Willie McGinest didn’t so much hold Marshall Faulk as he did maul him like a hungry bear catching up to his prey. His fourth-down penalty with 10:09 left negated Tebucky Jones’s 90-plus-yard touchdown return of a Kurt Warner fumble. (Tebucky sure could run fast in a straight line.) That TD would have given the Patriots a 23-3 lead, point-after pending. Instead, the Rams scored on the next play and it was game on. McGinest is a cornerstone of the dynasty, but he came awfully close to Schiraldian infamy there.
Stuff I forgot: Rookie left tackle Matt Light went down with an injury, and it was Grant Williams (no relation to the current Celtic) who was protecting Brady’s blind side … Drew Bledsoe inexplicably started warming up with 4½ minutes left … Brady was nearly sacked on the first play of the winning drive, before stepping up and completing the first of his three passes to unheralded hero J.R. Redmond.
Coolest moment: I mean … all of it? I suppose I could say Pat Summerall’s minimalist call of Adam Vinatieri’s upright-splitting 48-yard field goal, a moment both cathartic and unbelievable for longtime Patriots fans. But if we’re talking cool, it has to be Brady’s casual spike and catch of the football to stop the clock for Vinatieri’s winning attempt. Joe Namath was a hopeless dork-for-life compared with Brady’s cool in that moment.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Patriots 14, Panthers 10.
Random observation: Though it was a weird game that didn’t have much rhythm or flow, it was shocking to look up with 6:53 left and see that the Panthers were all of a sudden leading, 22-21. They took the lead on an 85-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammed, who ran past Ty Law in zone coverage and left late-arriving safety Eugene Wilson (who had an outstanding rookie year) collapsed and injured on the turf. The attrition in the secondary got worse when Rodney Harrison busted his forearm in the final minutes. If you remember that Shawn Mayer was one of the Patriots’ safeties in closing out that game, I’m going to suspect you’re his relative.
Stuff I forgot: Christian Fauria made a nifty catch (especially for a future sports radio host) that would have given the Patriots a 21-10 lead seven seconds into the fourth quarter, but the play was blown dead because of a Panthers penalty before the snap … David Givens overpowered Panthers defensive backs to make a couple of catches on the touchdown drive that put the Patriots up, 29-22, inside three minutes. If you didn’t like Givens, you weren’t paying attention … McGinest picked up an illegal-use-of-hands penalty midway through the quarter when he more or less folded Steve Smith in half while jamming him at the line. He hit him so hard Faulk probably felt it, wherever he was.
Coolest moment: Vinatieri’s second Super Bowl-winning field goal. He had a rough game to that point, with a miss and a block, and with just under six minutes, analyst Phil Simms said, “I don’t know that the Patriots are feeling very confident about that field goal situation.” Ah, we all knew Vinatieri would make the big one when the time came, Phil. He was just adding a little suspense.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Tied, 14-14.
Random observation: It’s wild that the Eagles had a chance to win in the final minutes. It should have been in the bag for the Patriots when Tedy Bruschi picked off Donovan McNabb with 7:20 left and the Patriots ahead, 24-14. But the Patriots couldn’t quite put it away, even when they got the ball back with 1:47 left, up 3. If punters could earn saves, Josh Miller would be credited with one after pinning the Eagles at their own 4 with 46 seconds left.
Stuff I forgot: Remember MVP Deion Branch’s catch that went through the hands of an Eagles defensive back? I hope you do. Remember the name of the defensive back whose hands willed themselves invisible at the worst possible time? Let’s put it this way: I bet Eagles fans add some descriptors to Sheldon Brown’s name … Legend has it that a rattled McNabb threw up on the field during one of the Eagles’ weirdly meandering final possessions. But his stress was obvious much sooner. With just under six minutes left, Terrell Owens was yelling at him on the sideline to relax … McNabb did find future brief Patriot Greg Lewis for a touchdown with 1:48 left, with backup safety Dexter Reid in coverage. Wilson had left with an injury for the second straight Super Bowl.
Coolest moment: It’s probably the Branch catch. But Harrison mocking the Eagles by flapping his arms like wings after his clinching interception is a fine runner-up.
Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Patriots 7, Giants 3.
Random observation: Yeah, I’ll admit it. The impetus for this entire project was the opportunity to say this: Eli Manning was a disaster on that last drive, and the only way he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is if he’s going to check out Peyton’s bronze bust. He air-mailed Plaxico Burress twice early in the drive. He nearly fumbled, holding on to the ball with his legs, after Adalius Thomas (who played like an Andre Tippett clone) chased him down. Asante Samuel dropped a pick (it was a high throw and tough catch). Brandon Meriweather nearly had a pick after Thomas drilled Manning while he was throwing. The legendary pass to David Tyree was a desperation heave. Manning tried to give the game to the Patriots, and they just would not take it.
Stuff I forgot: Harrison had kind of a rough go of it beyond failing to rip the ball away from Tyree. Kevin Boss shook him off for a 45-yard catch early in the quarter that set up the Giants’ first touchdown … The image of Junior Seau hugging Bruschi after Brady found Moss for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left only gets more haunting as the years pass … Ray Ventrone blew up kick returner Dominik Hixon prior to the Giants’ final possession, forcing them to start at their own 16.
Coolest moment: Is there one, when you’re rewatching the dream of 19-0 turn into 18-1? I suppose it would have to be that fleeting fraction of a second when it looked as if Brady and Moss might connect on a run-as-fast-as-you-can-and-I’ll-throw-it-as-far-as-I-can deep ball with 16 seconds left. Jason Webster got a fingertip — maybe just a fingerprint — to deflect the pass near the 21-yard line. Brady threw the ball 68 yards, and if it had carried another foot … well, you know.
Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Patriots 17, Giants 15
Random observation: I thought it then, and I know it now: The Patriots win this game if Rob Gronkowski is healthy, and they win it with ease. Playing on a heavily-taped sprained ankle, he had the mobility of an aging peg-legged pirate, and the Giants figured it out early. Gronk had one catch in the first three quarters, and he briefly stopped running on one of the key plays in the game, a Brady interception in the first minute of the fourth quarter. On a broken play after eluding the rush, Brady heaved it deep to Gronk, but he didn’t have the mobility to outposition generic linebacker Chase Blackburn, who came down with the interception. A healthy Gronk also might have hauled in the Hail Mary that Aaron Hernandez deflected his way on the final play, but he was a half-step late.
Stuff I forgot: Mario Manningham made a memorable catch along the sideline on the Giants’ winning drive. Earlier in the quarter, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth criticized him, with an accompanying graphic, for his habit of running at an angle along the sidelines that would carry him out of bounds before he could get both feet down. That play was even more unlikely than we knew … Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled at the 14-minute mark at the Giants 13. James Ihedigbo should have made the recovery — it was right there — but Chris Snee ended up pouncing on it, keeping the Giants in possession. There are so many scattered what-ifs in the losses … It’s remembered as a drop, but Brady threw the ball behind Wes Welker on the infamous blunder with four minutes left. The more damaging drop might have been Branch’s at the Patriots 40 on the first play of the final possession, with 57 seconds left. If he catches it — and he was wide open — he has at least 20 yards on the play, with room to run.
Coolest moment: None. No cool moments. And it’s creepy seeing Hernandez. Do not recommend.
Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Seahawks 24, Patriots 14.
Random observation: Pete Carroll’s blank-eyed stare after the Malcolm Butler pick nourishes my soul. Less random observation? Rallying to win against this ferocious Seattle defense — and overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history — was the greatest feat of Brady’s career to that point.
Stuff I forgot: When you’re talking about third-down backs who have shown up in the biggest moments over the years, never forget to put Shane Vereen up there with James White, Redmond, and Kevin Faulk. Vereen made three of his 11 catches on the go-ahead drive, including a lovely one-handed grab with 6:45 left … Collinsworth started blathering about Deflategate with 2:52 left and the Patriots on the Seattle 5, trailing, 24-21. If there was any one moment to stick to the game, that was it … It’s amazing how prominent Butler had become even before the interception. He had blanket coverage on the ridiculous Jermaine Kearse catch, which felt like a here-we-go-again moment for Patriots fans. But he also got away with a trip earlier in the quarter, and had a spectacular breakup off a pass intended for Kearse just inside the two-minute mark.
Coolest moment: Given the timing and magnitude of the play, the effect that it had on win probability, how it saved the Patriots from what seemed to be another heartbreak, the degree of difficulty in catching it, and that it ushered in the second phase of the greatest dynasty in NFL history, Butler’s interception is to me the greatest single play in NFL history. But the coolest moment might have come a few seconds after the play, when Butler burst into tears while Patrick Chung hugged him, the joy and weight of his accomplishment hitting him all at once.
Super Bowl LI: Patriots 34, Falcons 28, OT
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Falcons 28, Patriots 9
Random observation: When we retell the tale of this football miracle, it’s tempting to say every single decision and play had to go the Patriots’ way in the fourth quarter. But the reality is, only most of the plays went their way, and the fourth quarter actually started with a bit of a letdown. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal with just under 10 minutes left, cutting it to 28-12, with Grady Jarrett sacking Brady twice on that drive. They were just warming up for their impossibly perfect finish.
Stuff I forgot: White should have been the MVP, and Brady ended all honest debates about who the greatest quarterback of all time is, but there were countless other heroes too, and rewatching this game offered a nice reminder of Malcolm Mitchell’s role. He had five catches in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a third-and-11 conversion on the drive that cut the score to 28-20. He was the David Givens of that Patriots team, and he’ll always be remembered well … It’s forgotten now, but the Patriots defense had a huge breakdown with 5:48 left, when Devonta Freeman was left uncovered and raced for a 39-yard catch-and-run … Of all of the huge plays, the biggest to me is Dont’a Hightower’s sack of Matt Ryan and forced fumble (recovered by Alan Branch) at the Falcons 25 with 8:28 left and the Patriots down 16.
Coolest moment: Julian Edelman’s catch — you know the one, with a little over two minutes left, when he somehow entered the Matrix, stopped time, or dabbled in some other sorcery and clutched the ball amid a sea of limbs just as it was about to hit the turf — is one of the most famous in NFL history. If Lynn Swann got to Canton based largely on Super Bowl highlights for a dynasty, Edelman deserves the same consideration someday.
Super Bowl LII: Eagles 41, Patriots 33
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Eagles 29, Patriots 26
Random observation: I don’t know if we’ll ever know more than we do about why Butler was benched. But it was impossible to believe then, and it remains impossible to believe upon rewatch, that he would not have performed better than Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, and Jordan Richards in pass coverage.
Stuff I forgot: Chris Hogan had just one catch in the fourth quarter, on the possession punctuated with Gronk’s touchdown, but it’s worth remembering that he was one of three Patriots pass catchers to have a monster game, catching six passes for 128 yards and a score. I tended to remember Gronkowski (9-116-2) and Danny Amendola (8-152-0) in a game in which Brandin Cooks got knocked out and Edelman (who missed the season with a knee injury) didn’t play, but not Hogan’s … Despite being close to unstoppable on offense, the Patriots never led until Gronk’s 4-yard touchdown reception put them up, 33-32, with 9:22 left … The biggest non-scoring play of the game? Nick Foles’s 2-yard completion to Zack Ertz on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles 45 with 5:39 left. Trey Flowers was a half-step from getting to Foles.
Coolest moment: I don’t know, the one play Butler was allowed to participate in on special teams? I mean, Foles figured them out. Nick Foles? This is a real low point. This one hurts.
Super Bowl LII: Patriots 13, Rams 3
Score at the start of the fourth quarter: Patriots 3, Rams 3
Random observation: I wonder if Jared Goff would still be a Ram today if not for two outcomes on back-to-back plays — a dropped touchdown pass by Cooks with 4:24 left, and an interception by Stephon Gilmore on a terrible, forced pass to Cooks on the next play. Bill Belichick and Brian Flores broke him that day.
Stuff I forgot: Jonathan Jones crushed Goff as he was running toward the sideline with 11:42 left. If you didn’t think of Bledsoe and Mo Lewis at that moment, you must be one of those newer Patriots fans … Here’s a subtle big play: Sony Michel’s 26-yard run, from his own 5 to the 31, with 3:38 left and the Patriots up, 10-3. Amazes me how so many forget how good he was running behind James Develin that postseason … Three plays later, Rex Burkhead also had a 26-yard run. How did they do this up the middle against a defense featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh?
Coolest moment: Easy call. Brady’s 29-yard throw to a triple-covered Gronkowski midway through the quarter that set up the game’s only touchdown. That has to be one of the three or four prettiest throws of Brady’s career, and it was the perfect coda to their time as teammates — with the Patriots, at least …
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.