Depending on the your allegiances, this year’s Super Bowl was either the greatest game or the biggest disaster in NFL history. The New England Patriots made a miraculous comeback and defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime Sunday after being down 28-3 with four minutes left in the third quarter. With the Falcons holding a 99.6 percent chance of victory, the Patriots needed every play in the final quarter to go their way. Every play did. The Pats more than doubled the previous Super Bowl comeback record — no other team in history has ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit. The game rewrote the Super Bowl record-books, with 24 records broken, including first overtime game and most passing yards.
The Falcons dominated the first half of the game, proving that their No. 1 offense could outplay the Patriots No. 1 defense. Wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman had their way, running through the Patriots defense on what seemed to be every play. Even more impressive was Atlanta’s No. 27-ranked defense, which bottled up Brady and the rest of the Patriots’ offense. Atlanta, with one of the worst pass rushes in the league,consistently put pressure on Brady, causing issues for the entire offense.
However, with amazing play from Brady and a little bit of luck, the Patriots torched the Falcons defense and limited their high-flying offense in the second half. The biggest difference between the first and the second half was the emergence of Patriots third-string running back James White. White couldn’t be stopped out of the backfield, catching a Super Bowl record 14 targets and scoring a Super Bowl record 20 points (three touchdowns and a two-point conversion). White’s performance provided the Patriots offense with the breathing room it needed to succeed. By catching balls out in the flat, White forced the Falcons to hold back the pass rush, giving Brady enough time in the pocket to let plays develop. The Patriots’ quarterback punished the defense as a result.
Despite the Patriots’ emergence halfway through the third quarter, the Falcons had plenty of chances to put the game away but couldn’t execute. The first major error on the Falcons part was came eight minutes left in the game, when Freeman completely missed the block on a blitz, allowing Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower to strip-sack Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, turning the ball over and giving the Patriots good field position. An even greater failure came with 4:40 left in the fourth. Up 28-20, the Falcons had the ball in field goal range and could have run time off the clock before kicking a field goal that would have put them ahead 31-20. However, the Falcons decided to throw the ball on the next two plays, resulting in a sack and a holding penalty that put them well out of field goal range.
Once the Patriots tied the game, all of the energy was sucked out of the Falcons. The Patriots won the overtime toss, drove down the field, and scored the game-winning touchdown on the first OT possession, refusing the Falcon offense any opportunity at redemption. The game’s end renewed the controversy surrounding the NFL overtime rule as the Falcons were denied a chance to counter the Patriots touchdown drive.
There are two things we can take away from this game. First, no matter the score, no game is over until the clock hits zero. Second, Tom Brady is the best football player in history. He holds the record for most Super Bowl appearances (7) and most Super Bowls won (5). But it’s more than the record: it’s his performance. It’s difficult to imagine any other quarterback carrying his team to victory as Brady miraculously did Sunday. Even down by 25 points, his level of confidence and play grew throughout the game, rallying his team along the way. After scoring his first touchdown, Brady took over the game and the Falcons were powerless to stop him.
Although the Falcons lost, they should be contenders in the years to come. Their high-powered offense isn’t going anywhere and their young defense should only improve under second year Head Coach Dan Quinn. Hopefully, we’ll see the Falcons back in the Big Game next year.