Took me a couple days to get around to writing this because I wasn’t sure if I was actually dreaming or not (and maybe I was celebrating just a little bit). The New England Patriots won their fifth NFL Championship. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick just won their fifth NFL Championship. I personally witnessed the greatest countdown in Super Bowl history. It doesn’t feel real.
The Patriots were losing 28-3 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter, facing a fourth down. Over the next quarter and a half, and one drive in overtime, they would go on to score 31 unanswered points, and beat the Atlanta Falcons. That was utterly ridiculous.
The craziest stat that I saw was that the Patriots held a lead in the Super Bowl for exactly zero seconds, yet they still won. Think about how absurd that is.
Now before we get into the legacies that this game established, let’s take a look at some nuts and bolts:
– The Patriots played awful in the first half. Awful. Their offense was getting some movement down the field, but they couldn’t finish drives. The offensive line was horrendous, giving up pressure in the middle and on the outsides. Nate Solder got beat by Dwight Freeny for a sack at one point, which should never happen considering Freeny is about 100 years old at this point (great player though, always enjoyed watching him play). The offensive line was also getting no push up front for the running game. LeGarrette Blount had a brutal fumble that completely swung momentum in the favor of Atlanta. The Patriot’s receivers had a number of brutal drops. Tom Brady’s accuracy was off, and he had a brutal pick-6 where he was afraid of a sack and released an errant ball that went right into the hands of Robert Alford. I think I’m still going to have nightmares about that first half for a week, despite how everything else went down.
– Meanwhile, the Falcons looked like a team who deserved to be in the Super Bowl. Devonta Freeman was phenomenal running the ball, breaking tackles and making great cuts into huge gaps created by the Falcons offensive line. Matt Ryan looked to be in MVP form, making a number of great throws in the face of heavy pressure. He also read the Patriots defense well, and picked up on blitzes to hit receivers left open. There seemed to be no fear from him, as he just played his normal game. The Falcons defense came out firing, aggressive and hard hitting from the first snap. They hit the Patriots receivers off the line, preventing them from getting right into their routes. They dropped linebackers back into coverage to help prevent crossing routes over the middle. They had good pressure from their four man rush, and were able to get pressure on Tom Brady. They held the Patriots to just three points in the first half, and nine points through three quarters.
– Oh yeah, and then there was Julio Jones. There aren’t proper adjectives to describe how good he is at playing the position of wide receiver in the NFL. The catches he made were phenomenal, and would have been played on highlight reels for months had Julian Edelman not come up with the second most ridiculous catch in NFL history late in the game.
– Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the Patriots offense started to slowly creak to life. They took a thirteen play, 75 yard drive that included a Danny Amendola fourth down catch all the way down the field for a touchdown. Even with a Stephen Gostkowski missed extra point (*sighs*), the Patriots were suddenly a little bit closer.
– The Patriots then got a field goal, and were down by 16 points with just over nine minutes remaining. On the Falcons next drive, Dont’a Hightower blew by Devonta Freeman and knocked the ball out of Matt Ryan’s hand to force a fumble, enabling the Patriots to quickly score another touchdown. A deceptive direct snap to James White gave the Patriots the two point conversion, and brought them to within another touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game up. Suddenly it all seemed possible.
– The Falcons came out with an immediate 39 yard gain, and it seemed like the Falcons would cruise down and at least score a field goal to put the game out of reach. A Trey Flowers sack and a holding penalty changed all that, and the Patriots got the ball back with three minutes left.
-Now I’ll be honest, some dark thoughts began creeping into my head at this point. In last year’s AFC Championship game, the Patriots were in a similar situation. Down eight points thanks to a Stephen Gostkowski missed extra point, the Patriots drove down to score a touchdown, only to fail to convert the two point conversion and ultimately lose the game. I was having flashbacks.
– The Patriots methodically drove down the field. The Falcons defense seemed completely gassed and unable to really even slow New England down. Everyone touched the ball for the Patriots as they marched down the field in two and a half minutes and punched in another touchdown and another two point conversion with a minute left to go in the game. In 20 minutes of game time, the Patriots scored 25 unanswered points to tie the game up at 28.
– At this point, everyone in NRG Stadium knew the game was over. The Patriots were on a date with destiny, and when the coin flip went in their favor, it was only a matter of time. They orchestrated another drive that Atlanta seemed too exhausted to stop, and James White punched the ball in the end zone for his third touchdown, giving the Patriots a 34-28 victory in Super Bowl 51.
– This was a game that was won by every member of the New England Patriots. The wide receivers who had ugly drops in the first half came back with clutch catches in the second half. The defense that let Devonta Freeman run through gaping holes in the first half gave up only seven points in the second half and forced five straight punts/turnovers to finish the game. The quarterback who threw a pick-6 to put his team down by 21 points led his team to the greatest comeback in NFL history. They all did it together.
– James White came to play on Sunday. He finished the game with a record 14 receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another two touchdowns. He also had a two point conversion, and set the record for the most points scored by a player in a Super Bowl. The Patriots would not have won that game had White not played with heart and grit throughout the second half. He was the spark plug that they needed, and deserves a lot of credit.
– Trey Flowers also had a heck of a day, coming down with 2.5 sacks on Matt Ryan, one of which pushed the Falcons out of field goal range late in the game. It was an impressive capstone on an outstanding season, and it gives the Patriots much to look forward to from him going into next season.
– The stat line for the Patriots receiving corps shows just how diverse their offense was and how vital every member was. Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, and James White all had at least four catches and 50+ receiving yards. New England spread the ball around and made the Falcons unsure of who to key on in the second half.
– A lot of people will probably harp on Brady for having a horrific first half, and putting his team in the position that they were in. A lot of that criticism is fair. This game still proved that Tom Brady is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football, and potentially the greatest player. He finished the game with an NFL record 466 passing yards, over 250 of which came in the second half, and two touchdowns. He brought his team back from being down 25 points halfway through the third quarter to win the Super Bowl, his 51st game winning drive in the 51st Super Bowl. He was flawless in the second half, and nearly all of his throws were perfect. That’s exactly why he’s the best quarterback ever. Peyton Manning was one of the best quarterbacks ever, but when he fell behind, he usually stayed behind (see: Super Bowl 48). When Aaron Rodgers fell behind in the NFC Championship game, he couldn’t do anything to bring his team back. Tom Brady faces odds that are nearly impossible, and overcome them anyway. A sixth round pick out of Michigan now has the NFL records for playoff wins, playoff passing yards, and playoff touchdowns, among others. He is the only quarterback with five Super Bowl rings and four Super Bowl MVPs. Call him a cheater if it helps you sleep better at night, but it doesn’t change the facts. Tom Brady is the Greatest of All Time.
P.S. People like to complain that Brady has great weapons and it’s easy on him. He won the Super Bowl throwing to a fourth round pick (White), a seventh round pick (Edelman), and two undrafted receivers (Hogan, Amendola). It’s not the Patriots fault that no one else realized their worth.
– Oh yeah, and Bill Belichick has five Super Bowl rings too. He’s not too bad of a coach I guess.
What the Patriots have done over the past 16 years is beyond comprehension. We have witnessed them have two separate dynasties (or close to two dynasties, if you need them to win a third Super Bowl next year to make it official). And during the years between those two dynasties they also happened to make the playoffs every year but one, made two Super Bowls, and completed the only 16-0 regular season. The Super Bowl rings are a testament to the brilliance of Bill Belichick, the skill and leadership of Tom Brady, and the system that allows cast offs to show the world their worth.
For the fifth time in 16 years, the Lombardi trophy is coming home to Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions again.
Until next time- B$
PS Arguably the best part of the whole Super Bowl was when Roger Goodell tried congratulating the Patriots and could not be heard in the stadium because of the crazy booing by Patriots fans. Count ’em Rog.