Super Bowl LI Review
By Loot, NFL Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Super Bowl XLIX Review: Patriots vs. Falcons
Date: February 5, 2017
Site: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Point Spread: New England -3
Score: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28
MVP: Tom Brady (Patriots)
Super Bowl LI was the 51st Super Bowl played and marked the 50th anniversary of the first Super Bowl played in 1967. The game featured one of the sport's more-storied franchises in the New England Patriots of the AFC taking on the NFC's Atlanta Falcons. It was a game for the ages, with an improbable comeback punctuating a terrific game. It was the first Super Bowl to ever go to overtime and when the greatest Super Bowls are discussed, this one will need to be one of the first ones mentioned, if not the first.
The game got off to a slow start with a scoreless first quarter. But in the second quarter, the underdog Falcons got cooking with three touchdowns. The scoring for the rest of the game would be fast and heavy. Despite no points in the first quarter, the game still managed to go "over" the highest ever Super Bowl total in 59.5 points. Prior to the end of the half, New England was able to tack on a field goal to narrow the deficit to 21-3 going into halftime. Atlanta stretched it to 28-3 in the third quarter, which just set the stage for the improbable comeback.
Both teams overcame issues before getting to the Big Game. New England overcame the suspension of their star quarterback Tom Brady, who missed the first 4 games of the season. By the end of the season, it was all but forgotten, as the Pats cruised to the top seed in the conference with a 14-2 record. Brady seemed to have an extra chip on his shoulder as he navigated his way to 11 wins in 12 regular season games. Atlanta had some issues, as well. After a 5-1 start, they lost 3 of their five next games. Like the season before, it seemed that a fast start would evaporate into mediocrity. But Atlanta redoubled their efforts, finished strong, earned a bye in the wild card round, and thrived in the postseason.
Atlanta first faced perennial conference power Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. The game looked like it could get away from them before they took control of the contest en route to a 36-20 win. In the conference championship, they faced a red-hot Green Bay team, a team that had gotten their act together in a big way on both sides of the ball. This game really established the Falcons as a legitimate contender. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were both huge in a 44-21 win that sent Atlanta to its second-ever Super Bowl.
New England mostly had things go their way on their postseason road to the Super Bowl. First came a conclusive win over the Houston Texans where the Pats cruised to a 34-16 win that wasn't even as close as the score indicated. That set up an AFC title matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like the Falcons, the Patriots were facing a super-hot team on a long winning streak. And like the Falcons, the Patriots were able to notch a dominant performance to get to the Super Bowl, winning going away, 36-17. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would get a chance to become the first quarterback and head coach to win five Super Bowl championships.
Super Bowl LI Recap:
First Half: For a Super Bowl that ended up packing so many fireworks into it, Super Bowl LI started with a lull. The game opened with each team punting twice. But it was the calm before the storm. Soon, a scoring frenzy would ensue that would make the dreary first quarter seem like distant memory. Brady, who would wind up winning the Super Bowl MVP was off-target for much of the game's early-going.
Brady completed a nice pass to open the second quarter to get into scoring position But on the next play, New England running back LeGarrette Blount was stripped of the ball by Deion Jones, with Robert Alford recovering the fumble. A few passing plays to Julio Jones put Atlanta in scoring position, with Devonta Freeman then getting some touches with the last being a 5-yard TD run that put Atlanta up 7-0. After a three-and-out by the Pats, the Falcons kept moving the ball. Pass plays to Taylor Gabriel and Jones put Atlanta in scoring position again. On third down, Ryan hit TE Austin Hooper for a 19-yard TD strike to put the Falcons up 14-0.
New England looked like they would put an end to the bleeding and on their next drive, they got down to the Atlanta 23-yard line. The Falcons' defense looked like it was losing its poise, with penalties sparing New England on three separate third down plays on this drive. But promise turned into disaster, when a Brady pass was picked off by Robert Alford and run in for a touchdown from 82 yards to give Atlanta a commanding 21-0 lead. A nice Brady completion to Martellus Bennett and a catch-and-run by James White put the Pats within distance again, before the drive stalled and New England tacked on a FG to make it 21-3 at the half.
Things would get worse for New England before they got better. After a promising kickoff return to open the half, the Patriots were forced to punt. Atlanta took over and after two long pass plays to Gabriel from Ryan, the Falcons were poised to strike. And that's what happened several plays later when Ryan hit Tevin Coleman for a 6-yard TD strike. The score stretched the lead to 25 points, as the Falcons went up 28-3.
Then we started to see the legend of Tom Brady. On the ensuing drive, Brady delivered in a pinch, first completing a 4th down play from midfield, before rushing for a first down on third and long. Some Blount carries got the Pats close, with James White catching a Brady pass from 5 yards to score the touchdown. Gostowski would miss the extra point and it was 28-9, Falcons. An ensuing onside kick failed and with a penalty, Atlanta was poised to perhaps put the game away. A holding call and sack forced an Atlanta punt with the fourth quarter beginning and the comeback was off and running.
It wasn't easy and after Brady completed a series of passes to Malcolm Mitchell and Bennett, they were down on the Atlanta 7-yard line. But a few sacks forced a New England field goal, which Gostowski made to make it 28-12. There were less than ten minutes left in the game. On Atlanta's next drive, the noose tightened. Rather than run the ball, the Falcons offense took to the air. On one such drop-back, Ryan was strip-sacked by Dont'a Hightower, with Alan Branch recovering the ball on the Falcons 25-yard line. A few peck and pokes later, Brady hit Danny Amendola from 6 yards out for the TD. James White ran in the two-point conversion and it was now 28-20, Falcons with just under 6 minutes left on the clock.
The ensuing Atlanta drive will be hard to live down, as it looked like Atlanta could easily score, following a 39-yard gain from Devonta Freeman and an electrifying catch from Julio Jones—the kind of effort that usually sews up games like this. Atlanta was on the Pats' 22-yard line looking at first down. A FG would make it all but a wrap with time dwindling. A run by Freeman got nowhere, before Ryan was sacked back to the 35. Another pass play led to a catch, but was negated by a holding penalty and Atlanta went from almost being in the red zone to being on the 45-yard line at 4th and 33.
A Matt Bosher punt stuck New England inside the ten with just over 3 minutes left. A few positive plays later, Julian Edelman made a catch for the ages, wrapped up with Atlanta defenders before making the improbable 23-yard reception. A few more passes to Amendola and White got the Pats close, with White scoring on a 1-yard run to make it 28-26. Amendola caught the 2-yard pass to knot the game at 28 apiece. An Atlanta drive stalled and they punted, as the Pats ran one more play before regulation ended. The game would go to overtime for the first time in the game's history.
The Patriots, with all the momentum, elected to receive after winning the coin toss. A touchback to open the overtime period started the Patriots at their own 25-yard line. Short completions to White, Amendola, and Chris Hogan set the table. A 15-yarder to Edelman got the Patriots to the 25-yard line of Atlanta. A few plays later, a pass interference call against Atlanta put the Patriots on the 2-yard line. A play later, James White took the pitch and fought his way into the end zone to cap off the improbable comeback win for the New England Patriots.
It was a signature win for the Patriots, putting both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the top of Super Bowl winning lists. It was a comeback win for the ages, making it one of if not the most compelling Super Bowl of all-time. While the urge was to say that Atlanta blew it, they just fell victim to the best of their era. The Atlanta push for glory had the misfortune of clashing with what might be the finest moment of the best to ever do it.