What if Tom Brady caught that pass, or tucked the ball away in the fourth quarter and took a sack without fumbling? What if Stephen Gostkowski nailed that field goal and extra point, changing the course of Super Bowl LII? What if officials called back Corey Clement’s bobbling touchdown? What if Rob Gronkowski somehow grabbed that game-ending Hail Mary pass out of the air?

What if if Brady pulled together another fourth-quarter comeback, if Boston got to gloat about its football team for another 360-some days, if the New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl championship?

If they did, here’s what readers around the country might have read in their morning newspapers. We asked several national sportswriters to send us the words they wrote but never published after things didn’t go the Patriots’ way. Here are their fledgling stories, unedited and still bearing marks of journalistic uncertainty. Linked are the stories that did appear in print and online.

If New England won, before Zach Ertz’s touchdown:

MINNEAPOLIS — The greatness of Tom Brady was more otherworldly than ever. The New England Patriots’ collection of Lombardi Trophies grew ever more imposing.

On a night when the touchdowns came at a dizzying rate and the passing yards piled up to stunning heights, Brady and the Patriots yet again managed to do what was needed. They secured their sixth Super Bowl title with Brady as their quarterback and Bill Belichick as their coach by outlasting the Philadelphia Eagles, 33-32, here Sunday evening at U.S. Bank Stadium in a wildly entertaining Super Bowl LII.

If New England won, after Ertz’s touchdown:

MINNEAPOLIS — Just when you think it’s safe to write off the New England Patriots — oh, forget it. It’s never safe to write off Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

It doesn’t matter how big the deficit is, how out of sync Brady looks or how an opponent is steamrolling the Patriots’ defense. When there’s a Super Bowl title to be had, Brady and the Patriots will find some way to claw their way back to the top.

For the second consecutive year, New England overcame a big second-half deficit to emerge as Super Bowl champions. This comeback was even more improbable than last year’s comeback, if you can believe that. Sure, Atlanta blew a 25-point lead last year. But the Eagles had the Patriots right where they wanted, leading by eight with a little over a minute left, and the Patriots ended up right where they wanted. Standing atop a stage, confetti falling around them as they waited for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hand over the Lombardi Trophy. Again.

That’s six for the Patriots in the Brady-Belichick era, for those who’ve lost count. The new team plane, with its five Lombardi Trophies on the tail, already needs to be updated.

As amazing as that sustained excellence is, so is the way Belichick has run his team with military-type precision.

He rebuilds teams without missing a beat, and tolerates no in-fighting or egos.

Which made this season so fascinating. ESPN reported before the playoffs began that the dynasty was crumbling from within, with Brady and Belichick at odds and owner Robert Kraft siding with his 40-year-old quarterback. Though all three denied it — it’s not a true celebrity divorce without a statement pledging to always be friends — the banishment of Brady’s trainer Alex Guerrero and the midseason trade of heir apparent Jimmy Garoppolo gave the report credence.

Add the impending departures of both coordinators — offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Indianapolis Colts and defensive counterpart Matt Patricia to the Detroit Lions — and this had the feeling of one last go-around.

If New England won, before Ertz’s touchdown:


[Nick] Foles came out and picked up right where he left off against Minnesota in the NFC Championship game. He completed his first three passes — two quick-hitters and then an unscripted play where he rolled to his left to buy receiver Alshon Jeffery time for a first-down completion.

Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich were on point to start the game as well. Their unit moved the ball seemingly at will as they marched all the way down to the New England 5-yard line. And just when you thought that they’d hang a game-opening touchdown on the defending champs, a self-inflicted wound killed the momentum. Tight end Zach Ertz drew a false start penalty, and two incompletions (the last of which was a breakup in the end zone) later, Philly had to settle for a field goal.

The Eagles did well to get points on the board. They had faced third-and-long earlier in the possession before a clutch Foles throw to put the ball in Patriots territory. But a 7-0 lead would’ve been huge.

The Patriots answered right back with a drive featuring quick-hitter passes (six of the eight to running backs). But Philadelphia’s defense also came through in the red zone. Cornerback Jalen Mills broke up a pass in the end zone for Rob Gronkowski, forcing New England to settle for a field goal.

Amazingly, those three points represented the first first-quarter Super Bowl points of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They’d gone scoreless in the seven previous Super Bowl first quarters.

The Eagles remained on the attack: a 36-yard LeGarrette Blount run set up a 34-yard Foles to Alshon Jeffery bomb for the first touchdown of the game.

The impressive plays kept coming for Philly as Blount scored on a 21-yard rushing touchdown. The Eagles went for two, but the pass to Jeffery fell incomplete. That touchdown still gave the Eagles a 15-6 lead. But the Patriots are 4-0 when trailing by double digits.


The Eagles executed an impressive drive in the final minutes of play, scoring with two-minutes left as Foles connected with Zach Ertz, who dived into the end zone.

But when the Patriots got the ball back, trailing 38-33, with 2:21 on the clock to be exact, those missed points by the Eagles loomed large, and everyone knew that was more than enough time for Brady to work with.

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