Tom Brady and Steve Spagnuolo have met under the brightest lights once before. Brady hadn’t lost yet in that 2007 regular season or 2008 postseason. Spagnuolo was a first-year defensive coordinator.
But it was Spagnuolo’s Giants who won Super Bowl 42. Now 13 years later, Spagnuolo gets a chance to repeat the feat of beating the G.O.A.T. in the final game of the NFL season. This time it’s Super Bowl 55, Spagnuolo again as a defensive coordinator, now for the Chiefs.
Since Spagnuolo became an NFL defensive coordinator, Brady has faced Spagnuolo’s teams six times. The quarterback is 4-2 in those games, with three of the wins featuring 300 yards passing. But when Spagnuolo’s found a way to get pressure on Brady, his teams have had a chance.
In 2020, Brady completed 43 percent of his passes while under pressure but 71 percent of his passes with a clean pocket, according to The Washington Times. Just like 13 years ago, whether Spagnuolo’s defense can pressure Brady could decide the NFL’s championship.
Here’s a look back at how Super Bowl 42 went down, along with the other prior meetings between Brady and Spagnuolo.
Tom Brady vs. Steve Spagnuolo in Super Bowl 42
The Patriots and Giants unknowingly got a preview of Super Bowl 42 in Week 17 of the 2007 regular season. New England was trying to conclude a perfect regular season and only barely did so in a 38-35 win. That day, New York only sacked Brady once. For a team led by double-digit sack artists Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck along with future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, that wasn’t enough.
Spagnuolo was the Giants’ defensive coordinator that season, his first time holding the DC role in the NFL. In 2018, Spagnuolo spoke on NFL Network, looking back on how the Giants succeeded in the Super Bowl rematch of the regular-season loss.
New York came up with a couple of keys for the matchup with Brady. The first was simply to “hit him.”
“Jessie Armstead teases me about this,” Spagnuolo said, “but at one point during the week I said, ‘Look, it doesn’t matter whether we stop him from throwing it or not, let’s just make sure that we hit him.’ He told me this later, he said, ‘That doesn’t sound right.’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m not so sure that I was on board with that.’ But our guys bought into it and we hoped — the hope was that we could frustrate him a little bit. That was the first thing.”
While attempting to get enough pressure on Brady to hit him, the Giants also had to hold up on the back end. Brady threw 50 touchdowns that season. Randy Moss was an ever-present deep threat, as was Donte Stallworth, while Wes Welker dominated out of the slot.
Spagnuolo didn’t want to give up passes over 20 yards, and the Giants did it — Brady’s longest pass of the night was 19 yards.
Back in 2007, Brady wasn’t quite the pre-snap wizard he is now. Some of the disguises Spagnuolo drew up worked enough to get pressure on Brady, leading to two sacks from Tuck and five total. But Spagnuolo acknowledged in that segment two years ago that Brady’s much better at deciphering pressure schemes now.
“Tom now, to me, it’s the things that he does before the snap,” Spagnuolo said. “He can tempo, go real fast. It’s all about cadence to get guys to jump offside and he’s got a whole check system, I mean that’s what he lives in, that’s why he uses the whole clock. What he can do before the snap, to me is what is the most challenging.”
Spagnuolo might not have exactly the same level of pass rush as he had back with those Giants, but the Chiefs have playmakers on the defensive side of the football. If Kansas City can disguise what it wants to do and get Brady on the ground, Spagnuolo could get another ring from the hands of Brady.
History of Tom Brady vs. Steve Spagnuolo
|Date||Brady’s team||Spagnuolo’s team||Spagnuolo’s position||Score||Notes|
|Dec. 29, 2007||Patriots||Giants||Defensive coordinator||38-35, Patriots||Brady threw for 356 yards and two TDs while being sacked only once less than two months before Super Bowl 42.|
|Feb. 3, 2008||Patriots||Giants||Defensive coordinator||17-14, Giants||Brady was sacked five times while throwing just one touchdown in Super Bowl 42.|
|Dec. 22, 2013||Patriots||Ravens||Senior defensive assistant||41-7, Patriots||Brady didn’t contribute much to the scoring, throwing for 172 yards and one touchdown.|
|Jan. 10, 2015||Patriots||Ravens||Secondary coach||35-31, Patriots||Brady threw for 367 yards and three scores while being picked off once and sacked twice in the AFC divisional round.|
|Nov. 15, 2015||Patriots||Giants||Defensive coordinator||27-26, Patriots||Brady threw for 334 yards and two TDs while being picked once and sacked three times.|
|Dec. 8, 2019||Patriots||Chiefs||Defensive coordinator||23-16, Chiefs||Brady threw for 169 yards and a touchdown while being intercepted once and sacked three times.|
Note: The above data begins with Spagnuolo’s first defensive coordinator job in the NFL with the Giants in 2007. From 1999-2006, he worked in various roles with the Eagles but none as impactful on the defense as the roles he held from 2007 onward that are singled out in the table.