I feel like I saw a unicorn. And someone shot it dead.
Super Bowl LI. The New England Patriots versus the Atlanta Falcons. Patriots favored by 3.
New England was losing by 25 points in the third quarter. With 8:31 left to play in the fourth quarter and Atlanta with the ball leading by 16, Matt Ryan gets stripped sacked by Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots Alan Branch recovers at the Falcons 25. From that point in the game not only did the unicorn die, the feeling of Atlanta losing the game was imminent.
“No one yelled at each other, no one said anything negative, everything was positive on that sideline, in our locker room,” Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett stated. “We knew who we were, we knew what we represent, we knew that we have not been in this situation like this, they played a heck of a game, we just played a better one.”
No team had ever made up more than a 10-point deficit to win a Super Bowl. Tom Brady led the Patriots on five straight scoring drives that equaled 31 unanswered points. The last touchdown wrapped up a 34-28 victory, yet felt inevitable and anticlimactic despite coming in the first-ever overtime in the Super Bowl’s 51-year history, especially with Patriots winning the coin toss. Tom Brady with new life. It was over.
After the game, the NFL distributed a list of new Super Bowl records that took up nearly three-quarters of a page. There were 24 in all, the majority related in one way or another to the quarterback: Yards passing (446), pass attempts (62), completions (43), MVP awards (4), career wins (5, tied with Charles Haley, but now ahead of quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana).
“Just a hell of a football game,” Brady stated. “Its hard to win a game in the NFL. To beat this team and get down 28-3. It is just a lot of mental toughness by our team we are going to remember this for the rest of our life.”
Tom Brady has 15 Super Bowl TD passes. There have been 45 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since Brady was drafted in 2000. They have combined for 15 Super Bowl TD passes.
Bill Belichick has now won five Super Bowls, an NFL record. Yes, he has been known for questionable gamesmanship which can also be called cheating however in this game alone, he coached his team to the mountaintop. The Patriots competed down 21-0, 21-3, 28-3. They missed an extra point after scoring their first touchdown, but converted two two-point conversions, tied the game and won in overtime. “Hightower’s play was the big play, we needed that one,” Belichick stated.
Now to the losing team…sigh. I am not calling it the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Instead the biggest collapse. I only want to talk about three plays regarding the Falcons. Yes, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman somehow wrapped up a pass that was first deflected by Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford, then bounced off Alford’s knee and his shin. Edelman trapped the ball against Alford’s foot, then got both hands underneath the pigskin. The catch was upheld on review. It was good for 23 yards and a first down at the Atlanta 41 with 2:03 left. Why did Atlanta challenge the call eventually leading to losing a timeout? A timeout they could have used with Matt Ryan given the ball before overtime.
The play that has been filling up the television and radio airwaves, the strip sack. It was 3rd down and 1, 8:31 to play. The best play call is to run the ball. When you look at the play develop, if Ryan had protection he had an open Aldrick Robinson. If the pass was made, Ryan would have connected with 99 percent accuracy. Moreover on the same play, Devonta Freeman could have just stood in front of Hightower without even touching him and that would have been enough time for Ryan to get the ball passed. Instead a breakdown, the rest is history.
Lastly, after the Patriots had pulled within eight, Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones for a tip-toe catch on the sideline that gave Atlanta the ball on the Patriots 22 with 4:40 left. Penalties, incomplete passes and barely one run led to a punt. Run…the…ball. Better yet, take three knees. Falcons kicker Matt Bryant has been reliable and could have been the one in his own personal parade float down Peachtree street in Atlanta.
“We trust our guys,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn stated. “I don’t second guess our play calling or wanting to throw it. We have terrific guys we know how to match up.”
Another record belonged to running back and Miami native James White — New England’s latest go-to guy on its long list of unicorn candidates. White’s three touchdowns and one 2-point conversion equaled 20 points. That knocked Denver’s Terrell Davis and about half of the San Francisco 49ers from the `80s and `90s out of the record books. This loss will live with Falcons organization forever moreover take a while to recover from. Especially when unicorns are rare.