Pats win, Falcons blow it
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I’m still shocked by what transpired Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston. After appearing completely dead for the better part of three quarters of football, the New England Patriots came back from a 25-point deficit to win 34-28 in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
New England broke many records in the game, aside from this being the first ever Super Bowl to go to overtime. Patriots running back James White now holds the record for most receptions in a Super Bowl (14) and quarterback Tom Brady now holds the passing yards (466), passing completions (43) and passing attempts (62).
While the Patriots and Brady (who now joins defensive end Charles Haley as the only people with five Super Bowl victories as players) played very well in the second half, the end result is tied to the failings of the Falcons. There are two plays that determined the fate of the Patriots and Falcons and they occurred with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
After driving from their own 10-yard line with a 39-yard run by running back Devonta Freeman and an amazing 27-yard catch along the side line by wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons were at New England’s 22-yard line. After a loss of a yard on their first down play, the Falcons could have run the ball twice more, then kick a field goal to be up 11 points with around three minutes left in the game. While the Patriots did score another touchdown on their next drive, there was less than a minute left when they scored: the game was practically over if this sequence of events played out this way.
The Falcons attempted to pass the ball on second down and quarterback (and NFL Most Valuable Player) Matt Ryan sacked and lost 12 yards. The Patriots called a timeout to keep as much clock as possible. The decision to go for a pass changed a 40-yard field goal attempt into a 52-yard attempt. Still within the range of kicker Matt Bryant, the Falcons could have taken a safe run up the middle on third down to force the Patriots to use another time-out and stay at a decent field goal range. Despite conventional wisdom, Ryan stepped back to pass yet again and completed a pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for nine yards. The play was then brought back 10 yards from the line of scrimmage by a holding penalty on offensive tackle Jake Matthews that also stopped the clock without New England needing to expend a timeout.
The Falcons were now at the 45-yard line and making a 62-yard field goal is not even close to probable for any kicker that isn’t benefiting from the thin air of Denver’s Mile High Stadium. In Houston, on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, not even the mighty Bryant could succeed. The Falcons had to punt and eventually lost the game because they didn’t run the ball.
This should sound familiar to Seattle Seahawks fans. The last time the Patriots reached the Super Bowl, they won after cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s second down pass to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette on the two-yard line.
The consensus from NFL analysts and fans alike was that the Seahawks should have given the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch, who had 102 rushing yards in the game. Apparently Seattle’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell thought otherwise and it cost Seattle their second straight Super Bowl win, just as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan cost the Falcons Super Bowl LI.