Even if you didn’t watch Super Bowl LI Sunday, Feb. 6, there’s no way you haven’t heard about it by now. You must have heard that it was a great game and, in fact, the first Super Bowl to go into overtime. You also must have heard about the most hated golden boy, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, crushing the dreams of Atlanta Falcons fans and New England Patriots haters, or “Hatriots”, across the nation, winning his fifth Super Bowl championship. However, I assure you, there was so much more to it than that. It was a complex roller coaster; of a game that will undoubtedly go down as one of the best Super Bowls of all time, if not the best.
The first two and a half quarters was all Atlanta. The eighth highest scoring offense in the National Football League (NFL) history did not disappoint as they jumped out in front on the scoreboard early. Atlanta running back DeVonta Freeman opened the scoring in the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run after two big catches by receiver Julio Jones for 19 and 23 yards. The next score came on the very next Falcon’s drive, after holding the Patriots scoreless for yet another possession, Matt Ryan delivered an on-the-money ball to Atlanta’s rookie tight end, Austin Hooper for a 19-yard touchdown to go up 14-0 early.
Atlanta’s offense was historic and played as expected. What was unexpected was the play of their defense. The Atlanta front seven kept future Hall of Famer, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, as well as the Patriots’ run game in check throughout the first half. The Falcons defensive front did what has been proven time and time again, as the “solution” to the Tom Brady matchup. They got pressure on Brady, recording four sacks (three of which from Falcons’ defensive tackle Grady Jarrett) and a dozen quarterback pressures in the first half, and clearly had the golden boy flustered. Brady finished the half with 184 passing yards, no touchdowns, and an interception that was taken all the way back by Atlanta defensive back Robert Alford for a touchdown, giving the Falcons a 21-0 lead. Things were looking gloomy for the Pats as no team had ever come back from a lead higher than 10 points in the Super Bowl and won. The Patriots finished the half strong, putting together a field goal drive and going into the locker room with a 21-3 deficit in the biggest game of the year.
The first half of the third quarter continued the same story. The Patriots were unable to get a drive going offensively and when the 2016 NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), Matt Ryan got his hands on the ball again in the third quarter. He delivered, with running back Tevin Coleman hauling in the 6-yard touchdown catch to propel the Atlanta Falcons’ lead to 28-3.
With 18 minutes left in the final football game of the season, the Atlanta Falcons appeared to have secured their first Super Bowl win in franchise history, and only second professional sports championship in Atlanta’s history. Meanwhile the unstoppable combination of Belichick and Brady, appearing in their seventh (4-2 record in Super Bowls) Super Bowl together, seemed vulnerable and even, dare I say, beatable.
New England again finished the quarter strong, putting together a scoring drive capped off with a 5-yard touchdown reception by Patriots running back James White, but as if things couldn’t get worse for Brady and the Pats, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point, keeping the Patriots distanced from the Falcons 28-9 after three quarters of football.
The early fourth quarter seemed to be on pace to slowly end with a Falcons victory, with the Falcons unable to get an offensive drive going, but still holding the Pats to only a field goal, making the game 28-12 in the fourth. However, the game really turned around when the Patriots defense finally stepped up in the fourth quarter and got their first turnover from the Falcons’ offense. Patriots linebacker D’onta Hightower sacked Matt Ryan and forced a fumble, which was then recovered by the Patriots. Tom Brady made Atlanta pay for their turnover, turning it into a 25-yard drive ending with a 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Danny Amendola and a two-point conversion punched in after a direct snap to running back James White. The score was then 28-20 and it was clear that this was a game that was going down to the wire.
The Falcons got the ball back and needed to score to put away the game and the Super Bowl win. A stunning sideline catch by receiver Julio Jones put the Falcons in field goal range, but a sack and a holding call pushed Atlanta’s offense right back out of it. Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense got the ball down by 8 with 3 minutes to go.
The final drive of the New England Patriots can only be described as that special Super Bowl magic we seem to get every few years. Julian Edelman, the patriots number one receiver all year long had had a poor Super Bowl up to this point, with multiple drops and only four catches on 12 targets. All of that was forgiven when Edelman made not only the catch of the game, but most likely the catch of the year on top of not one, not two, but THREE Falcon’s defenders while face down on the ground. Believe me, words cannot describe this catch, you must see it for yourself. This 23-yard reception boosted the Patriots into Atlanta territory, and a short while after, a one-yard touchdown run by New England back James White (his second score of the game) and a two-point conversion successful catch by receiver Danny Amendola tied the Super Bowl with 57 seconds to go.
The Falcon’s offense were yet again unable to create a drive in the final minute of the game, and regulation ended with a 28-28 tie. For the first time the Super Bowl was going into overtime.
As dramatic as this seems, this historic overtime was anything but dramatic. The Patriots won the coin toss, as if it wasn’t obvious how much momentum they had at this point, and elected to receive the ball first in the overtime period. The Patriots drive wasn’t dramatic. It was cold, calculated, formulaic, almost expected at this point. The greatness of Tom Brady, the greatest single player in NFL history, late in games was so common and understood that it made this perfect march down the field almost boring to watch. 75-yards capped off with a James White 2-yard rushing touchdown (his third of the game) gave the New England Patriots a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in overtime of Super Bowl 51.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got his fifth Super Bowl ring, most of any QB in NFL history, and took home Super Bowl MVP honors for his fourth time, the most of any player in NFL history, after setting a new Super Bowl record with 466 passing yards. Brady also had two touchdowns and one interception. This was not the only record set that night, Patriots running back James White ended the game with 14 catches, a new Super Bowl record, as well as three touchdowns, two rushing, one receiving, a two-point conversion, and 139 total yards of offense. Finally, the New England Patriots set a team Super Bowl record, coming back from a 25-point deficit, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.
This Super Bowl will be remembered forever, for many reasons. The many records set, the golden boy, Tom Brady as well as his coach, Bill Belichick proving their historic greatness at a higher level than ever before, and the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history will ensure that this game will be talked about forever. The icing on the cake for all of this, the reason I will remember it forever, is simply because it was one hell of a football game.