Hannable: Why 2015 AFC championship battle between Wade Phillips, Tom Brady won’t matter in Super Bowl LIII

Ryan Hannable
January 30, 2019 - 6:52 pm

ATLANTA — Wade Phillips has gone against Tom Brady and the Patriots a lot — nine times in fact.

Brady is 6-3 all-time when facing the 71-year-old Rams defensive coordinator, but many are pointing to the 2015 AFC title game against the Broncos as one to look at when it comes to Phillips and Brady in Super Bowl LIII Sunday night. 

Phillips had a talented defense, much like he does this year, and was able to force Brady into having one of the worst games of his playoff career.

The Patriots quarterback went 27-for-56 (48 percent) with 310 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 56.4 in the 20-18 loss. The completion percentage and QB rating were the second-worst marks of his postseason career.

“We had 24 hits on the quarterback in that game,” Phillips said at Super Bowl Opening Night. “Those guys were a phenomenal defense, one of the greatest defensive teams of all times, I think. Especially in the playoffs when you beat Ben Roethlisberger, Brady and Cam [Newton in a row]. All of them are top quarterbacks and even Carolina was averaging 40 points per game in the playoffs. 

“But Tom Brady is Tom Brady. He’s big in the big moments.”

While many are pointing to that game given the talent of the Rams defense compared to that Denver unit, they are ignoring a lot of things that happened in that game, and also who that 2015 Patriots team was.

For starters, look at who the Patriots had on offense in that game.

Brady himself was the leading rusher in the game with 13 yards, as that was the year of Steven Jackson. The veteran only had four carries for eight yards in the contest. The Patriots had zero resemblance of a running game and this year is a lot different. So far in the postseason, the Patriots’ rushing attack is a major reason why the team is playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday.

In the two postseason games, the Patriots have ran for a total of 331 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns. Not being able to establish the run Sunday shouldn’t be an issue. 

Then, look at wide receiver.

Of Brady’s 56 pass attempts, 44 went to three players — James White (16), Rob Gronkowski (15) and Julian Edelman (13). Other players to receive targets were Danny Amendola (eight), Brandon Bolden (three) and Keshawn Martin (one). And even though Edelman and White were targeted so much, they couldn’t do much damage. Edelman had seven receptions for 53 yards, while White had five receptions for 45 yards.

Phillips did a great job of flooding the middle of the field and forcing Brady to throw to the outside, and the team just didn’t have many options.

While the Patriots receiving core isn’t great by any means, it is much better than it was that year. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and even Cordarrelle Patterson all have the ability to make plays.

Lastly, some may forget center Bryan Stork gave away the snap count with head bobs allowing the Broncos defense to get after Brady more than it would otherwise. The Broncos sacked Brady four times and forced bad throws countless others. New England was 2-for-15 on third down and the ferocious pass rush was a big reason why.

There’s no question Phillips and the Broncos did a great job against Brady that day, but the reality is this Patriots team is in a much better place now than it was then. So, don’t expect it to be that easy for Phillips and the Rams defense come Sunday.

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