What the heck just happened? Did the Patriots really win from the brink of defeat?
At 8:49 p.m. EST, I gave up. The Patriots were down 28-3 and seemed completely outmatched. The Falcons’ young, fast defense was playing their hearts out and proving to the world that they were the new Seahawks, ready to take the NFL by storm. I had just watched Matt Ryan easily march his team down the field and put the Falcons up by twenty five points, and I whispered the words, “It’s over.” I had lost all hope. I thought that whether Brady got going or not, Ryan and Co. would keep scoring. But then the game started to change. Tom Brady got his team into the end zone, and then after a stop and a field goal, the Patriots were only down by sixteen points. I still believed though that Ryan would calmly march his team into the end zone and end the Pats comeback chances. Then Dont’a Hightower sprinted right past Devonta Freeman and knocked the ball out of the MVP’s hand. I couldn’t believe it. That was the spark though. That play ignited the belief that the Pats could come back, both for the fans and for the players. Brady got fired up, and the whole team returned to true Patriot form. A little while later, the confetti was on the field, and the Patriots were celebrating.
Now the day after, we have to ask, “How in the world did this happen?” The largest comeback in Super Bowl history had, until last night, been ten points, but the Patriots’ and Tom Brady’s mental toughness and will to win salvaged the game and brought the team back from twenty-five points down for their fifth championship in the Brady-Belicheck era.
One of the main points of interest last week leading up to the game was how Atlanta’s lack of experience would affect the game. For the first two hours of the game, the lack of experience on the part of the Falcons had no effect on the game. But once the Patriots started coming back late in the fourth quarter, the inexperience reared its ugly head for the world to see. The Falcons played poor situational football down the stretch that opened the door for the comeback to take place. They couldn’t close the game, and that was shown in two of the Falcon’s last three drives, late in the fourth quarter. After the Patriots shortened the Falcons’ lead to sixteen points, the Falcons needed to put a drive together to run clock and eliminate the opportunity for a comeback. But on a third and one at their own 35 yard line, the Falcons decided to play aggressive and pass the ball. The Patriots brought a blitz and Dont’a Hightower sprinted past Devonta Freeman and forced strip sacked Matt Ryan. This lead to a touchdown that closed the Pats’ deficit to only eight points. On the next drive, at the Patriots’ twenty-two yard line, the Falcons once again decided to throw, and after a sack and then a holding penalty, the Falcons were out of field goal range and had to punt instead of kicking the game clinching field goal.
Outside of inexperience, the Falcons were grounded by the inability of their offense to stay on the field. There was one period in the game when the Falcons offense was off the field for over an hour because of a pick-six and the halftime show. Whether it was something like this or just their inability to convert on third down where they went 1/8, the Falcon’s offense was just never on the field. The Patriots won the time of possession 40:31 to 23:27. By the end of the game, everyone could tell that the young Atlanta defense completely out of energy. They had been playing man to man defense with a single high safety all game, and that worked great, but after time Brady started to figure it out. Also, as the defense got tired from being on the field for so long, they weren’t able to keep up with the wide receivers as much which gave the wide outs some separation. Because they couldn’t stay with the NE wide outs, they had to play some simple zones on the Patriots’ last two drives which made it quite easy for Tom Brady and the New England offense. By the time New England won the coin toss and got the ball first in overtime, it was a foregone conclusion that they were going to score.
Combined with all of this, the Patriots’ defense played a great game, especially in the fourth quarter. They held the #1 offense in the league to only 344 yards of total offense. MVP QB Matt Ryan only threw the ball twenty-three times, completing seventeen passes for 284 yards and 2 TDs. Most of this production was also in the first half as the Falcons couldn’t get anything going late in the game to stave off the Pats’ comeback.
As the comeback was happening, I kept thinking of an Old Spice commercial that has been on a lot lately. Because the deodorant has good sweat-defense, Von Miller is scared that people won’t know he is working hard because he is not sweating. He says, “I need to make it harder.” I kept thinking that that is what Brady and Belicheck were doing. They have beaten everyone for so many years that now they have to make it harder for themselves. The Patriots made it pretty hard this game, but somehow, between the greatness of Tom Brady and the inability to close by the Falcons, the team was able to complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and cement its place in NFL history.
2nd Image from: boston.cbslocal.com