Sunday night’s game was everything we could have possibly hoped for. Two high-powered, high scoring offenses. Two unpredictable and confusing yet talented defenses. A weird, unexpected start. And an insane, unprecedented, and truly unbelievable ending that made history in so many ways.
Super Bowl 51 could not have been better. In fact, thats the best game the NFL has seen. It cements Tom Brady as the best quarterback ever and Bill Belichick as the best coach ever. It cements the Patriots as the most successful sports franchise since I’ve been alive. Its the first Super Bowl to ever go into overtime. New England orchestrated the largest Super Bowl comeback ever. I can go on and on. Super Bowl 51 was the GOAT game.
So, how did that happen?
It was a weird start. I wasn’t a fan of New England’s game-plan early on. Clearly the best way to attack Atlanta was through the air. The Falcons young defense was swarming to the ball. LeGarrette Blount was stuffed. Dion Lewis was strangely nowhere to be found. Tom Brady had an up and down first quarter. He did a lot of Tom Brady things, and also some not Tom Brady things.
The biggest problem early on for the Patriots was dwindling the Falcons pass rush. Brady was hurried way too much throughout the game, and was beaten up badly by the end. Atlanta’s biggest key to the game was pressuring him. There were times where Brady was able to get out of it, making good, quick throws to his receivers. And other times there weren’t. Brady’s not taking off and scrambling for a first down. He’s 39 years old. New England’s pass protection was extremely iffy in the first half, a first half where the Patriots got stomped on.
New England was gonna be okay if they could contain Atlanta’s offensive attack. That certainly didn’t happen. It simply came down to the fact that the Patriots could not cover every weapon of Atlanta’s. And when Matt Ryan is the opposing quarterback, that is not a good situation to be in. Julio Jones was unstoppable, catching four balls for 87 yards; no configuration of Patriots defenders could shut him down. Taylor Gabriel had a big catch and run, and also blew Malcolm Butler away on a fake in-cut.
I mean, my goodness.
The Atlanta running back tandem gave New England all sorts of issues too. Devonta Freeman was a beast. His open-field moves and agility murdered New England early on. It was stunning that the Patriots tackled so poorly.
The defensive issues plagued New England, but the fact they could not generate hardly any offense was the most surprising element of the game to me. Brady’s pick-six was the most unlikely event of the whole game, well, at least until the late third quarter.
Everything that happened in the first half was completely anathema from how I expected the game to play out. I expected Matt Ryan to throw that pick. I expected Brady to be able to escape the pressure (Drops by his receivers didn’t help). If anything, I expected the Patriots to be the team that took an unexpected lead.
By the mid-3rd quarter, all hope seemed lost for the Patriots. They attempted and didn’t recover an onside kick. The offense looked just as stagnant as before. The lead was somehow 28-3. Blowout. This thing was over.
Or so you thought.
I thought it was. I know it was Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots. If anyone was gonna do it, it was them. But it seemed too improbable. Atlanta was the better team. They were somehow more prepared.
The weird part about the comeback was that it happened so subtly. When epic comebacks happen, things usually fall apart for the opposing team dramatically. While things fell apart for Atlanta, it wasn’t dramatic. The fumble by Matt Ryan was the only real obvious mistake. That fumble though turned out to be the biggest contributor to the Pats comeback.
I should mention that New England actually got points prior to that fumble. They actually scored a touchdown! It was the first sign of competence from their offense all night. However, Stephen Gostkowski decided to miss the extra point, so that kinda killed any glimmer of hope.
I’m sidetracking, but at 28-3, my prediction for this game could not have looked worse. This line from Friday’s preview should be shot into the sun.
“Matt Ryan is more likely to throw that interception. Matt Bryant is slightly more likely to miss that kick. And the youth on Atlanta’s defense is more likely to commit that penalty.” -From Super Bowl 51 Preview, February 3rd
Tom Brady threw that pick. Stephen Gostkowski missed a kick. Atlanta’s defense did commit a ton of penalties; those should have cost them more early on. New England’s lack of preparation offensively bailed them out.
We’ll come back to my prediction later, because after a rough start, it rebounded quite well, just like the Pats.
Anyways, Matt Ryan’s fumble was the spark the Patriots needed desperately. Getting the ball deep in Atlanta territory down only two possessions at this point was huge. Brady’s face (Which Fox showed) said it all. That man was ready to steer the ship in the right direction. And boy did he.
If New England doesn’t score off the turnover, who knows what happens. Donta Hightower comes out of this game as the secret hero for forcing that fumble.
Just like that, it was a one possession game. Nothing too flashy. Nothing too dramatic. Just a simple New England touchdown drive that was long overdue and one massive turnover.
By then, you started to get the feeling that New England was gonna get this done. They had the momentum. They had Tom Brady. Usually you only need one of those things. They had both.
As for Atlanta, I was taken aback by their lack of conscious and common sense late in the game. They ran the ball a grand total of five times after taking a 28-3 lead. Considering that (even with Brady’s and the Pats’ struggles) you wanted to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible AND that Devonta Freeman had gashed the Patriots front seven early, it made zero sense to continue throwing the ball. Besides Brady being relentless, its one of the main causes for the Falcons loss.
Atlanta had so many chances to put it away. Julio Jones’ catch, despite the loss, will go down as one of the best catches in Super Bowl history (There’s been an insane amount of unreal catches in the Super Bowl). Honestly, thats probably one of the five best catches of my lifetime. Atlanta failed to capitalize on it though. A holding call (The penalties finally caught up to the Falcons) wiped out a field goal attempt, forcing them to punt and give the ball back to New England, who eventually tied the game.
The Patriots final drive was what we had waited to see all night. This was the Patriots offense we were used to. Methodical. Brady finding dudes. Amazing catches. Great play calls. It made too much sense for it to end like this.
It seemed impossible that anything could top Jones’ sideline grab, but Julian Edelman’s bobbling, how-the-(explicate)-did-that-not-touch-the-ground catch erased memories of David Tyree, Mario Manningham and Jermaine Kearse for Patriots fans. It left my Dad and I speechless. We could not believe that ball didn’t touch the ground. I’m sure everyone around the country felt the same.
Once THAT happened, it just seemed too improbable for the Patriots not to win.
The touchdown and two-point version just capped it off. What a playcall on the two-point try though. They nailed that perfectly. Brady sold the high snap so well, and the snap to White was dead-on.
Overtime was so improbable yet so unnecessary. No matter how that coin toss played out, the Patriots were winning this game. And they took care of the task, and fast.
So yeah, while New England came out super crappy, was down 25 points, and didn’t look like they’d ever recover, Super Bowl 51 taught us to never give up on anything, and to always believe, no matter what the odds may be.
That statement also held true for my prediction. In Friday’s preview, I picked New England 34-28. That pick didn’t look so hot mid-way through the 3rd quarter. But the Patriots were resilient, and the machine that is Tom Brady came through once again.