It was that time of year again where I stay up insanely late to watch a game that, this year, happened in a city 4,678 miles away…
This season’s Super Bowl showdown took place in Houston, Texas, playing host this year to the ever-consistent New England Patriots and those steamrolling Atlanta Falcons. Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a hefty read.
So how did we get here? It was inconceivable how Tom Brady had been playing through the regular season and in the playoffs, especially given that he’s nearly 40 years old and he’ll soon be going into his 18th NFL season. He’s obviously been drinking some kind of magic elixir that reverses the effects of high-performance football on your body (I don’t think he shared any with Peyton Manning, he was too busy hanging with Papa John and eating pizza).
It’s equally as probable that Roger Goodell has been kidnapping NFL players and turning them into hyper-athletic cyborgs that can easily out-perform your regular human beings. Do you need evidence? Look at that number 11 monster that Matt Ryan was always throwing to. He’s really not human. He averaged 100.6 receiving yards per game this season (leading the NFL). He joined Michael Irvin (100.2 receiving YPG in 1995) as the only players to average 100 receiving yards per game for a season and then make the Super Bowl.
Brady put up some of the best numbers of his career, posting a 67.4 completion percentage (His highest completion percentage since 2007) while tossing 28 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. He guided his Patriots to a 14-2 record, winning the AFC East, and onto yet another post-season berth. He was set to enter his 9th Super Bowl in an attempt to take home his 5th Lombardi trophy. On a quick note, the last time the Super Bowl was held in Houston, who came out on top? That’s right Tommy and Billy, and Brady’s stats we’re eerily close to this year. He threw a few more picks last year, but that doesn’t matter, right Fitzpatrick?
On the other side of the field, Matt Ryan was gearing up to prove everybody that ever doubted him, wrong. Not only had he and the Falcons finished the regular season at 11-5, winning the AFC South, he then upped his post-season record to 3-4 after his best run to date. If you hadn’t considered as the league MVP before the playoffs started, he sure as hell should be making an impression on you now, especially after him and his birds ploughed through that daunting Seattle defense and then smoked Aaron Rodgers and his white hot Green Bay Packers.
To prove to you that Ryan was playing at an MVP level, just look at his numbers. He’s been on fire recently, completing, as near as makes no difference, 70% of his passes with 38 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions and throwing for a season high 4,944 yards. Ryan also finished off the year leading the league with a 117.1 QBR – the measure for a quarterback’s true production.
Of course, football is a team sport, but we know that QB’s get all of the love because their undeniably the engine that makes the machine work… Unless you’re Brock Osweiler. Credit where credit is due, Kyle Shanahan – (Now former) Falcons Offensive Coordinator – did a phenomenal job with the offense this season, while Richard Smith – Falcons Defensive Coordinator – has worked miracles with his unit. Remember he had 4 rookies starting as well (linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, safety Keanu Neal and cornerback Brian Poole).
Anyway, enough of the regular season babble, let’s get right to it…
We wanted a shootout and what did we get? Well, it wasn’t really a shootout but arguably the best Super Bowl ever. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that the whole NFL community worldwide is still in awe at what happened.
As expected, the Falcons came out firing on all cylinders. Ryan was playing with robotic precision under the safety that his defense could match the power that the offense was delivering. The defense didn’t disappoint. They flattened Tom Brady several times in the first quarter. His receivers were playing like 3rd stringers and LeGarrette Blount decided that he’d rather not hang on to the football at the start of the 2nd quarter. This prevented the Patriots from notching the first points of the game. Julio Jones looked like himself early and often, demonstrating why he’s one of the NFL’s premier receivers.
The Falcons hit the Patriots with both barrels out of the gate. The air and ground game worked in tandem to dismantle the Patriots confidence as quickly as possible. Before we knew it, the Falcons were up 14-0 and well on their way to earning their first Lombardi.
Brady looked rattled and the Pats were imploding before the eyes of the nation. Falcons fans weren’t the only one’s who thought they had it sealed. Towards the end of the second quarter, after Tom Brady launched that pass right into the arms of Falcons Cornerback Robert Alford, I sat in my armchair and called it. The Patriots were done. A pick 6 for a team on the wrong end of a blowout is the final nail in the coffin. ‘A’ for effort on the tackle attempt though Tommy. At least you tried.
The score was now 21-0 in favour of the Falcons and the game was about to roll into halftime. The Falcons would get the ball back to start the second half which meant the Pats defense would be on it’s heels trying to prevent the night from getting any worse. New England were still playing as if Belichick had gone home at half time to cry. Julian Edelman tried his best to inject some life into the offense with a 45-yard punt return, only to drop a crucial 3rd and 12 pass and send New England’s offense back to the sidelines. Like a cat playing with a dead mouse, Ryan wasn’t done tormenting the Pats. Ryan marched his team down the field and capped it off with a 7-yard screen pass to Running Back Tevin Coleman for a touchdown.
At this point, the Pats had a 0.3% chance of winning the game. A comeback was as close to impossible as a guy with no political experience being made president of the USA… The biggest deficit in Super Bowl history was 10 points. and the Pats were down by 25. The world collectively agreed the Patriots were done. I refuse to believe that there were any Patriots fans anywhere declaring that they’d come back and steal the game. The patriots managed the punch in an eventual touchdown but it seemed about as effective as putting make-up on a bulldog. You’re not fooling anybody. Especially when Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski clanged the extra point off of the right upright. The Patriots were done.
After getting sacked twice on the following drive and leaving with just a field goal, I’m pretty sure this is when Tom Brady snapped. He’d had enough and decided that losing wasn’t an option. He wouldn’t let the image of Roger Goodell handing him that trophy slip away (remember when Goodell thought a four game suspension would keep the Pats from making the post-season?).
The score was now 28-12. With 8:28 to go in the 4th, everybody thought that the Falcons would run the ball and kill the clock, but with the security of a big lead, why bother? Ryan dropped back to pass only to get crushed by Patriots Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who came screaming round the outside, faster than electricity, unblocked. Ryan subsequently fumbled the ball and New England recovered it. These are the opportunities you don’t give to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Brady fired a dart to wideout Danny Amendola for the 9-yard score. This time Gostowski didn’t botch the extra point because he didn’t have a chance. 2-point conversions were the only way to get the Patriots back in the game. With a touch of trickery that looked like a high-snap, James White took the snap directly and punched in the conversion.
Just like that, the Patriots were one score (with another 2-point conversion) away from tying the game and sending the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time ever. All the Falcons had to do to seal the game was kick a field goal. This would take away any chance of the Pats tying the game. Matt Ryan and Kyle Shanahan dialed up a check-down pass play of 45-yards, putting them in the Patriots half. Two plays later, after the pocket broke down and forced Ryan to scramble and throw on the run, Julio Jones pulled in a 25-yard pass in spectacular fashion, tapping both feet in and setting up the Falcons at the Patriots 22-yard line, ready for the go-ahead field goal. The Patriots were done.
However, for reasons I can’t quite work out, Mike Shanahan decided to play chicken with the Patriots… and got hit by a train. The Patriots ended up sacking Ryan on their next possession after Jones’ catch, pushing them back to the Patriots 35-yard line. Still in field goal range though, the Falcons persisted with an unrelenting aerial attack to etch closer for an easier field goal. The football gods punished this arrogance (or rather Jake Matthews did) by drawing a holding penalty, punishable by a loss of 10 yards. We’re now at the Patriots 45 staring at 3rd down and 33 and out of field goal range. In short, the 3rd down conversion didn’t happen so the Falcons had to punt it away. The Patriots were not done.
With nerves of ice and surgeon-like precision, Brady went on a rampage all the way from his own 9-yard line. Then, at the Falcons 41-yard line on 1st and 10 with 2:23 remaining, came ‘the shoe catch’. New England finally got their miracle catch in a Super Bowl after all the years that luck tormented them for worse. Words can’t describe the catch so I’ve linked the image below to a video of it. David Tyree and Giants fans will know the feeling…
This was it. Brady carved up the Falcons defense like it was Thanksgiving. The Falcons decided they weren’t done torching their own Super Bowl dreams when De’Vondre Campbell drew a pass interference call on Martellus Bennett in the end-zone. This set up the go-ahead touchdown run for James White.
The Patriots needed another 2-point conversion to tie the game. With 0:57 seconds left in the game, Brady swings a pass out to Amendola. In true ‘last-minute, game on the line’ style, Amendola’s conversion was millimetric, but it was still a conversion. This game was going to overtime for the first time in history.
28-28 tie game.
Now, controversially, the overtime rules are as follows:
Matthew Slater – Patriots Special Teams Captain – called heads on the coin flip. The coin bounced off the turf landing with heads facing up and the Patriots elected to receive the ball to start overtime. Remember, a touchdown wins the game. I know it’s not fair that the Falcons didn’t get to touch the ball but don’t blame this on the rules. The Falcons should have put this game away well before overtime was even a possibility.
From this point everybody knew that Brady was walking away with a ring. Brady and the Pats tortured the Falcons yet again, marching straight down the field and right up to the end-zone. Falcons fans were hoping for a Malcom Bultler style save on the 3-yard line as Brady floated a pass to Tight End Martellus Bennett. Pete Carroll was probably sitting at home thinking “Game on the line from the 3-yard line and you’re going to run it? How preposterous“. Sorry Seahawks fans. On 2nd and goal from the 3-yard line, New England opted to show Carroll and the ‘Hawks how it’s done. James White took the ball and bulldozed his way into the end-zone. He had just immortalised the Falcons in the Super Bowl history books as the team that let a 25 point lead and 99.7% chance of winning slip through their fingers.
28-34 Patriots (final).
Confetti and Patriots players littered the field as everyone’s head in Boston and the surrounding areas exploded. The Patriots did the impossible.
The game was over, and what a game it was. Congratulations to Billy, Tommy and the Patriots. Commiserations to the Falcons and Arthur Blank. The look on his face watching Brady tear his dreams apart on national television was devastating. Brady will go down in history as the greatest Quaterback of all time and he did it in the best Super Bowl ever. As a QB, Matt Ryan will get the blame for his team’s meltdown, but don’t put the Falcons collapse on him. He was on point, completing 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards. He threw two touchdowns against zero picks for a QBR of 144.1. At half time Ryan had secured a perfect 158.3 QBR, the highest of any Quarterback in the Super Bowl ever. Falcons fans won’t care though. A ring and a street parade would of been better.
So here’s to next season’s hijinks football fans.