With four Super Bowl victories in his previous six appearances, Tom Brady had already carved himself onto the Mount Rushmore of quarterback icons.
But after inspiring the New England Patriots to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the 39-year-old earned a monument all to himself.
Brady’s fifth Super Bowl win on Sunday wiped away any lingering doubt that the veteran deserves to be regarded as the best quarterback the sport has seen.
The pulsating victory took Brady one clear of his childhood idol, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who both won four Super Bowls.
Yet it was the manner of Brady’s fifth Super Bowl triumph, as much as the statistical milestone of a fifth ring, that confirmed his place at the head of the quarterback pantheon.
Down 28-3 in the third quarter, Brady and the Patriots looked dead and buried.
A bruising first half had seen Brady get roughed up relentlessly by Atlanta’s aggressive pass rush. He was sacked five times in the game, and hit many times more.
“There was a lot shit tonight. And I got hit pretty hard,” Brady told journalists later as he tried to recall the details of his game.
But, like many other times in his career, Brady’s sheer will carried him through what had been a brutal ordeal, until he could sense the tide turning in his team’s favor.
“He was motivating us the whole game, even when we were down,” Patriots running back James White confided to reporters afterwards.
“He just willed us to another victory,” said White, who scored three touchdowns.
Patrick Chung, the Patriots’s outspoken safety, said Brady’s performance had ended the debate about his standing among the best quarterbacks.
“He just proved to you guys that he is the greatest, period,” Chung said. “So all of you haters need to shut up and just own up to it that he is the greatest. We all saw that today.”
Wide receiver Chris Hogan said Brady had refused to concede defeat even as the Falcons romped into a 25-point lead.
“The entire time, there wasn’t a moment where he looked like he knew this thing was over,” Hogan said.
Brady, who finished the game with 466 passing yards, a new record for the Super Bowl, has long maintained that he is not interested in the glory of his standing in the game.
“I don’t think anything about, you know, personal legacy,” he said in the build-up to Sunday’s finale.
“I never thought I’d play professional football. Didn’t think I’d play any professional sports.” Brady shied away from suggestions that he had carried the team, hailing the Patriots’s mentality and tight-knit locker-room bond.
“We all brought each other back,” Brady remarked.
“We’re in the locker room with each other every day and we know what we’re all about. That’s what it comes down to.”
Head coach Bill Belichick, who picked Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, declined to be drawn into ranking the quarterback’s performance, emphasizing victory had been a team effort.
“Tom has had a lot of great ones; tonight was one of them,” Belichick said. “There were a lot of great players playing out there tonight.”
But for Danny Amendola, the long-serving Patriots receiver, there was only one verdict.
“He was the same as he always is, cool, calm and collected,” Amendola said of Brady’s second-half display.
“He’s the leader, the general, the best ever and that is the end of the story. “