Super Bowl LI (51) Recap

Super Bowl LI (51) Recap

The Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots in the 51st Super Bowl. After last year’s boring slugfest, Super Bowl LI will be talked about until the end of time itself. The 11-5 Falcons were in the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The 14-2 Patriots were playing in the Super Bowl a record ninth time. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were appearing in their seventh Super Bowl, having won four of their previous six appearances. This was expected to be a Patriots coronation. As ESPN uber-annoucer Chris Berman has reminded us for the last 30 years, “That’s why the play the games.”

From the Houston stadium where the Texans play, President George Herbert Walker Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush came out for the coin toss. Despite being in a wheelchair, Bush 41 flipped the coin to loud raucous cheers from fans and players on both teams. The Bushes are beloved in their home city of Houston, and it was a very classy display by the fans.

The first quarter featured plenty of surprised but no points. On 3rd and 1 from their own 34, Laguerette Blount got the carry and no yards as the Patriots actually punted after a 3 and out on their first series. The Falcons took over at their own 8 yard line. On Atlanta’s first ply from scrimmage, Devonta Freeman took a pitchout and raced 37 yards. Yet on 3rd and 5 from midfield, Matt Ryan was sacked. It would not be the last opportunity Atlanta would waste. The Patirots moved from their own 10 to the Atlanta 40, but a sack of Brady ended that drive. In the second quarter the Patriots had moved from their 18 to a 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 33. It looked like New England was ready to strike first. Blount got the carry, gained 4 yards, and then fumbled the ball away. These two teams each had 11 turnovers in the entire regular season, the fewest in the league.

From the Atlanta 29, Ryan turned on the explosiveness. He went Julio Jones for gains of 19 and 23 yards. Freeman then ran for 15, 9, and the final 5 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Falcons lead. The Patriots went 3 and out and the Falcons took over at their own 38. Ryan kept firing, hitting Torry Gabriel for 24 and Jones for 18. On 3rd and 9 from the New England 19, Ryan went to Hooper for the touchdown. All of a sudden the Falcons led 14-0.

Then came the strangest drive of the half. The Patriots moved the ball from their own 25. Thee times the Patriots faced a key third down conversion Three times the Falcons were called for defensive holding. After over 6 minutes, the Patriots now faced 3rd and 6 at the Atlanta 23 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half. Brady fired over the middle and never saw Robert Alford. Alford jumped the route and returned the interception 82 yards for a touchdown. In front of a stunned world, the Falcons led 21-0.

After a touchback Brady ran the 2 minute drill well. With 23 seconds left in the half, the Patriots had a 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 15. Brady went to White for 12 yards down to the 3, but a killer offensive holding penalty followed by a sack had the Patriots facing 3rd and 18 from the 23 with 5 seconds left. Stephen Gostkowski hit the 41 yard field goal but the Patriots were down 21-3 at halftime.

The Falcons got the ball to start the third quarter but quickly went 3 and out. The Patriots took over at their own 47 with a golden opportunity to get back in the game. Instead 3 plays lost 2 yards and the Falcons got it back at their own 15. Ryan quickly hit Gabriel for 15 yards and then went deep to Gabriel for 35 more. Ryan found Mohammed Sanu for 13 more yards. On 3rd and 4 from the New England 9, Ryan threw incomplete. Yet defensive pass interference on the hero from two years ago, Malcolm Butler, instead meant 1st and goal at the 6. On the next play Ryan hit Tevin Coleman for the touchdown. With 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Falcons were winning a 28-3 laugher. By the end of the game, nobody would be laughing. Football fans worldwide would be gasping for air.

After a touchback, the Patriots needed more than a miracle. They needed several miracles. With 6 minutes left in the third quarter, the Patriots faced 4th and 3 at their own 46. They had to go for it. Brady found Danny Amendola for 17 yards. On 3rd and 8 from the Atlanta 35, Brady evaded pressure and scrambled up the middle for 15 yards. Brady hit White for a 5 yard touchdown. On a day when virtually nothing was going right for the Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski doinked the extra point off the upright no good. The Patriots were down 28-9, and they needed 13 plays and 6 1/2 minutes to go 75 yards. All the Falcons had to do was grind down the clock and they were Super Bowl champions. Call it lack of experience. Call it bad luck. Call it terrible play-calling. What happened in the fourth quarter will be dissected forever.

Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator calls the plays for the Atlanta offense. Throughout the game, he had Ryan taking snaps out of the shotgun. Matty Ice had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating entering the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter up by 19, some coaches get attacked for being too conservative. Yet Shanahan went in the other direction. He went beyond aggressive to the point of recklessness. Several mind-numbing calls deserve to be scrutinized. As for the Falcons themselves, one field goal at any point in the fourth quarter would have iced the game.

Bill Belichick called a surprise onside kick that did not work. The Falcons took over at the New England 41. A few yards would allow Matt Bryant and his mega-leg to put the game away. On 2nd and 1 from the 32, the Falcons were in field goal range. On the next play, Coleman lost a yard, but the real killer was offensive holding. Now the Falcons were back out of field goal range. On 3rd and 11, needing only a few yards, Ryan was sacked for a 9 yard loss. The Falcons began the fourth quarter punting on fourth and 25 at their own 44. The Patriots took over at their own 13. They were barely alive, but alive.

The Patriots moved to a 3rd and 1 at the Atlanta 32. Brady went deep to Marcellus Bennett for a 25 yard gain. Yet from 1st and goal at the 7, the Atlanta defense came up big as a pair of sacks on Brady moved the Patriots back to the 15. Despite holding the ball for 12 plays and 5 minutes and moving 80 yards, they then moved 8 yards backward. Needing 3 scores, Bill Belichick opted for the field goal. Gostkowski hit from 33. With 9:40 left in regulation, the Patriots were still down 28-12. They needed more miracles.

The Falcons soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 36 with 8 1/2 minutes left. All the Falcons had to do was run the ball straight up the middle. If they convert, the clock keeps grinding down. If they get stopped, they punt. It was the simplest decision in the world. Kyle Shanahan called a pass play. This was a horrendous decision, because an incompletion would stop the clock. An incompletion would have been less of a disaster than what actually happened. Ryan went back to pass, was sacked for an 11 yard loss, and fumbled the ball. The Patriots recovered at the Atlanta 25. The Atlanta defense had been heroes all game, and the offense was trying to give the game away.

Again the Atlanta defense rose to the occasion with another sack of Brady. Yet on 3rd and 11 from the Atlanta 26, Brady found Mitchell for 12 yards, Amendola for 8 more, and Amendola again for the 6 yard touchdown. Despite the Atlanta blunder, only 6 minutes remained. A stop on the 2 point conversion try would keep it a 2 score game and pretty much end it. Belichick went to his bag of trips. Brady jumped up high like the snap went over his head. However it was actually a wildcat snap to White, who banged in the end zone. The Patriots were within 28-20.

NFL MVP Matt Ryan still had the lead and a chance to put the game away. The Falcons were pinned at their own 10 yard line. A perfectly executed screen pass from Ryan to Freeman went for 39 yards. Ryan then went deep to Jones, who made an acrobatic catch at the sideline and somehow got 2 feet down inbounds. The 27 yard gain had the Falcons with 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 22. Only 4:40 remained on the clock. All the Falcons had to do was run the ball three straight times, kick a short field goal, and the game was over. Without doing anything, they were in position for a 40 yarder. On 1st and 10 Freeman lost one yard. Not a problem as the clock ticked down below 4 minutes. Then Kyle Shanahan called another mindless play.

On 2nd and 11, rather than run the ball again, it was deja vu all over again. Ryan went back deep and was sacked for a 12 yard loss. This time he held on to the ball. The Patriots took their first timeout with 3:50 to play. The Falcons were now facing 3rd and 23 from the Patriots 35. A field goal try would be 53 yards, but still very much in Bryant’s range. A run that gained nothing would still give Bryant a chance to finally put the game away. Bryant never got the chance. Shanahan called another pass play. Ryan hit Sanu for 9 yards, but offensive holding killed the Falcons. Had the Patriots declined the penalty it would have been 4th and 14, but Bryant would be trying a 44 yard field goal. Belichick accepted the penalty. Now the Falcons faced 3rd and 33 from the New England 45. A give up run for a few yards would still give Bryant a chance at a field goal. For the umpteenth time, Shanahan called a pass. It was incomplete and the Falcons punted. The Patriots took over at their own 9 yard line with 3 1/2 minutes to go, 2 timeouts and the two minute warning. Everyone knew what was coming.

The Patriots were pinned at their own 9 yard line. Brady started out with a pair of incompletions on a day when several receivers dropped well thrown passes. On 3rd and 10 from their own 9, the Patriots were again on the verge of defeat. Again, Atlanta could not close the game out. Brady hit Chris Hogan for 16 yards. Brady then found Mitchell for 11 yards. From the New England 36 came another miracle. Brady fired over the middle, and the ball was batted up in the air by Alford, who had the interception for a score in the first half. despite three defenders in the area, Julian Edelman somehow caught the ball for a 23 yard gain. Replay showed that the nose of the ball hit the ground, which would nullify one of the craziest catches since the Patriots saw their perfect 2007 season get victimized by David Tyree. The referees called it a catch, and Dan Quinn challenged the call. Quinn lost the challenge, and the Falcons were now out of timeouts.

From the Atlanta 41, Brady then went to Amendola for 20 more yards as the clock hit the 2 minute warning. From the Atlanta 21, Brady hit White for 13 and again for 7. From the one yard line, White got in. Despite a collapse, a stop on the 2 point conversion would still allow the Falcons to escape with the Lombardi trophy. Brady fired to Amendola, who appeared stopped but somehow stretched the ball just to the plane of the goal line. A 25 point deficit had been erased. Now the game was tied 28-28.

A deliberate short kickoff had the Falcons pinned at their own 11 yard line with 52 seconds left and 0 timeouts. Ryan hit Sanu for 12 yards, but the clock kept ticking. On 3rd and 6 from the Atlanta 27, Ryan went deep incomplete. 11 seconds remained. It was far too long for a Hail Mary, and an incomplete would give the Patriots the ball with a chance for a winning field goal try of their own. The Falcons had no choice but to punt. For the first time in NFL history, the Super Bowl was going to overtime.

The Falcons needed one break, and none were coming. The Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime. The only break would be that of the backs of the Atlanta defense. Brady put on a clinic, hitting White for 6, Amendola for 14, and Hogan for 18. On 2nd and 13 from the Atlanta 40, Brady found Edelman for 15. White ran for 10 more. Now the Patriots had 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 15. If somehow the Falcons could hold the Patriots to a field goal, Atlanta’s offense would get one chance with the ball.

It was not meant to be. Brady threw incomplete, but a killer defensive pass interference penalty meant 1st and goal at the 2. On 2nd and goal, White got the carry and appeared stopped cold. He bulled forward, and stretched the ball. Although he appeared just short, officials immediately ruled a touchdown. 4 minutes into overtime, the confetti came down and people flooded the field. As fans insisted that maybe the game was not over, it was. The greatest collapse in Super Bowl history came courtesy of 31 unanswered points.

Ryan did not play badly. He threw only 23 passes, completing 17 of them for 284 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Yet multiple sacks on pass plays that never should have been called along with his one fumble doomed the Falcons. Brady threw an NFL record 62 passes. He completed 43 of them for an NFL record 466 yards. He also had 2 touchdown passes and the one interception before the half.

Brady and Belichick are now the first player and coaches to win 5 Super Bowls. Brady became the first player to be the Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time. Brady and Belichick may or may not be the best player and coach ever. Such hyperbole is best left to barflies, but at least they are allowed to be in the conversation.

The Patriots were once the Patsies. Owner Robert Kraft has now presided over a dynasty that has won 5 Super Bowls in 17 years. The win was vindication for Brady, who missed the first four games due to his Deflategate suspension. Jimmy Garoppollo and Jacoby Brissett guided the Patriots to a 3-1 record. Meanwhile, the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to a back injury after Week 13. Belichick always says, “next man up.”

As for Kyle Shanahan, the day after the game he was expected to be named the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe he was just being run out of town. Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is no longer the biggest coaching goat in Super Bowl history. Bevell made one horrendously miserable call a couple years ago. Shanahan made miserable calls for most of the fourth quarter, costing the Falcons the win. Nobody threw Shanahan under the bus, but he was clearly the goat.

For those who hate the Patriots, Lady Gaga was supposed to be the worst part of Super Bowl Sunday. She was far from it compared to the nightmarish fourth quarter. For those wondering of Brady or Belichick made a deal with the devil, it is quite possible that this is wrong. Maybe one of them IS the devil. The Falcons will take this loss to their graves, and they should. They blew a 25 point lead with 18 minutes left. They choked away a 19 point lead after three quarters. They choked away a 16 point lead with 7 minutes left. One field goal that Matt Bryant never got to kick was the difference. Super Bowl LI is now in the history books. 34-28 Patriots, OT

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