Welcome to our annually updated column reviewing how every Super Bowl champion during the Patriots’ run has needed some good fortune along the way. After New England’s stunning comeback on February 5, we might have to rename the column to “With A Little Bit Of – HOLY HABANEROS THEY DID IT!”
Did the Patriots get lucky in Super Bowl 51? Well, if you’re going to mount a 25-point comeback midway through the third quarter, you definitely need some compliance from the other side (more on that below).
Of the 16 Super Bowls listed here, eight were decided by four points or less, and that’s not including New England’s six-point overtime win. For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needed the ball to bounce its way, see our list of fortunate moments, starting with a snowy night in January 2002. (Note: each Super Bowl year is listed when played, meaning each team played their regular season the year before. If you don’t like it, switch to baseball, I guess?)
2002 Super Bowl: New England 20, St. Louis 17
Most Fortunate Moment: Has to be the Tuck Rule, right? An obscure, now-abolished rule – albeit one with which Patriots fans had become familiar in 2001 after their Week Two game against the Jets – was implemented to overturn an apparent Tom Brady fumble, thus prolonging a drive and allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick the football into the maw of a blizzard for the greatest field goal in playoff history.
Hey, Raiders fans? That was 15 years ago. George W. Bush had been in office for about a year. Usher’s “U Got It Bad” was the number-one song. Friendster was a thing. Maybe time to move on, is all I’m saying.
Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh’s special teams implosion in the AFC Championship game, allowing two TDs (punt return and blocked kick return); having Drew Bledsoe as a bench QB after Brady hurt his ankle in the first half of that game; the Super Bowl refs adapting a “let ’em play” attitude, with Pats DBs getting more hands on more Rams than a Dodge Touch A Truck contest.
2003 Super Bowl: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21
Most Fortunate Moment: Coach Jon Gruden got to play his previous team in the Super Bowl, which proved beneficial when new Oakland head coach Bill Callahan failed to make significant changes to the offense. Talk about an in-depth scouting report. Seriously, Raiders fans should stop fretting over the Tuck Rule and wonder why on earth, after actually making the Super Bowl, their coach neglected to put in four or five dummy calls from the line of scrimmage. In terms of planning, this compares only slightly favorably to the charge at Gallipoli.
Honorable Mention: Oakland’s starting center Barret Robbins did not show up to practice Super Bowl week (he was barred from playing and later diagnosed with manic depression).
2004 Super Bowl: New England 32, Carolina 29
Most Fortunate Moment: After Carolina tied it at 29, John Kasay’s kickoff sailed out-of-bounds, giving New England possession at their own 40 with 1:08 left. Vinatieri booted the game-winner with four seconds remaining.
Honorable Mention: Panthers coach John Fox went for two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter and failed; in the divisional playoffs, normally sure-handed Titans receiver Drew Bennett dropped a pass that would have gotten Tennessee into field goal position to tie it; in the AFC Championship vs. Peyton Manning and the Colts, the refs allowed the Pats’ defensive backs to play with the type of aggression that would get penalized today; plus, snow fell in Foxboro, an anathema to most dome teams.
2005 Super Bowl: New England 24, Philadelphia 21
Most Fortunate Moment: The failure of the Eagles to assist shaken QB Donovan McNabb. Down by 10, Philly failed to hurry on offense, in part because McNabb was having trouble breathing after getting hit by Tedy Bruschi. (You can read a more in-depth story on that here.)
Honorable Mention: Optimum health at the optimum time. As they had in 2003, many New England starters missed games due to injury, but most came back in time for the playoffs. Once again, Khione (the goddess of snow) smiled upon Foxboro vs. the Colts.
Overall, it’s tough to associate pure luck with this team: one of the best of the decade and certainly one of the strongest, deepest squads in Patriots history.
2006 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10
Most Fortunate Moment: Not having to face the Patriots in the playoffs. (This isn’t pure homerism: New England had escorted Pittsburgh back to Steeltown twice in four years.)
Honorable Mention: Some close officiating in the big game. This is not to say that Pittsburgh didn’t deserve to win (they appeared to be the better squad), but had some of those close calls gone the other way, Seattle would have been the lucky ones. In the divisional playoffs at Indianapolis, Jerome Bettis fumbled on the Colts’ two-yard line, potentially paving the way for glory for Nick Harper on the fumble return, but Roethlisberger made a diving, spinning tackle at Indy’s 42; Colts kicker/anti-hero Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal.
2007 Super Bowl: Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17
Most Fortunate Moment: Whatever switch went off in Peyton Manning’s head in the AFC Championship that had him looking for drive-sustaining first downs instead of long passes. The Patriots defense had to stay on the field forever and couldn’t protect their halftime lead.
Honorable Mention: The Patriots defense was also suffering from the flu, wearing them down further; NE receiver Reche Caldwell dropped an easy pass that would have at least led to a clock-killing first down; cornerback Ellis Hobbs got a questionable pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Colts score; Indy got to play Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl.
2008 Super Bowl: New York 17, New England 14
Most Fortunate Moment: We think we know what most fans would say, but we’ll point to the NFC Championship, specifically Brett Favre and his ill-advised pass-punt in overtime. This easy interception led to the Giants’ game-winning field goal. Few New England fans doubt that the Pats would have cruised past the Packers.
Honorable Mention: The Helmet Catch, of course; Eli Manning fumbled twice in the Super Bowl but lost neither; Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel failed to secure what could have been the game-sealing interception on New York’s final drive.
2009 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
Most Fortunate Moment: While Steelers defender James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, he got unintentional help from Cardinal Antrel Rolle who – stepping onto the edge of the field for a closer look – bumped into receiver Larry Fitzgerald, preventing Fitzgerald from making the tackle in time. (Keep an eye on number 11 running along the sideline in this clip.)
Honorable Mention: Roethlisberger bounced back from a concussion suffered during the final week of the regular season to beat the Chargers in the divisional round (um, maybe “bounced back” is the wrong phrase to use when discussing concussions); in the AFC Championship, the QB fumbled twice but lost neither in a 24-19 win over the Jets.
2010 Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17
Most Fortunate Moment: On a potential game-tying drive, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne came up short on his route, allowing Tracy Porter to cut in front of him for a pick-six.
Honorable Mention: During their on-sides kick – a gamble akin to betting on the Patriots at halftime in SB 51 – Indy receiver Hank Baskett had the ball bounce off of him, giving the Saints possession to open the second half.
2011 Super Bowl: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25
Most Fortunate Moment: I wrote this last year, and I have to say again, honest to God, I remember nothing about these playoffs. Apparently the Chicago Bears were down to their third-string QB (Caleb Hanie) in the NFC Championship game; Hanie threw an interception directly at Packers defensive lineman B. J. Raji, which seems like trying to throw a crumpled-up piece of paper into a wastebasket and not realizing there’s a door in front of it.
Honorable Mention: Um, I dunno … health? Seriously, I got nothing. Did these playoffs happen?
2012 Super Bowl: New York 21, New England 17
Most Fortunate Moment: An injury to regular San Francisco punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. put Kyle Williams into the spotlight for the NFC Championship. That worked out great for New York, as Williams muffed one return and fumbled the other, respectively leading to a regulation TD and the game-winning field goal in overtime for a 20-17 win.
Honorable Mention: Gronkowski getting hurt during the AFC Championship, making him less than 100 percent for the Super Bowl; New York fumbling three times in the big game and – again – losing nary a one.
2013 Super Bowl: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31
Most Fortunate Moment: In the divisional playoff, Denver safety Rahim Moore got lost on Joe Flacco’s 70-yard pass, allowing the tying touchdown with 31 seconds left to play. Baltimore won in OT.
Honorable Mention: Gronkowski’s absence from the AFC Championship game; Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib’s injury during that game opening up the passing lanes for Flacco; in the Super Bowl, terrible play-calling for the 49ers on their potential game-winning drive; on that drive, the refs allowed contact on a potential pass interference penalty in the end zone. (Something that probably would get the call this year.)
2014 Super Bowl: Seattle 43, Denver 8
Most Fortunate Moment: On the first snap of the game, Denver center Manny Ramirez shotgunned the football past Peyton Manning into the end zone for a what-the-heck-just-happened safety. Seattle’s D had a huge game, but didn’t have to lift a finger to get the lead. The Broncos’ lack of preparedness for the Seahawks’ 12th man set the tone for the night.
Honorable Mention: In the NFC title game, on a fourth-and-seven play, Niners defensive end Aldon Smith went offside, giving QB Russell Wilson a freebie (as he told in this game story); Jermaine Kearse snatched Wilson’s pass in the end zone, giving Seattle a 20-17 lead on their way to a 23-17 win.
2015 Super Bowl: New England 28, Seattle 24
Most Fortunate Moment: Not to be contrarian, but I just don’t think the play call was the worst in Super Bowl history. However, the Seahawks’ decision to pass from the one-yard line gave rookie Patriots defensive back (and budding star) Malcolm Butler the chance to intercept the ball and seal the game. Whether fortunate or diligent, as we saw in the “Do Your Job” program, the Patriots had planned for that exact play in the previous week’s practice.
Honorable Mention: After dealing with key injuries in previous playoffs, the Patriots finally got to compete with a mostly healthy roster, as Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and a full O-line contributed; Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed with New England and re-shaped the defense. (For a year, at least. A remarkable year.)
Reviewing their final two playoff games, the Seahawks seemed destined to win. From Green Bay’s inexplicable breakdown in the NFC Championship to Tom Brady’s first interception (Not. Good.) to what is now deemed The Kearse Catch, Seattle looked like SB repeaters for sure.
The Pats just needed a break. And they got it.
2016 Super Bowl: Denver 24, Carolina 10
Most Fortunate Moment: Stephen Gostkowski’s missed extra-point kick in the American Conference Championship. I know, Denver deserves credit for a great defensive effort throughout the playoffs. Still, if you consider that Brady got beaten more than the “it” in a Michael Jackson song, yet still managed to bring the Patriots down the field for a touchdown in the final minute, we all have to agree that overtime would have been awfully interesting.
Honorable Mention: General good health throughout the year, plus a backup QB in Brock Osweiler who played well. Also (and I’m not sure where this lies in terms of luck), but it’s amazing that in the Super Bowl Peyton Manning converted only one of 14 third down attempts (a whopping seven percent). Lucky to have such a great defense, I guess?
2017 Super Bowl: New England 34, Atlanta 28
Most Fortunate Moment: Sticking with the idea of luck as something you do not control, I’m going with Atlanta calling a pass on second down from New England’s 23-yard line with under four minutes left and a 28-20 lead. (And something tells me more than a few gamblers would agree.) Sack, Trey Flowers. Atlanta drops back to pass again to make up some yardage – holding call. Third down again, incomplete pass. Fourth down, punt. Pats get the ball back with 3:30 left. A crazy sequence of events, there.
Honorable Mention: Kudos to Edelman for maintaining his focus during his Catch, but – considering the football contacted more body parts than an orthopedist – the play seems more remarkable with each viewing; running back Tevin Coleman’s injury in the fourth quarter may have convinced the Falcons’ staff to pass on the ensuing third and one play; unfortunately for Atlanta, Devonta Freeman’s block was too small for a LEGO set, much less Dont’a Hightower, leading to the linebacker’s game-changing strip sack.
At that point (8:24 left), a 28-12 lead didn’t seem so safe anymore.
Next week, we’re on to the draft, with our annual Patriots Round-By-Round review. (Here’s last year’s column to get you thinking.)
Chris Warner shall never tire of watching the Slaters celebrate. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @cwarn89 on Twitter.