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Jerry Sullivan: Tom Brady's comeback stirs deja vu

Column as I see 'em:

This time, I thought the Patriots were finished. They were down by 10 points in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady, playing with 12 stitches in his right hand, was struggling badly against a tenacious Jacksonville defense. Rob Gronkowski was in concussion protocol. Blake Bortles was having the game of his life.

But Brady reminded us why he's the best quarterback of all time. Injured hand and all, he led another of his astonishing playoff comebacks on Sunday, throwing two fourth-quarter TD passes to lead the Pats over the Jags and back to the Super Bowl.

I'm sure this gets tedious for Bills fans after 18 years. If Sunday's win seemed like a rerun of past Brady miracles, there's a good reason. He has led the Pats from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter in the playoff three times in his career, and all of them have occurred in the past three years, since DeflateGate broke.

Last year's comeback over the Falcons was the greatest in Super Bowl history, as the Pats rallied to win in overtime after trailing by 25 points late in the third quarter. But Sunday's 24-20 victory was strikingly similar to the 28-24 victory over the Seahawks in the Super Bowl two years earlier.

In both games, the Pats trailed by 10 points with under nine minutes to play. Brady had to bring his team back against the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. He did it with virtually no running game. New England rushed for 57 yards in the Seattle game, only 46 against the Jaguars in this year's AFC title game.

Brady carved up Seattle's vaunted secondary for 124 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 49. He threw for 138 yards and two TDs against the Jags in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Danny Amendola had huge TD catches in both games. So there was a palpable sense of deja vu.

Brady has brought the Pats back from double-digit deficits four times in the playoffs: The Seattle and Atlanta Super Bowls, this year's title game and the 2015 AFC championship game over the Ravens. It was after that title game that word leaked that the NFL was investigating Brady for deflating footballs. His rivals probably wish he'd go back to cheating.

In the fourth quarters of those four games, Brady was 46 of 59 passing for 530 yards and six touchdowns. Not a bad game if you strung them together. It doesn't include the overtime against the Falcons, when he completed five straight throws for 50 yards in OT to set up the winning touchdown.

Some people find it boring and repetitive for the Pats to reach their third Super Bowl in four years, and their eighth with Brady and Bill Belichick. I'd rather watch sustained greatness. The thought of Brady trying to win a sixth ring is more compelling than watching Blake Bortles hand off to Leonard Fournette in crunch time.

There's talk that this could be one of the worst Super Bowls ever. I love the matchup. There are some good story lines. The Eagles have felt disrespected since losing quarterback Carson Wentz to a knee injury. His backup, Nick Foles, looks to become the only QB other than Eli Manning to beat Brady in a Super Bowl.

No offense to Foles, who was sensational against the Vikings. But if Wentz played, it would feature quarterbacks who were the top choices for league MVP. But it'll be interesting to see what Philly head coach Doug Pederson and OC Frank Reich, who did a brilliant job getting Foles ready for Minnesota, have in store for the Pats.

There's no lack of Buffalo angles, either. Reich, who knows a thing or two about comebacks, ought to be getting more attention for NFL head jobs. Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby will be starting cornerbacks on opposite teams in a Super Bowl. Jim Schwartz, the Bills' defensive coordinator before Rex Ryan botched things, gets his shot at stopping Brady in the clutch.

Brady has roots in Minnesota, where he will attempt to win a sixth Super Bowl in two weeks. His mother grew up in the tiny town of Browerville, where his grandfather was a dairy farmer. Brady used to fish and milk cows there as a boy. He said he has always felt a connection to the state.

He'll need to make a lot of big connections in the Bowl against a resourceful Eagles defense. He generally finds a way, especially in the fourth quarter.


No doubt, Pats haters were whining about the officiating after Sunday's game. The Jaguars were whistled six times for 98 yards, including some crucial pass interference calls. The Patriots had just one penalty for 10 yards.

You can argue about the interference call on Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye late in the first half, which led to the Pats' touchdown just before halftime.

Twitter blew up after the call, which was borderline. But Bouye appeared to push Brandin Cooks out of bounds on the play. Officials make that call all the time. At least the Pats were trying to be aggressive, which is more than you could say about the Jags, who knelt out the last 55 seconds of the half.

The Patriots have a way of turning other teams stupid. They're a veteran group that keeps its poise under pressure and doesn't make many dumb mistakes. They led the NFL in first downs by penalty. It can't all be the officiating.

The Jags killed themselves with a delay of game penalty that negated a first down late in the first half, leading to the Pats' late score. Head coach Doug Marrone was typically conservative with the lead, unwilling to have Bortles attempt tough throws from deep in his own end. His defense seemed a little panicked late.

Go ahead and blame the refs. It's always fashionable when the Pats win. But the game was there for the taking and the Jaguars blinked, as many have before them.


Stats Incredible: The Patriots scored in the final two minutes of the first half for the 12th time this season. ... The Eagles' LeGarrette Blount had an 11-yard TD run in the NFC title game, making him the seventh man with 10 or more career rushing TDs in the playoffs. He joins Emmitt Smith (the leader with 18), Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, John Riggins and Terrell Davis. ... Foles passed for 352 yards and three TDs for Philadelphia. It was the first time he had 350 yards passing and three TDs in a game since he had 428 yards and three TDs at Minnesota in 2013. ... The Vikings have lost six straight conference championship games since losing their fourth Super Bowl to the Raiders in 1977. ... Jimmy Garoppolo has earned $79,000 in playoff bonuses because he played half of New England's games before being traded to the Niners in early November. He'll pocket another $112,000 if they win. ... Brady can become the first player with five Super Bowl championships. Former defensive lineman Charles Haley is the only other man with five, two with the Niners and three with the Cowboys.

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