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A Super Bowl For The Ages

If you gave up on last night’s Super Bowl after the third quarter, you could hardly be blamed. After being held to just three points in the first half while the Falcons scored 21 points against a New England defense that seemed porous and ill-prepared, the New England Patriots had scored only once after coming back in halftime, and that was a touchdown that included a rare missed extra point by Patriots kicker Stephen Gotowski while the Falcons added another seven points to their lead to make the score 28-9 headed into the fourth quarter. By all accounts, it seemed as though the Patriots would come up short in their quest to join the rare teams who have won five or more Super Bowls, something that only the Steelers, Cowboys, and 49ers had done to this point. If you did turn the television off, though, you missed the end of what turned out to be one of the biggest comebacks in Super Bowl history thanks to a performance from the Patriots that proved all their critics wrong:

HOUSTON — The chants rang out loud and long at NRG Stadium in South Texas, not from bars or living rooms across New England, until a wall of sound enveloped a team and a quarterback on a mission. “Brady, Brady,” the fans screamed, and it is in moments like this — the first overtime in Super Bowl history — that Tom Brady appears most comfortable, as if lounging on his sofa in his beloved Uggs.

In each of his previous four Super Bowl victories, Brady guided game-winning drives for the Patriots. However sublime, those efforts against the Rams, the Panthers, the Eagles and the Seahawks all seemed quaint before Sunday night.

That is when Brady again summoned the sorcery of his right arm to stun the Atlanta Falcons in what is undoubtedly the greatest late surge in a Super Bowl. When James White sneaked into the end zone from 2 yards away, completing a 34-28 victory that defied the bounds of credulity and secured the Patriots’ fifth title, his teammates stormed onto the field, flung their helmets and hugged anyone who moved.

Across the field, the Falcons watched from their sideline as if fossilized in amber, too exhausted and dumbstruck to move.

The Patriots trailed by 25 points with 2 minutes 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter — and by 19 with 9:48 left in regulation — and they won.

They won because of Dont’a Hightower’s critical strip-sack and Julian Edelman’s Velcro hands and the clock management and coaching of a maestro, Bill Belichick, but mostly because of a truism that has beleaguered the league’s other 31 teams for 16 years running: the Patriots have Brady, and no one else does, not even the Falcons, who boasted the N.F.L.’s most valuable player in Matt Ryan.

Not including their 3-second possession at the end of regulation, the Patriots, after mustering only a field goal on their first seven drives, scored on their final five possessions.

“At halftime, I would say we weren’t down at all,” Brady said. “We were disappointed in the way we played, and we knew that we could go out and do a lot better in the second half.”

Brady completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, a performance that earned him Super Bowl M.V.P. honors for the fourth time in his career. In none of the other three instances did he handle a season as challenging as this, from the illness plaguing his mother, Galynn, to the four-game suspension served for his role in that protracted saga known as Deflategate, after the underinflated footballs meant to give him a throwing advantage.

In accepting the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who meted out the punishment, the owner Robert K. Kraft did not outright address the scandal. But he did allude it to it in perhaps the strongest possible terms.

“A lot has transpired in the last two years, and I don’t think that needs any explanation,” Kraft said.

Because of that, he said, this title is “unequivocally the sweetest.”

His reputation sullied, Brady embarked on a nationwide tour of vindication that reached its climax in the venue where he won his second Super Bowl, back in February 2004, long before the Patriots achieved modern dynasty status in an era designed to encourage parity.

Brady was 26 then, and it is possible that he is now superior in all facets, six months shy of his 40th birthday, at an age when most of his peers have either retired or entered a noticeable decline. By going 3-1 during his suspension, the Patriots created the farcical perception that they no longer needed him — that quarterbacks in New England’s ruthless machinery are interchangeable, even Brady.

He turbocharged the Patriots’ offense with 33 touchdowns to four interceptions heading into Sunday, when he toiled, misfiring wide and long, until late in the third quarter.

Powered by three touchdowns in a 9:54 span of the second quarter, Atlanta led by 28-9 with 10 minutes left before the Patriots unleashed 10 minutes of mayhem.

Hightower’s strip-sack catalyzed the comeback, with Brady capitalizing on excellent field position to find Danny Amendola from 6 yards out. Less than 6 minutes remained, and though the Falcons advanced deep into New England territory, a holding penalty knocked them out of field-goal range, forcing them to punt.

As the fourth quarter drew to a close, the Patriots racked up eleven unanswered points make the score 28-20, at which point they kicked off to Atlanta in the obvious hope that they’d have at least one more chance to score before the game ended. Thanks in large part to an Atlanta team that suddenly looked nothing like the one that had played for the first three quarters of the game, they got that chance and proceeded to march the ball down the field on a 91 yard drive that resulted in another touchdown capped off with a second straight two-point conversion that tied the score with only minutes left in the game. At that point, the only question was whether the Falcons could get within Field Goal range to try to win the game, and when that failed to happen, we headed into the first overtime in the half-century history of the Super Bowl.

Under the NFL’s overtime rules, the team that wins the coin toss has the advantage of being able to end the game if they’re able to score a touchdown on their first possession of the overtime period. Any other outcome, such as a Field Goal or no score at all, would give the other team a chance to score themselves and win the game with a touchdown. As if to mirror how the game had gone for most of the Fourth Quarter, New England won the coin toss and took the first possession. At that point, and given the fact that the Patriots had scored 28 unanswered points in the last quarter of the game, the outcome seemed inevitable. For one thing, the Atlanta defense clearly looked exhausted after being put through the ringer at the end of a game and the Patriots were fired up in a way they had not been throughout the game. Therefore, when Tom Brady marched the team down the field and the game-winning touchdown was scored, it was something that was seemingly inevitable. All that was left was the schadenfreude for the moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was forced to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady, and to award Brady his fourth Super Bowl MVP award. After two years of the ridiculousness that was ‘Deflategate’ that ended with Brady serving his four-game suspension, during which the Patriots went 3-1, it was a moment that no doubt satisfied Patriots fans everywhere.

With the game and the NFL season over, the inevitable questions arise. A game that seemed as if it would end in another blowout instead ended up giving us one of the most exciting conclusions of any of the previous fifty games before it, and one of the most amazing comebacks in NFL history. Whether you love or hate them, the Patriots seemed to cement their claim to being the best team of the 21st Century to date and among the best dynasties in NFL history. With five Super Bowl wins in seven appearances over the past fifteen years, Belichick and Brady certainly seem as if they are the best Head Coach and Quarterback combination in the NFL’s modern era, indeed both men can lay claim to something no other Head Coach or Quarterback has ever done in winning five Super Bowls to begin with. And, in a year that saw the Golden State Warriors blow a three game to one advantage in the NBA Championship and the Cleveland Indians blow a three games to one advantage to allow the Chicago Cubs to win their first Super Bowl in 108 years, the collapse by the Falcons was one for the history books. Or, as I noted on Twitter at the end of the night, the worst thing to happen to Atlanta since General Sherman came to town. Whether this was the ‘best Super Bowl ever’ is a matter of opinion, I suppose, but at the very least it’s going to be tough for future games to match the one that marked the 50th anniversary of a game that has become something akin to a national holiday.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Alameda says:

    Great great game.
    I watched the entire game with the sound muted so I didn’t have to listen to the broadcasting team. I also watched none of the post-game trophy presentation.

    I understand that this game did not draw the ratings that the previous 2 games did. That’s strange to me. On paper this game had a far more interesting look to it than the previous 2 Super Bowls. Last year was Peyton however Peyton was an extremely diminished version of himself, it was not really an interesting game.

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  2. Hal_10000 says:

    I’ve been a Falcons fan since 1980 and this was the worst. Worse than the ’91 World series or the ’96 World Series. When we were up 28-3, I knew it was too good to be true. It was like watching a horror movie where you know everyone’s going to get killed. Atlanta teams are cursed.

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  3. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Well, Pete Carroll made a boneheaded call a few years back when the Pats were playing the Seahawks and it gave the Pats the Super Bowl. Kyle Shanahan ought to be horsewhipped for telling Ryan to run a pass play. Two running plays (even if for no gain), kick a field goal, and you’ve got it. But no . . .

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  4. Aelio says:

    It was an incredible game. It highlighted why sports are so incredible. The slowmo TV showing the play where the Patriots player caught the ball within an inch of the ground: so awesome. And when Lady Gaga jumped during the show I wondered where she would go exactly: brave woman!

    On Twitter some of the Patriots fans seemed to take it in stride when the Falcons were winning, by complimenting the Falcons on their result. And many as always were still trying to jinx the Falcons and it worked.

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    Yep. I was literally yelling at the TV. Ryan deserves some blame too for not firing the ball past the back of the end zone.

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  6. James Pearce says:

    What. A. Game.

    I was smugly enjoying the “blowout” until the Patriots flipped on the nitro. That was some 4th quarter comeback, and as an Elway homer from way back, I’ve seen a few.

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  7. barbintheboonies says:

    My good friend from the south called just before the half time show to gloat, because my husband and I are from Mass. Well I have not heard anymore even from my family still living there. I guess everyone is hung over.

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  8. Jake says:

    Julio Jones’s catch unbelievable.

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  9. CSK says:

    @barbintheboonies:

    Well, I’m here in Mass., and I’m not hungover.

    What would you like me to say? 😀

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  10. Guarneri says:

    @Hal_10000:

    They tried to ice the game too early in the third and completely lost their momentum. Then, when all they needed was a field goal, instead of conservatively running they took a sack on a pass attempt. This one was all on the coach and his calls. Brady would have come up three points short.

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  11. Franklin says:

    After being held to just three points in the first half while the Falcons scored 21 points against a New England defense that seemed porous and ill-prepared, the New England Patriots had scored only once after coming back in halftime, and that was a touchdown that included a rare missed extra point by Patriots kicker Stephen Gotowski while the Falcons added another seven points to their lead to make the score 28-9 headed into the fourth quarter.

    Please take this sentence outside and shoot it.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    A great game, with fantastic plays on both sides and an absolutely amazing comeback.

    The result, of course, is tragic, and such a success couldn’t have happened to worse or more undeserving people.

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  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    How do you blow a 25 point lead!?

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  14. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    The result, of course, is tragic, and such a success couldn’t have happened to worse or more undeserving people.

    Tragedy means nothing if “The Patriots win the Super Bowl” counts as one.

    Also, I’m no fan of the Patriots or Tom Brady, but “undeserving?” They went 14-2 on the season, won all their play-off games, then came back to score 35 unanswered points in the final half of the Super Bowl. What more do they gotta do to deserve it?

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  15. Don’t we undermine the meaning of the word “tragedy” when we apply it to the outcome of a sporting event?

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  16. al-Alameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    They tried to ice the game too early in the third and completely lost their momentum. Then, when all they needed was a field goal, instead of conservatively running they took a sack on a pass attempt. This one was all on the coach and his calls. Brady would have come up three points short.

    Exactly.

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  17. barbintheboonies says:

    @CSK: Great game

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  18. Jen says:

    I’m in NH, and have to get up early for work, so I threw in the towel at halftime and went to bed.

    When I heard the fireworks going off, and could hear my neighbors cheering (it was in the 20’s–all windows closed–and I could still hear them) I thought *maybe* they were cheering a touchdown or two so that it wasn’t an embarrassing loss.

    I have never been quite as surprised about a sporting outcome as I was this morning. Wow.

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  19. Davebo says:

    @Stormy Dragon: It’s not that hard

    The Buffalo Bills’ come-from-behind win against Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers was one for the record books, as Buffalo erased a seemingly insurmountable 32-point deficit to eventually shock the Oilers in OT.

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  20. Davebo says:

    @James Pearce:

    then came back to score 35 unanswered points in the final half of the Super Bowl.

    Yet ended up with only 34 points total!

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  21. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Indeed!

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  22. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Unfwckingbelievable comeback.
    I watched the Bills come back from 32 points down against the Oilers in ’93.
    This was not quite the same…but still fun to watch…and this is one New Englander that hates the Pat’s.

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  23. James Pearce says:

    @Davebo:

    Yet ended up with only 34 points total!

    No, you’re right. The Patriots only scored 31 unanswered points, not 34.

    (Not exactly “I was wrong….this changes everything” territory here, eh?)

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  24. Davebo says:

    @James Pearce: Don’t be so touchy Jimmy.

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  25. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Davebo:..Don’t you mean the Buffalo Pills? Who won the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the third time in that AFC Championship game? (not the Super Bowl)
    And for what????

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  26. Franklin says:

    I read your original reply rather amusingly, as if the score had been 28 to -1 at some point.

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  27. Mr. Bluster says:

    I also watched none of the post-game trophy presentation.

    Clearly you are a better man than I.
    Could not wait to see this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D2xIi74x1k

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  28. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Yes, they will be talking about LI likely into MMLXXXV.

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  29. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Franklin:..-1

    I think that is a score in Canadian Football. Don’t they call it a rouge contraire?

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  30. James Pearce says:

    @Davebo:

    Don’t be so touchy Jimmy.

    Me? Touchy?

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  31. DrDaveT says:

    It’s petty of me, but I stopped watching with about 5 minutes to go when I noticed that the most egregious holding by the Patriots was going uncalled. I knew who was going to win. Credit to the Pats for cashing in both of those 2-point conversions, but they had help.

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  32. Franklin says:

    @Mr. Bluster: I don’t know. It’s like your speaking a different language to me.

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  33. Franklin says:

    @DrDaveT: I’m relatively neutral, so I tend to see bad calls whichever way they go. I felt like overall the Pats might have gotten a very slight advantage. But the statistical margin is so wide in football, where basically every play should technically have at least one penalty called somewhere, that it’s difficult to claim the refs are biased, even if they are. Don’t even get me started on the new targeting rules.

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  34. J-Dub says:

    The Falcons had a 99 percent chance of winning at one point. All they had to do was run the clock down by not snapping the ball too quickly and run, run, run the ball. Credit to the Pats for taking advantage, but they got a gift. Kyle Shanahan should have been fired right after the game instead of getting promoted to the 49ers head coach.

    https://www.wired.com/2017/02/blackjack-superstar-explains-odds-historic-patriots-win/

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  35. Stephen Hanft says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: I totally agree. Atlanta’s coaching staff made, on a par with Seattle, the dumbest play calls in Super Bowl history. Once when Julio Jones made that spectacular catch at the New England 22, the game should have been over as they could ice the game with a routine field goal. All they had to do is keep the ball on the ground and the field goal and championship was theirs. Instead, on second and third down, they called two bonehead pass plays which lost 22 yards (a 12 yard sack and a 10 yard holding penalty) and took them out of field goal range. That is where Atlanta’s coaching staff stupidly lost this game. If they had played it safe (keeping the ball on the ground) and kicking the field goal to go up by 11 (two scores) they win because the Patriots would not have enough time for two more possessions. It’s hard to decide which was worse or dumber, the play-call Seattle did two years ago or the play-call Atlanta did Sunday night. Either way, they were the two dumbest play calls in Super Bowl history and were totally responsible for costing each team a championship. The last two Patriots Super Bowl wins were gift-wrapped by insane, dumb, incompetent coaching decisions. The Patriots did not win either of those super bowls as much as Seattle and Atlanta lost them.

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