Comeback Kings: Patriots thrive at late-game playoff rallies

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) 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, 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.

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“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, 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, 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.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

NBC’s Al Michaels prepares for 10th Super Bowl broadcast

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Al Michaels has a similar level of anticipation heading into his 10th Super Bowl broadcast as he had the first time he worked the biggest stage on television 30 years ago.

Michaels is set to join Pat Summerall as the only play-by-play announcers to call at least 10 Super Bowls when he works next weekend’s game in Minneapolis between New England and Philadelphia.

“It’s every bit as exciting and even more so in a way,” Michaels said in a phone interview. “As you get older and you get the opportunities to do these events, you probably savor it more.

“When I look at guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, as they get older, I think they begin to appreciate and savor the opportunities more because you’re closer to the end than you are to the beginning and you never know how many more you have left.”

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The 73-year-old Michaels is in no hurry to give up the microphone on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast, which is on target to be television’s highest-rated show for a record seventh straight year, passing the mark set by “American Idol.”

With a comfort level with his broadcast team led by executive producer Fred Gaudelli, director Drew Esocoff and analyst Cris Collinsworth, Michaels is having as much fun as he ever had since becoming the lead announcer for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 1986.

Michaels points to advice from former Buffalo coach Marv Levy about never considering retirement. He could be in position to stay long enough to match Summerall’s record of 11 Super Bowl play-by-play broadcasts.

“If you think about retiring, you’ve already retired,” Michaels said. “That rings in my ears. I have a great amount of passion for what I do. I love what I do. I work with the greatest people I’ve ever worked with in this business top to bottom. I still get excited going to the games. I love walking into a stadium. I love sports.”

It’s been a remarkable career for Michaels, who has called eight World Series, including the Earthquake Series in 1989; nine Olympics, including the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980; and now is preparing for his 10th Super Bowl.

He still remains at the top of his game in his sixth decade of work.

“Working with Al has been a professional highlight and all-out blast,” said Gaudelli, who will work his sixth Super Bowl with Michaels next week.

“I’ve been watching sports all my life and in my opinion no one can capture the moment quite like Al can. It’s never rehearsed or predetermined – he sees it, calls it and somehow the words are perfect. He never ceases to amaze me.”

Michaels’ first Super Bowl came in 1987 when Doug Williams led Washington to a 42-10 victory. Several of his others have included some of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history, from Scott Norwood’s missed field goal for Buffalo in 1991, to Mike Jones’ tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play to preserve St. Louis’ title in 2000, to Eli Manning‘s second comeback drive to beat Tom Brady six years ago.

But two stand out the most. The first was in 2009, when Pittsburgh’s James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a score on the final play of the first half, and then Santonio Holmes caught the winning TD for the Steelers in the final minute of a comeback win over Arizona.

Then in the most-watched television event in U.S. history three years ago, the Patriots won their fourth title when Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass from Russell Wilson at the goal line when it looked as if the Seahawks were poised to score the go-ahead TD in the closing seconds.

Those are the moments no broadcaster can ever prepare for, and only the most accomplished can handle as adroitly as Michaels has over the years.

“John Madden once had a great line. We prepare like crazy. We prepare for any eventuality. But you get to the booth, and as John would say, all of a sudden a game breaks out,” Michaels said.

“The game has to come to you. You can’t go to the game. We have a million things we can talk about, but if you start talking about them and they’re not germane to the game, the listener will find that cacophonous. You have to blend what you know with what’s going on in the game.”

One aspect Michaels didn’t have to deal with for most of his career but has risen up this season has been social justice protests during the national anthem. He realizes it’s a delicate balance for an announcer because many fans will be offended by networks showing or talking about the protests, while others will be equally as upset if they are ignored.

While no Eagles or Patriots are currently protesting, Michaels is prepared for any scenario.

“We’re there to report what happens,” he said. “If there is something that does take place, you have to cover it. You don’t have to editorialize about it. You report here is what happened and you don’t lecture people on this is bad or this is good. People tune in to watch the game and we’ll bring them the game.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

WATCH: NFL’s 1st and Future competition

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Before Super Bowl LII, the NFL, Comcast/NBC Universal, SportsEngine and the Mayo Clinic will present the third annual NFL 1st and Future Competition.

Click the above video on Feb. 3 to watch. The competition runs from 10 am ET to 1 pm ET.

1st and Future is the NFL’s annual Super Bowl start-up business competition designed to spur novel advancements in athlete safety and performance. Up to nine companies will compete for top prize in three business categories. An all-star panel including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus, Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy and Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson is also part of the day’s program. Scott Hanson of the NFL Network hosts.