Villain No. 2 Tom Brady: Super Bowl stealer among other things

We have dubbed them Atlanta’s Dirty Dozen – the villains of Atlanta Sports. We use the term villain loosely. Some are simply sports figures who proved a thorn in our side, stood in our way, or prevented greatness. OK, some are true villains. We’ll let you decide who is who.

In an 11-week series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will highlight one of the Dirty Dozen. We will present the series in ascending order, from No. 12 to No. 1. Each story will be accompanied by a video with our staff discusses why each made our list.

We invite you to provide your thoughts each week. Email us at sportstips@ajc.com. We will publish some of the comments each week. Finally, at the series’ conclusion Oct. 15, with the No. 1 villain, we will post a poll allowing you to vote on your top villains.

Robert Alford ran in Tom Brady’s direction. The Patriots quarterback made a sad attempt to tackle him and got nothing but air. That should have been the immortal image from the 2017 Super Bowl: Brady the Great, winner of four championships, eating the turf after costing himself another ring with a pick-six to Alford.

Sadly, it was not the lasting image from that Super Bowl. You know what happened. The Falcons villain came out on top, again.

Among the many terrible things about 28-3 for the Falcons, Brady’s redemption might have been the worst. He was named Super Bowl MVP after making a mistake that should have cost his team the game. Brady didn’t lead the comeback so much as he happened to be there when the Falcons collapsed.

Brady pretty much admitted this days later when Peter King suggested it was his best-ever performance:

“I don’t really think that is necessarily the case,” he said. “I think it was one of the greatest games I have ever played in. But when I think of an interception return for a touchdown, some other missed opportunities in the first 37, 38 minutes of the game – I don’t really consider playing a good quarter-and-a-half plus overtime as one of the ‘best games ever.’”

Maybe Dan Quinn’s game mismanagement makes him the true Falcons villain of that Super Bowl. But Brady was on his way to becoming the most-hated Falcons nemesis well before that night. The Super Bowl just made it official.

Brady was 4-0 against the Falcons before then. He beat them again the next season in New England. Four years later, Brady left the Patriots and signed with the Bucs. He joined the NFC South at the same time the Falcons were declining and won five consecutive games against them.

In Brady’s first game facing the Falcons with the Bucs, the Falcons led 24-17 in the second half before losing 31-27. Here we go again. When he retired and unretired in the summer of 2022, the clock was ticking for the Falcons to finally beat Brady before he called it quits for good.

They got what turned out to be their final shot when Tampa Bay came to Atlanta for the 2022 regular-season finale. The game didn’t matter for the Bucs because their playoff position was set. Brady started the game and threw a touchdown pass on the game’s opening drive. Would he play the whole game just to stick it to the Falcons one last time before quitting football?

Brady played two more series and then took the rest of the day off with the score tied. The Falcons went on to win the game, so officially, Brady was 10-1 against them, not including the Super Bowl. But there’s an unofficial asterisk next to that last game.

Brady probably would have beaten the Falcons if he had played the whole game. That’s speculative, but is it really when Brady never lost to the Falcons when it mattered? And that’s not the only reason he’s the No. 1 Falcons villain.

The Falcons were one of many teams to fall victim to Brady browbeating officials until he got his way. The Falcons staged a spirited comeback in Tampa last season. It was derailed by a bogus roughing-the-passer penalty called on Grady Jarrett against Brady, who whined and whined before the flag flew.

Let’s just hope that Brady stays retired this time.