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Tom Brady is the comeback king in the playoffs.
From his past two Super Bowl wins to the AFC championship game rally against Jacksonville that got the Patriots to the NFL’s biggest stage for the third in four seasons
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, no quarterback has engineered more late-game playoff comebacks than Brady.
But he is not alone. Whether it was Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round against Kansas City earlier this postseason, or Russell Wilson against Green Bay in (2015) or Andrew Luck against the Chiefs the previous year, there have been as many playoff comebacks from at least 10 points down in the fourth quarter the past five seasons as there were the previous 26 seasons.
”What happens is instead of playing the team, they start playing the clock. Sometimes you win and sometimes you go against a bad boy like Tom Brady and you get burned,” former Colts receiver and current NFL Network analyst Reggie Wayne said. ”A lot of that falls onto the coaches. The players are going to run what the coaches call.”
Whether it’s Atlanta failing to run the ball enough late in last year’s Super Bowl that helped the Patriots rally from 28-3 down to win in overtime or Seattle’s decision to pass at the goal line instead of hand it to Marshawn Lynch back in 2015, questionable coaching decisions have contributed to some of those comebacks.
But nobody is better at exploiting those mistakes than Brady and the Patriots. He has four playoff wins in games he trailed by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter, including the ”Tuck Rule” game against Oakland in 2002. No other quarterback has led more than one such comeback in playoff history.
”There’s a great belief no matter what the circumstances, that we have enough to overcome it,” Brady said. ”I don’t think we want to try to overcome that again this year. That was pretty tough to do. Hopefully we can get a lead
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, play from ahead, play on our terms.”
The Patriots are comfortable when that happens. They are 6-6 in the playoffs when trailing after three quarters under Brady and coach Bill Belichick, while the rest of the NFL has a 27-140 record in that span with only Russell Wilson and Eli Manning having more than two fourth-quarter comebacks with four each.
Not that it is by design.
”That whole comeback thing is overrated,” said NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, who won three Super Bowl titles as Brady’s teammate in New England. ”Players can’t go in and say, `Hey, we want to win this game in dramatic fashion, be down 11 with eight minutes to go and come back and have the crowd go crazy.’ You want to be in control, play a certain way and be in front. Because that changes how you play the game.”
The biggest deficit overcome to win a Super Bowl before last season was just 10 points and the Patriots were the first team to overcome a deficit that big in the second half when they did it against the Seahawks three years ago.
The only other teams to come back from 10 points down to win a Super Bowl faced those deficits early in the second quarter with New Orleans rallying against Indianapolis in 2010 and Washington against Denver in 1988.
Brady’s postseason passer rating when trailing in fourth quarter the past four years is a staggering 121.2
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, compared to 75.6 for the rest of the NFL.
In last year’s Super Bowl comeback, the Falcons appeared to tire and struggled to generate pressure, sending more than four pass rushers on just two of 24 pass plays in the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars also only brought more than four rushers on two of 15 fourth-quarter pass plays in the AFC title game when New England came back from 20-10 down to win 24-20.
”What teams do wrong is they go zone,” Wayne said. ”He’s going to pick zone apart all day, every day. He’s going to spread you out and they’re the best at creating mismatches.”
It’s been several years since Jason Garrett’s future as coach of the Dallas Cowboys was a hot topic waiting for owner Jerry Jones at the start of training camp.
Jones doesn’t seem too caught up in the issue now despite the Cowboys missing the playoffs for the fifth time in Garrett’s seven full seasons last year.
The outspoken billionaire started with a flat ”no” when asked if this was a playoffs-or-bust season for one of the
quarterbacks from the Cowboys’ Super Bowl-winning era of the 1990s.
”That’s the best answer I can give,” Jones said in his annual pre-camp news conference the day before Thursday’s first practice. ”And the fairest.”
Among the 11 current NFL coaches with at least seven years of experience, Garrett has the fewest playoff appearances with two. The only coach with fewer than Garrett’s one postseason win is Marvin Lewis, who is 0-7 in the playoffs in 15 years with Cincinnati.
Seven of the 10 besides Garrett have won at least one Super Bowl, and two others (Kansas City’s Andy Reid when he was in Philadelphia and Carolina’s Ron Rivera) have reached the title game. None of those numbers faze the leadership of the Cowboys.
”I think you can always pull up stats on a lot of different things
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,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said. ”We’re just big believers that, one, we really like Jason and what he’s all about as a leader and as a coach. We’ve had some really good football teams that he’s led.”
Garrett’s seat was the hottest going into 2014, when Dallas won the NFC East at 12-4 and just the franchise’s second playoff game since the last of five Super Bowl titles during the 1995 season.
Before that, the Cowboys finished 8-8 with season-ending losses that kept them out of the postseason in each of the first three full seasons under Garrett. He coached half the 2010 season after Wade Phillips was fired with Dallas at 1-7.
The Cowboys went first to worst at 4-12 in 2015 in large part because of quarterback Tony Romo’s twice-broken collarbone.
Then they were the top seed in the NFC a year later despite another Romo injury when Dak Prescott set an NFL rookie record for passer rating and fellow first-year sensation Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing.
There was another extenuating circumstance when Dallas missed the playoffs last year: Elliott’s six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations halfway through the season. The issue hung over the team all season.
”I think it’s as logical as watching my step as I walk off this stage that Jason is better and the right man for this job, even though he didn’t get coach of the year last year,” Jerry Jones said. ”We see better than anybody in the world, Jason. Consequently, I’m excited about him being our head coach.”
Garrett has steadfastly deflected talk about his job security with his ”control what you can control” mantra. That’s what he did as the last of three straight 8-8 seasons was ending in 2013
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, and again the next summer.
Then he had a season that earned him a five-year contract, and virtually guaranteed that Garrett would outlast all of Jones’ previous hires, including Bill Parcells. Garrett has two years left on that deal.
”I would think that every aspect of what my responsibilities are as head coach, hopefully I’ve gotten better at those things,” Garrett said. ”Everyone of us is a work in progress. I put myself at the top of the list as a person, as a coach, in every aspect of my life.”
Garrett is now second in tenure to Tom Landry, the franchise’s only coach for its first 29 years before Jones bought the Cowboys and hired Jimmy Johnson, a two-time Super Bowl winner.
The 52-year-old Garrett is also second to Landry’s 250 regular-season wins with 67. But his .558 winning percentage (67-53) trails Landry
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, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Phillips.
After missing the playoffs at 9-7 last season, the Cowboys changed much of the coaching staff under Garrett, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But Jones hasn’t indicated that means the next overhaul starts at the top.
”If I may be so bold, I’d say he’s a lot better coach today than he was last year or the year before that or the year before that,” Jones said in response to the opening question, which didn’t have a specific reference to Garrett. ”That’s the way it works when you are driven and motivated.”
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