GLENDALE, Ariz. — It all swirled around Tom Brady this week. Questions not just about what he was as a player, but about what he was as a human being. No quarterback since Joe Namath had dealt with the kind of pressure Brady did before this Super Bowl.
He was accused of cheating—deflating footballs. Brady's idol, Joe Montana, even questioned his integrity. Other past greats did as well. Brady answered the questions, and the doubts came. They were there. They are still there. They may always be there.
But none of those doubts will change the answer to the question he answered Sunday, the question of who is the best quarterback of all time. That answer is definitive. It's over. It's done.
This isn't a hot take. This is a sensible answer to a brutal question, a question that causes bar fights and message-board meltdowns. But if you don't think Brady is the best, the toughest of all time, the most mentally sturdy we've ever seen, then you do not know this sport.
Brady didn't just beat one of the best defenses of all time. He did so with the world watching and judging his every move. He broke records and shattered the Seahawks' confidence. But most of all, he stood there, absorbed all of the doubts and still delivered.
Everyone watched Brady to see how he would react. Then Brady reacted as you would expect: He won.
The Seahawks deserved to lose with the dumbest, stupidest, most insane, most moronic, most idiotic play call in Super Bowl history, but this game was all about Brady. If there is one singular image, one singular message to take away from New England's 28-24 victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, it was the stubbornness of Brady.
After the game, he hoisted his son, Benjamin, on his shoulders. It was a wonderful moment in a day of many for Brady.
In several weeks, we will hear from Ted Wells, the man investigating Deflategate. And while that issue is serious and palpable, it shouldn't have a bearing on what happened here on a cool Sunday night. Sure, the Wells investigation means there's a possibility, as Al Michaels said during the broadcast, that Brady's legacy could be thorny and complicated. But for now, and maybe forever, no one is better than Brady.
In the Patriots locker room, and on the field, there was a sense of relief and jubilation. But there was also a sense of relief for Brady. Facing not only the ferocious Seahawks defense but also myriad critics (myself included) doubting his integrity, Brady glared at them and didn't back down. Of all the different Brady machinations and versions over the years, this was the best.
"We showed a lot of mental toughness," Brady said after the game. "We've shown it all year."
When Brady added, "I want to thank all of my family and friends who supported me," he wasn't talking about the game. He was talking about everything else.
Brady now has four titles in 14 years. He has three Super Bowl MVPs, tying Montana with one more than greats such as Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw. No one has thrown more touchdown passes in Super Bowls than Brady.
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His 37 completions Sunday—on 50 attempts, for 328 yards and four touchdowns—are a Super Bowl record. And in his last two full drives, he was 13-of-15 for 124 yards and two scores. The Patriots' 10-point comeback was the largest fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl history.
In typical Brady fashion, after the game, he talked as much about the two interceptions as he did the success. That's what perfectionists do.
"Tom is the best quarterback on this planet…I don't know how you can argue that," Pats receiver Julian Edelman said.
Said Darrelle Revis of Brady: "He will go down as the best quarterback of all time."
One of the reasons was that clutch final drive. The Patriots trailed 24-21 and went 64 yards on 10 plays in just 4:50, capped by Brady's 3-yard touchdown to Edelman.
Brady went 8-of-8 on that drive.
"I saw Jules," he said. "I had an opportunity to move up in the pocket, and Jules had kind of a deep in-cut. I tried to drill it to him, and he caught it and made a great catch. Took a big hit and that was the key to the whole drive."
Look closer at that drive and you see why Brady is so good. His passes were short but highly accurate: eight yards, five, nine, six, then a 20-yarder to Rob Gronkowski. The Seahawks had no answer. Their talented corners, especially Richard Sherman, were basically useless because Brady wasn't throwing at Sherman. He focused most of his passes underneath, away from Seattle's strength.
No, not a lot of deep throws, but a hellacious amount of accurate ones.
The early part of the game itself was the opposite of how the week went. The days leading up to the Super Bowl were frenetic and intense with Deflategate serving as an accelerant. Robert Kraft doubled down, saying the NFL should apologize if it finds the team did nothing wrong. Roger Goodell was pummeled at his State of the League news conference. Marshawn Lynch was there so he didn't get fined. It was, easily, the strangest week in Super Bowl history.
The game started anything but strangely. It started rather nonchalantly, a casual and slow gait, as the Seattle defense intercepted Brady, and Darrelle Revis and that New England secondary didn't allow Wilson to complete a pass until the second quarter. At the beginning, this game was putrid. Eventually, it would turn into a classic.
Slowly, however, the Patriots' strategy was revealed, and boy did it work. The Patriots used their quickness and precision, clearing out the Seattle defensive backs deep, then scrambling receivers and backs underneath. Clear the space, run a body in it, then have the backs and wideouts go against the linebackers. Total mismatch.
This was typical Belichick and Brady. Give them extra time to find weaknesses and they will.
The Patriots took the first lead, and that was followed by a Lynch score. Then somehow the Patriots were able to isolate Gronkowski on KJ Wright—another mismatch—and exploit it for a touchdown and 14-7 lead.
The Seahawks turned it into a game when Chris Matthews made his second big play of the first half, this one a touchdown catch. So, despite Seattle being totally outplayed and dominated in every way, the game was still tied. Typical Seahawks. Cue the halftime show featuring Yo Gabba Gabba and Sharknado.
Then came a wild second half and Brady's magic. There was a photograph taken in the seconds after the game. It's Seattle's Sherman, extending his hand out to Brady, and Brady holding his hand to his chin, looking like he refused to shake Sherman's hand.
In the frames after that picture, we see Brady stand up and shake Sherman's hand in a display of sportsmanship and anti-You Mad Bro-ness. That was another fine Brady moment.
Things could get complicated in the coming weeks for Brady, yet this is what we know now.
No one is better than Brady. In this Super Bowl. In any Super Bowl. In history.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.