The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons recently faced off for Super Bowl 51 on Feb. 5, with both teams having quite a story to tell.
Both teams were immensely talented with Most Valuable Player award winners at the quarterback position, pro bowl wide receivers and highly ranked defenses that dominated during the playoffs.
The first three quarters shocked the world, with the Falcons dominating straight out of the gates and capitalizing on multiple offensive drives that ended in touchdowns. With the Patriots in Falcons’ territory at the start of the second quarter, running back LeGarrette Blount fumbled, which led to a Falcons recovery and an ensuing touchdown—the first score of the game. This allowed for Matt Ryan and the Falcons to take control of the game and gain momentum.
Following a Patriots three-and-out, the Falcons again went down the field and scored a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead. The Falcons gained confidence with each yard gained and every stuffed Patriots drive. Ryan, who won the regular season MVP, finished the first half on 7 for 8 passing with 115 yards, one touchdown and, for the first time in a Super Bowl, a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Indeed, the most surprising aspect of the game was the Falcons’ defense holding up its end of the bargain against the Patriots’ offense led by the future first-ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady. The defense peaked when safety Robert Alford nabbed a dart from Brady and returned the interception 82 yards for a “pick-six,” which gave Atlanta a 21-0 lead. With that defensive touchdown, the Falcons win probability jumped to 96.4 percent. The Falcons’ defense held the Patriots to just three points and sacked Brady twice while forcing two turnovers. As the first half wound down, many prematurely dubbed Atlanta’s performance the greatest Super Bowl upset of all time.
After fans witnessed the Super Bowl halftime show headlined by Lady Gaga, they were treated to arguably the greatest comeback in sports history.
The Patriots, down 28-3, faced a 25-point deficit with 8:30 minutes remaining in the third quarter. After a Patriots 13-play drive that ended in a touchdown and a 12-play drive that ended in a field goal, the Falcons then proceeded to fumble with 0:8:30 remaining in regulation.
Dread started to seep into the ecstatic attitudes of the Falcons’ faithful; Patriots fans had seen it countless times and opposing teams had feared falling victim to the methodical last-minute Brady comeback. Just five plays following the New England fumble recovery, the Patriots found themselves hitting pay dirt yet again and succeeded on a two-point conversion to make the score 28-20 with just under six minutes to play in the game.
The Patriots’ defense fed off of the momentum, sensed the pressure and found its typical form in short time. After the Falcons took a 28-3 lead, they had four offensive drives that resulted in three punts and a turnover for a total of 44 yards gained.
The events that occurred during New England’s final drive of regulation was must-see drama. With 0:2:30 remaining in the game, Brady heaved a pass down the middle of the field that initially looked to be incomplete, but actually bounced off Falcons defensive back Alford’s foot. Wide receiver Julian Edelman secured the 23-yard catch that left fans with flashbacks of David Tyree’s memorable Super Bowl catch years back. A rushing touchdown by running back James White and successful two-point conversion shortly after completed the comeback.
The Patriots’ offense was now on a roll and as both teams headed to the first-ever overtime in Super Bowl history, it was pretty clear all confidence had now switched to the Brady Bunch. White, Brady’s premier weapon, had a combined 139 total yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, leaving the Falcons defense befuddled and tired. Now dominating the passing game and running game alike, the Patriots went into overtime with the first possession, ecstatic after winning the coin toss and knowing that a touchdown would seal victory for the first team to score.
In overtime, Brady went 5 for 7 on passing; of those five completions, three went for 14 yards or more. By the time the Patriots were on the Falcons’ two-yard line, the Patriots could see victory in sight. As White ran the ball, three Falcons defenders draped over his back to no avail. White and the Patriots fought their way to one of the best Super Bowl comebacks of all time.
Brady had his fifth Super Bowl victory, the most by any quarterback in NFL history and the Falcons now laid claim to the greatest collapse in Super Bowl history. The Patriots’ dynasty was complete and as for the Falcons, immortality had alluded them.
In the days following, the Pats’ star tight end Rob Gronkowski, sidelined for the big game with a back injury, could be seen chugging beers with rowdy fans at the Superbowl Parade in beantown. When asked if retirement was on his mind, Brady refuted any speculation, explaining he is having too much fun playing the sport. The 39-year-old is playing his best ball and if all holds up, there is no ceiling on how many more Superbowl rings Brady may walk away with.
As for the Falcons, the team has surrounded Ryan and Jones with enough talent that they should be solid contenders for season to come.