Monday, February 6, 2017

Super Bowl LI Review: Patriots Score 31 Unanswered & Complete Improbable Comeback Win

AFC Champions

New England Patriots


NFC Champions

Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl LI is done and in the books, and we have new champions.

This particular Super Bowl will probably best be remembered for the unbelievable comeback by the New England Patriots in order to win the fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

You look at the scores at various points in the game, and it is hard to believe. Atlanta was roaring early, and everything was clicking. Matt Ryan was enjoying a flawless day, and the Falcons offense was living up to the hype, as they went up, 21-0, in the second quarter.

They took a 21-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, and expanded that to 28-3 in the third quarter.

Tom Brady told reporters after the game:

"Down 25 points, it's hard to imagine us winning."

The Falcons had that lead with slightly more than 17 minutes left in the game, when the Pats finally broke through with their first touchdown of the game, although even then, something went wrong, as Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point attempt.

The Falcons still up 28-9 going into the final quarter. Hell, the Falcons still led by 19 points with less than 10 minutes left to play in the game!

Even when New England put their first points up in the fourth quarter, it did not look like all that much, as they had to settle for a field goal with just under ten minutes left in the game. Technically, everyone knew that it was a two possessions game then, as the Pats could theoretically score two touchdowns and convert the two-point conversion each time. However, the likelihood of that possibility, combined with New England preventing the Falcons from both scoring and running out the clock, seemed quite remote at that point. 

Indeed, this was the beginning of the Patriots coming alive, and history unfolded. It seems modest at first, as they added a field goal to bring it to 28-12. Yet, it was impressive to think that after being dominated so badly up to that point, New England had made it a two possession game. 

Still, the Patriots were still down by 16 with six minutes left in the game, and there was so much that could still go wrong, that it was hard to believe that it was happening. Surely, the Falcons would kill the clock. The Pats would not only need the touchdown, they would need to convert the two points, and then have to stop the Falcons offense, and then get the ball back and get another relatively quick touchdown, and then still convert the two-point conversion yet again! It seemed like it was asking for a lot, surely. Probably, like too much for the Pats and their fans, really.

Yet Brady seemed calm, cool, and composed, and led his team down the field. Winning one play, one battle at a time. He put them in scoring position, and Danny Amendola caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Brady. James White ran it in for the first two-point conversion, and suddenly, it was a one possession game with 5:56 left in the game.

With time running out, the Patriots obviously needed to stop Atlanta's offense both from scoring, and from killing too much time off the clock. 

But the Falcons actually seemed to move the ball quickly down the field. Matt Ryan found Devonta Freeman nearby, and Freeman ran for a 39-yard pickup, moving Atlanta to midfield. A couple of plays later, Atlanta's star wide receiver made an incredible catch from Ryan that was immediately considered one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, and it brought the Falcons to the New England 22-yard line. 

At that point, Atlanta was already in field goal position. There was 4:47 left on the clock. If they had gone conservative and simply run the ball, they could have killed a considerable amount of the remaining time, or at least forced the Patriots to use their precious timeouts. Indeed, they ran it on the first play, and even though they lost one yard, New England was indeed forced to use a timeout. But the play after that, Ryan dropped back, and New England defenders got to him for a sack and a 12-yard loss. On the next play, the Falcons again went for a pass play, but a holding call pushed them still 10 yards further back. Suddenly, they were out of field goal range, and a field goal likely would have completely changed the outcome of this game. Most likely, we would be talking about how Atlanta almost collapsed, but came through in the clutch when they needed it, and found a way to outlast a furious New England rally.

Instead, they were forced to try and pass and make up some of the yards, just to get back into field goal position. They did not do it, and so they were forced to punt, having failed to score, and having taken only less than two and a half minutes off the clock.

So, New England got the ball back with 3:30 left in the game. They still had the timeouts and the two minute warning to work with.

Still, New England's first two plays were duds, and they were still pinned within their own 10-yard line. It looked like it was starting to be desperation time, as their comeback might have run out of gas.

However, Brady threw it to Chris Hogan for a 16-yard gain, enough for a first down to keep the drive alive. A couple of plays later, Brady got it to Malcolm Mitchell for an 11-yard gain that brought New England to their own 36-yard line, and a fresh set of downs to work with.

The next play might wind up being the most iconic single play from this game. On first down, Brady threw it down the field to Julius Edelman. Atlanta's cornerback Robert Alford nearly intercepted it, but was not able to complete it. In effect, he tipped the ball, and Edelman kept his concentration completely on the ball, beating out three Falcons defenders to make the catch for a crucial 23-yard gain. It was one of the most spectacular plays in Super Bowl history, drawing instant comparisons to Dave Tyree's famous miracle catch against the Pats nine years earlier. 

Here's video of the play:

By then, it was starting to be predictable, what would happen next. New England was unstoppable. They moved the ball down the field, with Brady finding Danny Amendola again for a 20-yard pickup on the very next play, and the Pats were on Atlanta's 21-yard line. That was the last play before the two-minute warning.

Brady completed a short pass to James White for a 13-yard pickup on the next play, bringing it to Atlanta's 8-yard line. The two combined again on the next play, and the ball went to Atlanta's 1-yard line. On the next play, White ran it in for the touchdown.

Still, they needed that crucial two-point conversion to tie the game. But Brady passed it to Amendola, and it was a tied game.

The Falcons got the ball back, needing only a field goal still to effectively win it. But by that point, they were flustered and had lost all of their earlier composure and dominance. The drive did not amount to much, and the game went into overtime.

New England won the coin toss, and got the ball. Atlanta never got to touch the ball again, as Brady marched the Patriots down the field, killing Atlanta with one short pass after another, and with the receivers then running for solid chunks of yardage after the catch to bring New England ever closer to that winning score. Finally, James White ran it in from the Atlanta 2-yard line.

Ball game.

Tom Brady completed a Super Bowl record 43 of 62 pass attempts for another Super Bowl record 466 yards, with two touchdowns and one pick six. With that performance, Brady earned a record fourth Super Bowl MVP award, and now owns more Super Bowl championship rings than all other quarterbacks in NFL history.

Matt Ryan had a pretty good day himself, although the vast majority of the highlights for him came in the first half and relatively early in the second half. Through the first half, Ryan made history himself, posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3, completing 7 of 8 pass attempts for 115 yards and one touchdown, and helped Atlanta to a 21-3 lead. That, despite Atlanta's offense running a total of only 19 total plays in the first half, which sounds incredible! In the end, however, Ryan completed 17 of 23 pass attempts, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

It should be noted that the defenses got to both quarterbacks, as each was sacked five times overall.

Atlanta's running back, Devonta Freeman, led all runners with a total of 75 yards on 11 carries with one touchdown. His long on this Sunday was 37 yards. The total production on the ground for the Falcons was 104 yards total as a team.

Yet, for all of the fireworks this season, and early in this game, probably all that people will remember was that epic collapse. If one play goes differently, the outcome might have been different. If the Falcons get another score, or if New England failed to convert a first down here or there on one of those late game drives, maybe it would be different. Maybe if the Falcons run the ball, instead of having Ryan drop back and get sacked. Maybe if Edelman does not complete that catch. Maybe if the Pats fail to convert one of those two-point conversions.

Any one play there, or at various other points in the game.

Instead, the Falcons seemed to go from the most active players in controlling this game, to mere observers, powerless to slow New England's onslaught of points. The game slipped out of their grasp, as they completely dismantled at the wrong time.

And so, the quotes from Atlanta's players and coaches were ones where they struggled to find the words to express how they felt, but not in a good way. Here is some of what they had to say after the game was over:

"There's nothing you can really say,'' a somber Ryan said following the game. " ... There are no words.'' 

"There's nothing you can really say,'' Ryan said. "That's a tough loss. Obviously very disappointed. (The Falcons) were very close to getting done what we wanted to get done, but it's hard to find the words.''

"We just made some mistakes and against a team like New England those mistakes ended up costing us,'' Ryan said.

"We were in field-goal range (in the fourth quarter) and then we got pushed back out of field goal range,'' Ryan said. "We knew we had to come away with points in both of those.''  

"Sure, we did some good things ... just made some mistakes in certain situations that put us behind the chains,'' Ryan said. "And we were not able to overcome that and that part was disappointing."

"For sure, it hurts like hell," second-year Falcons coach Dan Quinn told Fox. "I thought our guys battled hard and made plays. We know how good and what they are capable of doing. You thought this game would come down to the end, and it did. Two good teams battling for it. We knew what they were capable of as well."

Falcons owner Arthur Bank had stated his one desire, just days before this game:

"My longest-term goal is not just to get to a championship and win it -- certainly that is our goal -- but beyond that is to have a team ... there's four or five teams that you discuss every year, that we're in that conversation, If you're in that conversation, you're at the party. You have a chance."

Well, the Falcons definitely had that chance in this one. But they blew it, and will have to wait for some future opportunity. The players seemed to insist that they would get back here, and hopefully, next time, it would be different.

However, I cannot help but think of how this same team blew a 17-0 lead four seasons ago in the NFC title game at home against San Francisco. I look at this game personally, and compare it to other epic collapses, and this one seems worse. Yes, it seems worse to me than ever "The Comeback:by the Buffalo Bills in the 1992-93 season, when they overcame a 35-3 deficit to the Houston Oilers to win. 

Why? How could this be worse, when they led by one touchdown less at their peak?

Because this was the Super Bowl. Everyone in America heard about this one. Most people were watching, and the lasting impression that they will have of the Atlanta Falcons will not be of this incredible, unstoppable offense, or their star quarterback. It will instead be of an epic collapse in the biggest possible game. A heartbreaker that seems to confirm that these Falcons never quite seem ready to take that next step, evne when they are winning by 25 points with just two minutes to go before the final quarter.

New England was outplayed for the vast majority of this game, but they wound up winning their fifth championship. And now, what arguments can be made against them? Belichick and Brady are the most successful coach-quarterback combo in history. Belichick has won more Super Bowls than any other coach, and Brady more than any other quarterback. They have been to more Super Bowls than any of their peers, by far.

And a scary thought it that they just might not be done yet!

Super Bowl LI Champions

New England Patriots

Below are the articles that I used for statistics, as well as quotes used above:

Falcons produce a choke job for the ages in Super Bowl LI by Kevin Seifert NFL Nation, Sunday, February 5, 2017:

Falcons QB Matt Ryan on loss: 'Nothing you can really say' by Jeff Legwold ESPN Senior Writer, Sunday, February 5, 2017:

Falcons build championship case but can't close with historic collapse by Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer, Sunday, February 5, 2017:

Matt Ryan makes history with perfect passer rating in first half of Super Bowl by Seth Walder, February 5, 2017:

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