Tom Brady walked away last Sunday as the Super Bowl 49 MVP – barely.
Even after throwing for 328 yards and 4 TDs, Tom Brady had to watch helplessly as the Seahawks put together one last collective effort to flip the script and win their second straight Super Bowl. But after an underwhelming play call and an unlikely rookie hero, Brady was sanctioned to walk off the field as a three-time Super Bowl MVP – a feat only shared with legendary QB Joe Montana.
For the most part, Tom Brady played to the level of a three-time Super Bowl MVP when it mattered most. His heroic late-game winning drive was impressive, and the elasticity he showed when he bounced back from two untimely interceptions was inspiring as well. Those two interceptions, on the other hand, were not very impressive at all.
At some point during the game, probably when the Seahawks had a 24-14 advantage, I turned to my friend and said, “Those two picks – even if the Patriots find a way to win, there’s no way Brady gets MVP with those shit throws.”
Of course, I was just drunk wrong. Tom Brady rebounded and won that game, and he is entitled to every bit of that MVP honor. Still, I couldn’t help myself from going back and analyzing the two hiccups in what was otherwise an irrefutable MVP performance.
Leading up to the first Brady interception, the Patriots had done their best to spread out Seattle’s defense. Belichick and Josh McDaniels basically told Seattle, “here’s how we’re going to beat you,” and used their opening drive to establish speed to the outside with a very horizontal passing attack. As the quarter unfolded, the Pats looked to start getting downfield with a higher tempo. Eventually, they ended up in scoring position.
Below, the Patriots line up in their basic 11 personnel grouping. The formation favors pass, which is obvious in the 3rd down situation. Belichick favors a touchdown, though, and the receivers are going to run past the first down mark and into the belly of the end zone.
Seattle is sending four. O’Brien Schofield is going to attack the inside, while Michael Bennett is actually going to pause and drop for a second before he rushes. This is pictured above.
Here, you can see Bennett (circled) timing his attack as he steps back. Brady looks over the middle as he completes his drop, trying to move the defense with his eyes.
Eventually, Brady’s empty reads result in a look towards Shane Vereen in the flat. If Brady had dumped it off here like he should have, maybe Vereen could have beat Sherman for the first down. If not, the Pats would have just settled for 3 points. Instead, Brady gets greedy and tries to look back towards the endzone. Meanwhile, Bennett is rounding the corner.
Tom Brady immediately regrets his decision when he turns to find Bennett, already in his grill. Under pressure, Brady forces up a duck while he’s falling away. You can see the absence of fundamentals in the next picture.
This isn’t how you’re supposed to quarterback.
The ball was never going to make it to a Pats receiver. Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane snags it instead.
Tom Brady had led the Pats to points on every redzone trip up until this point in the 2014-2015 postseason. 9 TDs, 1 FG - and suddenly one bad decision he might put into his personal category of “passes I’d like to have back.”
The second Brady hiccup came on a great athletic play by Bobby Wagner. Gronkowski is going to run his “Gronk-across-the-middle” route (drawn below), and Wagner (circled below) is responsible for meeting Gronk at the break in his route.
Before the snap, Edelman sets in motion across the formation, occupying the left side. Wagner now has to decide whether Gronk is going deep down the middle, or if he’s going to cut across the field. Another camera angle bares more.
Brady’s eyes are on Wagner, trying to decipher whether or not he’ll buy the deep middle route that Gronk is selling. Wagner gradually drifts in that direction, but never actually turns his hips.
This is the moment Gronk starts his break. Wagner’s momentum is still carrying him to the right.
This is the moment Brady starts his throwing motion. Wagner times the pass perfectly, and plants his foot right when Brady releases.
Wagner is able to get in front of the pass after he rapidly makes up ground. In another angle below, you can really grasp what Brady was seeing.
From Brady’s perspective, Gronkowski is open. Wagner’s momentum was drifting left, past Gronk’s break.
But Wagner plants and closes the window, fast.
Looking at the tape, I don’t think the ball was underthrown. Brady had to force it into that window because Kam Chancellor, the next closest defender, was closing somewhat fast from the other direction. Brady thought Wagner was out of the picture, but Wagner used his athleticism to stay in the play.
Despite a couple sour decisions, it seems like Tom Brady made out alright in the end. It’s nice to be able to break down the decisions of a great quarterback, as it allows you into the mind of an elite football plotter. In most cases involving players who rarely fuck up, like Brady’s two picks, you can decipher almost precisely the situations leading up to a bad decision.
But in the end, it doesn’t impede Brady’s ability to lift his fourth Lombardi trophy.