What a strange, strange game! Has there ever been another like it? I shouldn’t have phrased that as a question because the answer, everyone will agree, is ” Never”. Super Bowl LI was really two games in one. In the first, Atlanta blew out New England 28-3. In the second , that took place over the last twenty-or-so minutes,. New England scored thirty one unanswered points to win 34-28 in overtime. Two blowouts and yet so much drama that many are calling this the best Super Bowl ever.
I was watching the game at a friend’s house in Edison and when the score got to 28-3 everyone watching, Atlanta fans as well as New England supporters, agreed that it was over. As the commentators kept reminding us, no team had come back from such a large deficit so late in the game. My wife and I said our farewells and drove home to Somerset. I was rooting for Atlanta and wanted to get home in time for what I KNEW would be a Falcons triumph. I got home and the first thing I did was to switch on the TV. What a shock! The score was 20-28 and the Atlanta lead was down to 8 with plenty of time on the clock ! As I watched , Matt Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots 23, aided by a miraculous catch by Julio Jones, How Jones caught the ball at full stretch as it passed through the defender’s hands and yet managed to keep both feet in bounds I will never figure out.
Perhaps there was still hope! A field goal would make it a two- possession game and put the game out of reach. What followed will, I am sure, be the stuff of nightmares for the Falcons and their fans. First, the Falcons were called for holding and then the Patriot defense sacked Matt Ryan for a huge loss pushing the Falcons well out of FG range. About then, I began to give up hope. Even when the Pats took over on their own 8, needing to go 92 yards for a TD and then make a 2-point conversion just to tie the game, I KNEW Atlanta was done. At this point, the Falcons were shell-shocked and completely demoralized. It showed in the costly penalties that they committed time and again on the New England drive. (BTW, the catch that Julian Edelman made was out of this world. The way he grabbed a batted ball in a forest of arms and legs and pulled it in mere inches from the ground… simply amazing.) It was also evident in the ease with which the Patriots drove down the field to score the game clinching TD in overtime.
How such a dramatic turnaround took place will be the subject of much discussion and analysis by football fans in the coming months. For much of the game, Matt Ryan was picking the Patriot defense apart and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were tearing off huge chunks of yardage. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s 27th ranked defense was playing like gangbusters, knifing through the patriots O-line, sacking Brady five times and knocking him about. And then it all changed. The Falcons offense stalled and Brady found his mojo, throwing pinpoint seeing-eye passes to his receivers. Perhaps the Falcons relaxed just a little bit when they had such a big lead but that should not take away from the Patriots performance. I have no idea what Bill Belichick said to the Patriots in the locker room at halftime or what adjustments he made but they worked. The Patriots raised their game, shook off memories of their first half spanking and completely dominated the Falcons to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Yes, yes, I know that’s a cliché but it exactly describes what happened !
Football fans everywhere will be grateful to both teams for giving us such a classic. New England was magnificent but spare a thought for the Atlanta Falcons. They played their hearts out and they were classy in their post-game comments, none more so than Matt Ryan.
Hasn’t 2017 gotten off to a great start? First, an aging Federer recaptures his youth to defeat his arch rival Nadal in a match for the ages. Then the Falcons and the Patriots give us a wonderful Super Bowl.