Super Bowl LI was the Super Bowl of never assuming. Never assume it was going to be a low-scoring game after a 0-0 first quarter. Never assume the Falcons can’t blow a 25-point lead in the third quarter. Never assume Tom Brady was not going to get 400 passing yards after his slow start. Well, I assumed midway through the third quarter and tweeted how the CFL’s Grey Cup was better than the Super Bowl this year. I assumed wrong.
In this article, let’s go five and breakdown Super Bowl LI:
One: There were plenty of key plays in the choking of a 25-point lead by the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. I felt the game really turned on two concurrent plays. On 2nd & 2 from the Falcons’ 35 midway through the fourth quarter, Tevin Coleman’s legs got rolled up on as he was tackled in the middle of the line of scrimmage, leading to an ankle injury and only a gain of one yard. While Coleman had a solid but unspectacular day so far with seven carries for 29 yards and a six-yard receiving touchdown, Devonta Freeman, who was the better rusher on the day for the Falcons, was put out there for the 3rd & 1 play. On that play Freeman was caught looking inside or daydreaming (one of the two) and Dont’a Hightower of the Patriots got a free rush at Matt Ryan for the sack and forced fumble that changed the whole tenor of the game. It seemed to be quite deflating for the Patriots to only get a field goal the drive before to get the game to 28-12. Now, the Patriots got the ball at the Atlanta 25 in a two score game and plenty of time to make up 16 points. While Bill Belichick believes that the Hightower play changed the entire game by getting them the ball on a short field, I believe it was the Coleman injury the play before that really changed the game.
Two: The Kyle Shanahan game plan in the second half was quite leaky in terms of play calling. While I do not have a problem with the decision to pass on the 3rd & 1 referenced above, it was the play call that was questionable. If you do pass, why not do a West Coast offense-style rollout play-action pass? All you need is one yard … not 20 yards. Ryan just had to hit the fullback Patrick DiMarco in the flat and this game would pretty much be over with the time remaining. Super Bowl champion and former San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Steve Young had similar feelings on this play. “This is inexcusable,” Young said. “Deep drop. 3rd & 1. You got the blitz. Everyone knew it. I saw it coming from five seconds before the snap. You cannot hold the football in that situation and allow that.” In the end, it was the play selected and not the decision of passing that did them in here.
But, Atlanta still had an eight-point lead after the Patriots scored the touchdown and got the two point conversion. Then, the play calling after the otherworldly Julio Jones catch on the sideline was beyond questionable. That crazy catch put them at the New England 22 and in range for a 39-yard field goal with 4:40 remaining. With the consistently great kicker in Matt Bryant, this should have been game … set … and match Falcons. Three run plays by the Falcons and the field goal from Bryant would make it a two score game with about 3:30 on the clock, a tough deficit for any team to dig themselves out of. Instead of taking a conservative route, Shanahan called a pass play with a deep drop by Ryan resulting in a 12-yard sack. While not an automatic field goal at around 51 yards, there was no reason to drop back and pass and risk a penalty or another sack to get completely out of range. But, that is what the Falcons did. Offensive lineman Jake Matthews was called for holding with a nice chokehold and the 10-yard penalty backed them out of field goal range. On 3rd & 33, the Falcons had to pass the ball and it fell incomplete. They went from kicking a field goal from near automatic range to punting to the Patriots up by eight points with 3:30 left to play. The Falcons had not been in too many close games this year and their offensive play calling had them blowing a 25-point lead.
Three: How bout those catches?!?! While we can all be in the prisoner-of-the-moment mindset when it comes to spectacular plays, there were two at the top of the list in Super Bowl history that happened in Super Bowl LI. The Julio Jones catch might have been one of the best I have ever seen and hard to describe in words but let’s try. Matt Ryan threw a desperation pass to the sideline as they clinged to an eight point lead. The ball just floated over the fingertips of cornerback Eric Rowe as Jones stretched into the boundary. He made a fingertip catch with a toe on the ground and his other leg well above the ground. Somehow, Jones touched down the second toe as he fell out-of-bounds. It was truly a catch that a majority of NFL receivers cannot ever make.
With the Patriots down by eight points on their final drive of regulation, Tom Brady threw up a pass that was nearly intercepted again by Robert Alford, who had a deflating pick-six on Brady in the first half. Instead of a game-ending interception, the ball bounced off his leg on the way down, allowing the former quarterback at Kent State, Julian Edelman, to snatch it before it hit the turf. In the end, it was a 23-yard catch to the Atlanta 41. Was it retribution for the helmet catch by David Tyree of the New York Giants? Maybe … but it definitely was a stroke of luck and skill that was a key cog in the last drive to tie the game and subsequently win in overtime.
Four: I’ve heard NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman get less boos than Roger Goodell did as he handed out the Vince Lombardi trophy. While some hate was expected in Houston due to the New England drama over the past few years, I was amazed at the deafening boos lobbied towards Goodell as a more corporate-type of crowd is seen at the Super Bowl. There was a very awkward and uncomfortable handshake between Kraft and Goodell that was followed by Robert Kraft throwing some daggers at the NFL and Goodell in his Super Bowl acceptance speech.
Plus, there was Roger Goodell and Tom Brady sharing a quick moment off stage with veteran reporter Jim Gray standing ringside. According to the LA Times, Jim Gray said the following of the exchange: “I was just standing there waiting for Tom to go up on the podium [to hold the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft] and Roger Goodell came and tapped him. … We both turned around and Roger stuck out his hand and said, ‘Congratulations, you were awesome.’ Tom kind of looked at his hand, [then] shook his hand. Roger said, ‘Congratulations,’ and he tried to pull him in, and Tom just stood there and said, ‘Thank you.’ It wasn’t contentious, but it wasn’t warm. I think Tom was caught off guard, probably expecting to see him on the podium. Then the commissioner said, ‘You played great,’ and all Tom did was say, ‘Thank you,’ nodded his head. Then, Roger walked away.” Uneasiness was going to be the dish of the night if the Patriots won … and what was served was a bountiful meal.
Five: The fifth point in each blog will be our list of five. While it will be mostly off-topic, it has to be the about the Super Bowl this week. So, here’s my top five Super Bowls of all-time:
5. Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
The “Greatest Show on Turf” against the upstart Tom Brady. The Rams erased an early deficit against the Patriots to tie it up at 17. The last drive of the game gave Tom Brady the chance to introduce himself as a clutch quarterback and the game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired saw Drew Bledsoe on his way out of New England.
4. Super Bowl XXXIV – St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16
With the ball on the Rams’ 10-yard line, the Titans were trailing by a touchdown and had one last chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. As the play began, linebacker Mike Jones went with tight end Frank Wycheck up the field. However, as the Steve McNair pass was being delivered to Kevin Dyson on a slant route, Jones, who was at the goal line, noticed an open Dyson catching the ball. Jones switched directions and wrapped up Dyson’s legs just short of the goal line as time expired to preserve a St. Louis win.
3. Super Bowl XXIII – San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
The “John Candy game.” Down 16-13 and just over three minutes on the clock, the 49ers were 92 yards away from a leading touchdown. Joe Montana said to tackle Harris Barton and the rest of his teammates in the huddle before the first play of the drive, “There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp … Isn’t that John Candy?” What happened from that funny quip is the best game-winning drive in the history of the Super Bowl. “Joe Cool” led the 49ers on an 11-play, 92-yard drive to score the winning touchdown. With 39 seconds left in the game, Montana finished the impressive drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to the underrated receiver John Taylor.
2. Super Bowl XLIX – New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
A back-and-forth game that saw the Seahawks up 10 going into the fourth quarter with their top-ranked defense. With 12:10 left in the game, New England put together a 68-yard drive to cut their deficit to 24–21 on Tom Brady’s four-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola. With 2:02 left in the game, Brady gave his team a 28–24 lead with a three-yard touchdown to Julian Edelman. Russell Wilson threw a deep pass down the right sideline to Jermaine Kearse on the subsequent drive. As both players dove through the air for the ball, Malcolm Butler deflected it and the pass landed right into the hands of Kearse, who was lying on his back. Marshawn Lynch got the ball to the 1-yard line and that’s where the controversy occurred. Instead of running the ball with the almost unstoppable Lynch, the Seahawks decided to pass instead of run. This resulted in a Malcolm Butler interception and became the worst singular call in Super Bowl history to give the Patriots the win.
1. Super Bowl LI – New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28
It was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history as the Patriots trailed by 25 points in the third quarter (no team had ever won when trailing by more than 10 points). It gave Bill Belichick and Brady their fifth championship in seven appearances and it cemented the Patriots as one of the league’s top dynasties. Plus, it was the first Super Bowl to go to overtime.
So that’s it for my Super Bowl coverage folks … I’ll see you next time on First & Five.