In the fortnight of previews and predictions, no-one saw this coming. Maybe the scoreline, 34-28 was in the ballpark, but not how we got there. In the most unprecedented of circumstances, the New England Patriots recovered from 25 point 2nd half deficit to win the first overtime Super Bowl over the inconsolable Atlanta Falcons, on Sunday in Houston.
For the better part of three quarters, Dan Quinn’s Falcons utterly dominated. Their offense was supreme, as expected, but Quinn’s defence was surprisingly brilliant, and by the back end of the 3rd quarter they’d limited Brady and the Pats to a miserly 3 points. Their speed, physicality and tackling was outstanding as they shut down the Patriots’ receivers and harassed Brady mercilessly.
On offence, the Falcons gained yards and points in large batches, as has been their MO this season. Matt Ryan threw two touchdowns, to Austin Hooper and Tevin Coleman respectively, Devonta Freeman had a rushing touchdown and Robert Alford had a superb, long range pick-six. Alford’s interception put the Falcons up by 21 points, and to many following the game on Twitter it appeared to be a Championship winner. The situation only deteriorated for the Patriots in the second half as they fell behind 28-3, after the Freeman touchdown.
From there however, the Super Bowl began to turn on its head. The game entered what can only be described as Tom Brady time. It’s also known as the 4th quarter.
Postgame, multiple Patriots players noted their faith in Brady, Danny Amendola praised Brady saying, “he’s the leader, the general, the best ever and that is the end of the story.” Defensive end, Chris Long declared, “he’s an assassin, who tears people’s hearts out.”
Among countless critical moments, Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack on Ryan, with the Patriots down 16 points late in the 4th quarter was the real momentum swinger. At 3rd and 1 and despite the fact the Falcons had run the ball well all evening, Matt Ryan sat back in the shotgun and Devonta Freeman whiffed badly on his blocking assignment leading to the sack, fumble and recovery for New England. This was the first of multiple questionable play calls from Kyle Shanahan as the 4th quarter wound down.
Several minutes later, Brady put Amendola in the endzone, and then converted the two-point conversion with a fake high snap to James White. The Falcons then successfully recovered the Patriots kickoff, and after an outstanding sideline catch from the elite Julio Jones, the Falcons were firmly placed in field goal range.
At this point, all Atlanta had to do was run the ball on all three downs and kick the field goal, pushing their lead out to 11 points, and almost certainly ending New England’s comeback. On 2nd and 11 at the Patriots’ 23 yard line, Ryan incredibly dropped back deep and gave up a huge sack to Trey Flowers (who quietly had a great game). On 3rd and 23, the Falcons passed again, a 9 yard completion to, Mohammaed Sanu. But the completion was called back on an offensive holding penalty. Now at 3rd and 33, on the Patriots’ 45, Ryan missed Taylor Gabriel for a small gain and the Falcons were forced to punt leaving Brady with over three minutes of clock to force the Super Bowl to overtime.
The Patriots’ subsequent 91 yard touchdown drive and sneaky two-point conversion, and the Patriots were level in the most unbelievable of circumstances.
From the moment Patriots’ team captain Matthew Slater called heads, and the coin fell heads up for the start of overtime, you just knew what was going to happen. The Falcons couldn’t hope to stop Brady and company by this point, the momentum of the match had completely and inexorably swung the way of the men from the north-east. Numerous Patriots’ defensive players noted post-game that they just knew the game was over when the Patriots won the toss and elected to receive to open overtime.
Brady’s five final drives went, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown (overtime). 31 straight points. The Patriots’ defence also deserves it’s share of credit, particularly for the forced fumble and the multiple punts they forced the Falcons into late in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
Running back, James White had the game of his life, 139 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns, including the all important overtime winner. Danny Amendola, who’s had a fairly quiet 2016 campaign was heavily involved, 8 catches 78 yards and a touchdown. It’s a testament to the game-planning of the Patriots offensive minds in their ability to utilise so many targets each and every Sunday.
As is the case with any enormous comeback, the team surrendering such a lead needs to contribute in equal measure to the team coming from behind. And the Falcons absolutely contributed to the end result, Kyle Shanahan’s dubious play calling, Matt Ryan failing to get rid of the ball and avoiding key sacks, and the defence completely collapsing and allowing Brady to score on five consecutive drives.
For Brady, his 5th Super Bowl ring and 4th Super Bowl MVP places him alone on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore. He can also put the tiresome ‘Deflategate’ issue in the rear-view mirror, something all fans of football should be grateful for. Also, the GOAT debate between, Brady, Montana, Manning, Marino and co is officially at an end. Sunday night saw to that. Before the 2017 season kicks off, Brady will turn 40, and the questions and discussions as to how long he has left will remain until the day he retires. So instead, let’s just enjoy the time we have left. Appreciate Brady’s greatness, his work ethic, his unmatched legacy, and his unyielding drive to win no matter the situation on the scoreboard.