It’s been a few hours since we witnessed Super Bowl 51, and it’s still hard to digest. Prior to last night, no team in Super Bowl history had overcome a deficit of more than 10 points to win, but someone forgot to mention that to the New England Patriots.
The Patriots took the field at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texans led by a head coach in Bill Belichick and a quarterback in Tom Brady who combined to win four Super Bowl Titles together as they faced the upstart Atlanta Falcons who were looking for the franchise’s first title.
The Patriots were able to move the football in the first half, but they couldn’t get to the end zone as the Falcons defense forced two turnovers which led to 14 points. Defensively the Patriots didn’t have an answer for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan who appeared well on his way to winning the Super Bowl MVP after being named as the MVP of the National Football League on Saturday night. The Patriots defense also did not have answer for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman and wide receiver Julio Jones whose play making ability was on display for the world to see.
Late in the second quarter, Brady was intercepted by Falcons cornerback Robert Alford who returned it 82 yards for the touchdown to give Atlanta a 21-0 lead. Alford would take his time getting to the end zone as he was “hot dogging” it for the final 20 yards as he like most people though that the game was over.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski would connect on a 41-yard field goal just before the first half ended to get New England on the scoreboard. But even with the longer halftime at the Super Bowl, it appeared that the Patriots weren’t going to be able to make enough adjustments in order to combat the speed of the Falcons.
Midway through the third quarter Ryan connected with running back Tevin Coleman on an eight-yard touchdown pass to give the Falcons the 28-3 lead. And at this point the Super Bowl all but appeared to be over as you began to wonder how a team that was led by Belichick with Brady at quarterback could be dominated in the fashion that they were.
Brady would finally get it going late in the third quarter when he led the Patriots on their first touchdown drive of the game as he found running back James White on a five-yard touchdown pass. But when Gostowski missed the ensuing extra point, it appeared to be another sign from the football gods that it wasn’t going to be in the cards to Patriots to claim the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions for a fifth time.
The Patriots defense would stiffen as their offense would continue to chip away. And with just under 10 minutes left in the game, Gostowski connected on his second field goal of the game to cut the Patriots deficit to 16 as the score was now 28-12. However the Patriots would still need to score two touchdowns, along with getting a pair of two-point conversions, while also needing to stop the Falcons explosive offense. All of these aspects seemed a bit unlikely for New England which led Falcons owner Arthur Blank to make the trek from his luxury box at NRG Stadium to the field in order to be with his team as it only seemed to be a matter of time before his team would be crowned as champions.
But with just under 9 minutes left in the game, Patriots linebacker Donta Hightower sacked Ryan and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Alan Branch which gave New England life. All of a sudden Brady was locked in and he was no longer missing wide open receivers. Brady’s passes were crisp and on target as the Patriots offensive line was able sure up their blocking, while his receivers were doing everything necessary in order for New England to succeed. And with just under six minutes left in the game, Brady connected with wide receiver Danny Amendola on a five-yard touchdown pass, while White scored on the two-point conversion to cut the Patriots deficit to 28-20.
However the Patriots defense would have to step up once more. The Falcons would begin to drive the football as they went back to the combo of Freeman and Jones as they moved the football to the Patriots 22-yard line. And at this point a field goal would have more than likely iced the game for Atlanta. But the Falcons drive would stall when Ryan was sacked by Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, and a holding call was assessed on offensive tackle Jake Mattews. Now instead of the Falcons making plans to celebrate their first Super Bowl Championship, the butterflies began to rumble in their stomachs as they had to punt the football back to Brady.
Brady had 91 yards to go with under four minutes left in the game in order to lead New England on a game-tying drive, and if he did it, his legacy as the greatest quarterback ever would be cemented. Brady would continue to be locked in against the Falcons defense which at this point was running on fumes. And when wide receiver Julian Edelman made a spectacular catch on a pass that was initially deflected, you knew that the momentum had completely shifted to the Patriots. Brady would lead the Patriots down the field with precision and with 85 seconds remaining, White would score on a one-yard run to make it 28-26. However with New England needing to score another two-point conversion, the odds were in favor of the Falcons defense. But Brady would spread his receivers out in the formation which paved the way for him to find Amendola on a screen pass which knotted the score at 28.
Ryan and the Falcons would get one more chance in order to attempt a game-winning drive. But at this point Mr. Momentum was wearing a white jersey as Blank had a front row seat to watch his team completely come apart at the seams.
Thus we would be treated to the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, and when the Patriots won the coin toss, they and the Falcons alike knew that the game was over.
Like a surgeon, Brady would continue to slice up the Falcons defense as he drove the Patriots down the field. And when a pass interference was called on Falcons outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell for his coverage of Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett which put the football at the Atlanta two-yard line, the final nail was being hammered in their coffin.
Two plays later White would score the game-winning touchdown, and even a booth review could not save the Falcons as they were ready to go into the history books as the team that blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl.
For three quarters Falcons head coach Dan Quinn had done everything right as he appeared to be the man who was putting an end to the Patriots dynasty while turning Belichick into a mere mortal in the process. But by the fourth quarter Quinn’s defense had run out of gas. For the game the Patriots offense ran 93 plays compared to just 46 for Atlanta as New England possessed the football for more than 40 minutes. And as the Falcons defense was all over Brady for the first three quarters like ugly on an ape, he was made of teflon in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Falcons will head into the off-season in a fashion that will be extremely tough. Getting over this Super Bowl loss will be more excruciating than their 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 33, or their 28-24 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game as this game was all but over. This will not only sit with the Falcons for the next seven months, but for the rest of their lives as this will indeed be difficult to rebound from. Ryan spent this entire National Football League season washing away the ills of his reputation of being unable to win the big game, but now he’ll be remembered as the quarterback that was unable to hold a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is set to become the new head coach of the 49ers, and he was looked at as one of the up and coming bright minds on offense in the NFL. However Shanahan will now have to answer questions as to why Jones only had 4 receptions in the Super Bowl, along the fact that he stopped going to Freeman.
The Falcons had a front row seat to see why many people regard Belichick as the best head coach in National Football League history with Brady being the best signal caller to have ever done it as Atlanta’s attempts to stop them were the equivalent of bailing out water on the Titanic once it struck the iceberg.
Even when things were extremely bleak for the Pats, the mood never changed on their sidelines as they simply continued to do everything possible in order to win. And as the Patriots pass rush could not get to Ryan in the first half, they all of a sudden got into a rhythm which led to him hurrying his passes while he was being introduced to the turf which paved the way for New England’s epic comeback.
So once National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, it all but solidified the legacies of Belichick and Brady. After the Spygate and Deflategate scandals, the legacies of Belichick and Brady were tarnished. But each time that the NFL comes down on the Patriots, they emerge smelling like a rose.
This Super Bowl Championship wasn’t supposed to happen after Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season, while the Pats were stripped of their first-round pick in 2016. Tight end Rob Gronkowski only appeared in nine games due to a back injury, but New England continued to chug along. The Patriots would go 3-1 without Brady and 11-1 with him. And as Belichick attempted to down play Brady having extra motivation this season, it was hard for anyone to deny after what we saw last night.
Now the Patriots have joined the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys with five Super Bowl Championships which barely trails the six of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Brady and Belichick are each in a class of their own as no head coach or quarterback were able to win five Super Bowl Titles prior to last night. Brady and Belichick have changed the game as it will be hard for anyone to duplicate what they’ve accomplished.
At the age of 39, the timing is perfect for Brady to walk away from the National Football League as he could exit stage right just like quarterback Peyton Manning did last February as a Super Bowl Champ. But unlike Manning, Brady’s physical skills have not diminished as he could continue to rewrite the record books which has already seen him become the only four-time Super Bowl MVP.
And for all of those folks that may have kept watching the Super Bowl for the sole purpose of seeing the Patriots be taken behind the woodshed, it was not to be as they gave the Falcons a brutal lesson in perseverance while giving us a Super Bowl that people will remember for a very long time.