Wow. What a game. When the Falcons led 28-3, I don't think anyone realistically imagined the Patriots would be able to mount a comeback. They didn't even look like they belonged on the same field as Atlanta. New England averaged about four yards fewer per play than the Falcons by intermission, and it seemed as though Atlanta would win by multiple touchdowns.
But if anything was reinforced, it's that you can never count out Tom Brady - not even in a 28-3 second-half deficit.
Brady has also established himself as the greatest quarterback of all time. Many already believed that to be the case, but there's no doubt now. Remember the arguments people had whether Brady was better than Peyton Manning? Brady had already eclipsed Manning, and now he's passed Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting signal-caller in NFL history to ever win five Super Bowls. And the crazy thing is, he's not done. He plans on playing for five more years, so perhaps he'll be able to win a sixth.
As for this game, Brady generated a ridiculous 282 passing yards after halftime. The Falcons had no answer for him, and even though he needed 91 yards, as well as a two-point conversion to tie the contest, it didn't seem as though Atlanta would be able to force a stop. Sure enough, Brady sliced through Atlanta's exhausted defense with ease to tie game and force the first overtime in Super Bowl history. When the Patriots won the coin toss, the game was over. Brady went another 75 yards, and James White's diving touchdown clinched the victory.
Brady's all-time performance included the following stat line: 43-of-62, 466 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Brady struggled with pressure in the early going, taking numerous sacks, as he had trouble figuring out Atlanta's blitz packages. New England's offensive line, particularly Shaq Mason, had trouble blocking the Falcons. Grady Jarrett racked up three sacks, though two were because of great coverage. The pick, meanwhile, was taken back for a touchdown by Robert Alford, giving Atlanta a 21-0 lead. However, Brady, as he's wont to do, was able to make the appropriate adjustments at halftime to ignite the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Of course, the intrigue wasn't over after White scored. All eyes were on the trophy presentation, as many expected Roger Goodell to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Brady during the post-game ceremony. That never occurred, as Goodell talked to Robert Kraft for a second and then got the hell out of dodge. I'm sure Patriot fans were disappointed by that missed moment, but I think they'll be fine with seeing Brady claim his fifth Super Bowl trophy, especially considering the circumstances of which he was able to triumph.
White, as mentioned, scored the game-winning touchdown. It was actually the third score he had on the evening. White was a monster for the Patriots. Though he had just six carries for 29 yards, he was huge in the passing game, catching 14 passes for 110 receiving yards. White was the primary option in overtime, as Dion Lewis (6-27) suffered an injury at the end of regulation, while LeGarrette Blount (11-31) was largely ineffective, save for a 9-yard burst at one point. Blount lost a fumble deep in Atlanta territory to spark the Falcons in the first half, and he was also stuffed on the initial third down of the evening, though Deion Jones was mostly responsible for disrupting that play.
Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell all made huge catches in the fourth quarter and overtime, so they were all instrumental in New England's comeback. Save for White, Amendola led the Patriots in receptions with eight for 78 yards and a touchdown. Edelman was slightly better in yardage, but with three fewer receptions (5-87). Mitchell (6-70) also was key in the victory, while the same could be said of Hogan (4-57).
As for Martellus Bennett, he caught five balls for 62 yards, but his biggest play was drawing pass interference near the goal line in overtime. That set up White's game-winning touchdown two plays later, though Brady did throw a dangerous pass in between that was nearly intercepted by Vic Beasley, who really didn't do much otherwise.
The Falcons, meanwhile, established a 28-3 lead with three great offensive drives, highlighted by numerous, breath-taking Julio Jones receptions. On one instance, Jones impressively tapped his feet against the sideline, and at first glance, it appeared as though he only got one foot inbounds. Surely enough, instant replay showed that Jones was able to haul in the pass, which set up the Falcons in great field position.
What happened next was one of the two instances that ended up costing Atlanta the game, however. Instead of running the ball, which the Falcons had done well for most of the evening, Kyle Shanahan called for some passes, which proved to be ineffective. One resulted in a holding penalty, which knocked the Falcons out of field goal range. Had Atlanta run the ball and subsequently drilled a kick of about 40 yards, it would've knocked some time off the clock and set up a 31-20 advantage, which would've meant that the Patriots only had a few minutes to score twice. New England got its game-tying touchdown with 57 seconds remaining, so it would've needed to recover an onside kick to prevail.
The other instance that really hurt the Falcons was a Matt Ryan strip-sack in the second half. Atlanta had been so lucky recovering fumbles in its playoff run, securing all three versus the Packers and picking up Blount's loose ball earlier. The tide turned when Ryan coughed the ball up, setting up a New England touchdown. That really helped spark the Patriots' comeback.
Ryan posted a terrific stat line, going 17-of-23 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. He maintained a perfect quarterback rating for most of the game, but he'll always regret not having better ball security, as maintaining possession would've made it extremely difficult for the Patriots to mount a comeback.
Ryan may have won MVP if the Falcons prevailed, but I thought the award should have gone to Alex Mack had Atlanta held on to the lead. Mack played this contest with a broken leg, yet he still somehow performed on a very high level. He helped blast open big running lanes for the two backs, and he protected Ryan extremely well. It was absolutely ridiculous that NFL.com didn't have Mack listed as an option to win the award, but it ultimately didn't matter.
Speaking of the two backs, Devonta Freeman had some terrific bursts. He gained 75 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but he somehow had just five rushes in the second half. Shanahan has done a great job as the coordinator all year, but he really goofed by not giving Freeman many opportunities when he should've been bleeding the clock. Tevin Coleman (7-29), meanwhile, vultured a receiving touchdown away from Freeman.
I mentioned Jones earlier. He led the Falcons with four catches for 87 yards. It wasn't the most impressive stat line, but he made some ridiculous catches, and yet he did this with Belichick trying his best to take him out of the game.
Aside from Jones, Taylor Gabriel led the Falcons in receiving with three grabs for 76 yards. Mohamed Sanu (2-25) didn't do much, while rookie Austin Hooper (3-32) reeled in one of Ryan's two scores.
My apologies for posting this much later than usual. As I noted in my Live Super Bowl LI Blog, I'm in Houston for some media events/parties, so I had someone to meet up with following the game, and then I wanted to capture some of the night life in the wake of the Super Bowl victory. Charlie Campbell and I went to a bar packed with Patriot fans, who chanted "Brady! Brady! Brady!" whenever someone walked in with a Brady jersey. I'll have much more on this and everything else in Houston in the coming weeks. For now, check out the link to read my thoughts on the horrible ads and disappointing halftime show.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.