HOUSTON — In the end, there was nowhere else for Roger Goodell to go.
A thrilling fourth-quarter comeback and a stunning overtime touchdown gave way to the exchange that had been talked about all week leading up to Super Bowl LI: the potential handoff of the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the NFL commissioner to Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Sunday night.
It was Goodell who had handed down the four-game Deflategate suspension against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
But it was the Patriots who capped an impressive season with a comeback victory for the ages.
Perhaps fittingly, it was Brady’s late-game heroics that propelled the Patriots to a 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons and earned them their fifth Super Bowl victory.
Boos rained down from the crowd of Patriots fans, who made their disdain for Goodell known the minute he opened his mouth as he stood on the on-field stage surrounded by celebratory confetti. And it was clear that Kraft was relishing the moment.
“Two years ago, we won our fourth Super Bowl down in Arizona,” the owner told former Super Bowl champion and current Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw on stage after the Goodell handoff.
“I told our fans that was the sweetest one of all. But a lot has transpired during the last two years. I don’t think that needs any explanation,” added Kraft, whose words immediately triggered a roar from the crowd of Patriots fans.
“But I want to say to our fans, our brilliant coaching staff, our amazing players who are so spectacular, this is unequivocally the sweetest. I’m proud to say, for the fifth time, we are all Patriots.
“Tonight, for the fifth time, the Patriots are world champions.”
Brady sidetracked questions about Deflategate and Goodell in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. He insisted that he was focused on other things — mostly his family, including the health of his ailing mother, and his quest for another Super Bowl ring.
But truth be told, Brady’s revenge tour began months ago. And it came to an end in dramatic fashion at NRG Stadium.
But after an epic win and a dazzling performance against the Falcons — 43-for-62 passing for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards and two touchdowns — Brady steered clear of focusing on Goodell.
“This is all positive,” Brady said when asked if there was a feeling of redemption, given the events of the past two years. “This is unbelievable. I’m going to go see my family.”