Full disclosure: About halfway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, I put together an article about how the list of teams that had never won a Super Bowl had gotten one team shorter. At that point, the Atlanta Falcons had just taken a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots, and it appeared that it was all over at NRG Stadium.
I’m glad I held off.
Prior to this evening, no team had come back from as much as fourteen points down to win a Super Bowl, never mind twenty-five. However, that’s precisely what the Patriots did, as they forced the first overtime in Super Bowl history and scored on their first possession of the extra frame to win by a final score of 34-28.
After a scoreless first quarter, Atlanta drew first blood early in the second. Following a fumble by Legarrette Blount, Atlanta got on the scoreboard with a five-yard touchdown run by Devonta Freeman to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead. On their next possession, Atlanta cashed in again on a 19-yard touchdown pass from 2016 MVP Matt Ryan to Austin Hooper to extend the lead to 14-0.
Tom Brady and company put together a nice drive in an attempt to respond. . .until Brady was intercepted by Robert Alford, who took the pick 82 yards back the other way for a score, and the Falcons suddenly found themselves ahead 21-0. The Patriots did manage a Stephen Gostkowski field goal before the half to make it 21-3 going into the locker room.
The two teams exchanged punts to start the third quarter, and then Atlanta found the end zone again as Tevin Coleman scored on a 6-yard pass from Ryan. That made it 28-3 in favor of the Falcons with 8:31 left in the third quarter.
Then the comeback got underway.
The Patriots put together a long drive that got them their first touchdown of the evening, courtesy of a 5-yard pass from Tom Brady to James White. After forcing the Falcons to punt, the Patriots got a field goal from Gostkowski, this one a 33-yarder, to cut the deficit to 28-12.
Then, disaster struck for Atlanta, as Ryan was sacked by Dont’a Hightower deep in Atlanta territory, and New England found the end zone again on a 6-yard pass from Brady to Danny Amendola. James White converted the two-point try on a direct snap, and suddenly the score was 28-20.
Another Atlanta punt led to another New England touchdown, as Brady led the Patriots on a 10-play, 91-yard drive that culminated with White going over from a yard out to make it 28-26. Brady then found Amendola for the two-point conversion, and the Falcons’ lead had completely evaporated into a 28-28 tie. This led to the first overtime in the history of the Super Bowl.
New England won the overtime coin toss, and the worn-out Atlanta defense just couldn’t keep up with Brady and company. New England moved the ball 75 yards in eight plays, and after a pass interference penalty by De’Vondre Campbell put the ball on the two yard line, White scored for the third time on the evening, and the Patriots got the victory by a final score of 34-28.
As fans of the Minnesota Vikings, we know a thing or two about collapses. But, man. . .I can’t begin to imagine what fans of the Falcons must be going through this evening.
Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl MVP award, as he set Super Bowl records for pass attempts (62) and yardage (466) en route to winning his fifth Super Bowl, the most ever for a starting quarterback. White set a Super Bowl record for receptions, as he caught 14 passes on the night for 110 yards. Blount led the Patriots in rushing with 31 yards on 11 attempts.
For the Falcons, Matt Ryan became the eighth consecutive regular season MVP to lose the Super Bowl in the same season. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 284 yards and two scores. The Falcons had a great deal of success running the football, as Freeman and Coleman averaged nearly six yards per carry, carrying the ball 18 times for 104 yards. Julio Jones led the way for the Atlanta receivers, reeling in four passes for 87 yards.
The big difference on the evening, and what wound up dooming the Falcons in the end, was the time of possession difference and the plays run by each team. New England ran more than twice as many offensive plays as the Falcons did, as their offense was on the field for 93 snaps compared to just 46 for Atlanta. That resulted in the Patriots holding the ball for over 40 minutes of game time, and when the overtime period came around, the Atlanta defense just didn’t have anything left in the tank.
Congratulations to the New England Patriots on their fifth Super Bowl win. . .better them than the Packers, am I right?
And condolences to the Atlanta fans out there. I know that a lot of Vikings’ fans still have a bitter taste from 1998, but hey. . .we know what losses like this are like.
There’s a good chance that we’re going to see a rematch of this one in the 2017 regular season opener. . .the Falcons have a trip to New England on the schedule, and it’s going to be a tough sell for any other game on the schedule to kick off the season over that one.
So ends the 2016 NFL regular season, ladies and gentlemen. After a pretty boring post-season, we got an all-time classic to finish things off this evening. Here’s hoping that the Minnesota Vikings have an eventful offseason and that August and September are here before we know it.