Brady outpaces Father Time to become the greatest ever

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In the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, Father Time looked to be finally winning the race against Tom Brady.

The 39-year-old has for so long defied expectations of the decline most NFL quarterbacks experience when they hit their mid-thirties, continuing to perform at a standard few thought possible to keep the Patriots in place as the dominant power in the league.

But, with the Falcons holding a commanding 28-3 lead with less than 25 minutes remaining, Brady was starting to look human.

Atlanta's swarming defense had kept him out of rhythm all night and while the Falcons seemingly went from strength to strength, Brady appeared slow and out of answers.

Brady had missed passes and thrown an interception returned for a touchdown and, when he did hit his receivers on time, the Patriots normally dependable cast of skill-position players let him down with some maddening drops.

Even the slither of hope that came with James White's first touchdown arrived with the caveat of Stephen Gostkowski clanking the upright on his extra-point attempt.

At that point, even the staunchest Patriots fan in Houston would have been forgiven for accepting this was not to be their night.

However, NFL games subscribe to one of the more tiresome cliches in sport. They are a marathon, not a sprint, and when league MVP Matt Ryan was stripped of the ball by Dont'a Hightower with the Patriots only down two scores at 28-12, it provided Brady with the opportunity to not only lead a turnaround, but to cement his legacy.

Lesser players would have wilted under the pressure of such a chance, but Brady immediately took to his task with the poise that has defined his incredible rise from relatively unknown sixth-round draft pick to one of the best to ever play the game.

He responded to that turnover with a perfect drive capped by a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola and a two-point conversion from White, but such recoveries are not without fortune, and Brady certainly enjoyed his fair share in this miraculous fightback.

Had the Falcons not squandered territory from which they could have kicked a crucial field goal and had Julian Edelman not plucked a ball that appeared most likely to end up in the hands of defender Robert Alford inches from the turf to pull off a scarcely believable catch, then this would have been a different tale.

However, the composure with which Brady took advantage of those slices of luck was befitting of his childhood hero, San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana.

White and Amendola, among the players with the lowest profile of the Patriots' largely no-name cast of offensive players, were the fitting beneficiaries of his exceptional nerve under pressure. Running back White crashed in for the tying score and Amendola this time added the two-pointer.

Atlanta's last drive of regulation was that of a team on the ropes, a disorganised mess in which they wasted the 57 seconds left on the clock.

And, by the time the overtime coin toss fell in New England's favour, it became clear the most remarkable chapter of Brady's stunning career was about to be written.

The punch-drunk and exhausted Falcons had no answer as they were once again dissected. And, though it was White who snuck over the goalline to cap the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, his winning moment will not be what this extraordinary game is remembered for.

Instead it will be remembered for Father Time, yet again, coming second to Tom Brady, who at the end of a season in which he was banned for four games as a result of the Deflategate scandal, led the most astonishing revival in the history of the league to surpass his icon Montana and become the only quarterback to win five Super Bowl titles.

Father Time will eventually defeat Brady. Nobody can go on forever. But when his decline does ultimately set in, it will not matter. Brady's story is complete, and he stands alone as the greatest quarterback of all time.