What makes a truly great football game? Most would say explosive plays, edge-of-your-seat excitement, a comeback attempt, and sudden death overtime. Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons had literally all of these. I’m going to walk through the action and then break it down.
Not much happened in the first quarter. Both teams punted a few times and the defenses looked solid. The Falcons running game got moving a little bit, but neither team was able to score. The Patriots came out in the second quarter and started moving the chains, but turned over the ball and allowed the Falcons to run in for the first score of the game. Following a New England 3-and-out, the Falcons took over again and Matt Ryan threw his first ever Super Bowl touchdown. The Patriots were now down by 14, and started throwing the ball more. They started moving down the field, but then Tom Brady threw his first ever playoff pick-6 and the Falcons led 21-0. The Patriots got the ball back and scored a field goal before halftime.
At this point the game was starting to look like a blowout. While the Super Bowl is one of the world’s biggest sporting events, it’s usually not a very good game. To put it simply, good football teams don’t let the other team score and enjoyable games have lots of scoring. Last year the Broncos suffocated the Panthers. A few years ago the Seahawks smothered the Broncos. Defenses win championships. Super Bowl 51 was beginning to look like another case of this. The Falcons defense had faltered frequently throughout the season, but had finally found its rhythm. They kept the pressure on Brady, sacking him multiple times, and didn’t give up many yards on the ground.
The start of the third quarter was more of the same, with the Patriots going 3-and-out and the Falcons responding with a touchdown. 28-3 is a pretty big deficit in any sport, and it was looking like the Patriots were going to choke.
New England’s head coach Bill Belichik is legendary for his game time adjustments, and general ability to build and run a game plan. The man’s brain is actually just a supercomputer specially tuned for football analysis. These adjustments range from assigning the blocking responsibilities differently to swapping out players entirely to get better matchups. When the Patriots are ahead, Bill likes to tweak things here and there to keep the pressure up, but when they are down he throws every idea he has onto the field.
So yeah, the Patriots started pulling out all the stops to get something going. They played a slightly more conservative game and put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands more. The last few drives of the game prove that you can’t EVER count out Touchdown Tom.
Brady started sending the ball to his favourite receivers, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, more often and it paid off. The Patriots scored a touchdown but missed the extra point to round out the third quarter and a kicked a field goal shortly after that.
The Patriots kept going with ten minutes left in the game and down by two scores. They stifled the Falcons offense, having finally figured out how to shut down Ryan and company. Patriot running back James White went to work on the ground and found the end zone. Julian Edelman made probably the greatest catch in Super Bowl history for a much needed first down, which led to another touchdown. With one minute left the Patriots had pulled off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Overtime was a historic event. No NFL Championship Game has gone to OT since 1958, and that was prior to the Super Bowl era. It was over fairly quickly though: the Patriots won the coin toss and marched the ball down the field for a touchdown.
Records were shattered throughout the game. The Patriots won without ever leading in score. James White had the most receptions ever in a Super Bowl. Tom Brady beat pretty much ever quarterback related record that there is, and made a serious case for being the best quarterback to ever play the game. That’s the reason behind all the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) memes online right now.
For real though, it was a great game. I was the only one of my friends cheering for the Falcons, which was kind of a bummer. My uncle has been a die-hard Falcons fan for my whole life, and I have no special attachment to the Patriots (outside of Madden, where they’re just so good). If you remember back to my article from last issue, I’m now 0-4 picking the Super Bowl Champ in the last 4 years. I’ll get it eventually…