By Brian Garland
The New England Patriots are on top of the world once again; this time, like every time before it, the Patriots had to make history. This year, it was a 25-point comeback: a 28-3 deficit in the second half, to 21-9, to 28-20, to 28-28 to force overtime, then 34-28 the final. That’s right, the Patriots scored 31 unanswered points in the second half.
Never before in Super Bowl history has a team recovered from a 14-point hole, never mind a 25-point hole. And never before has a Super Bowl game gone to overtime.
All that has changed.
Tom Brady hoisted his fifth Lombardi Trophy to become the winningest quarterback in the NFL’s storied history, all to the tune of thousands of Patriots fans in Houston all chanting his name.
Tom Brady secured his fourth Super Bowl MVP, also the most in history.
The game could not have been won without a miraculous catch from WR Julien Edelman at midfield with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. This was the drive that pushed the Patriots to the tie and forced overtime.
It was a catch that compared to the great playoff and Super Bowl catches in history and was arguably more important. Remember the name David Tyree in 2007? Think of this catch as its equal.
The drive for five reached its destination, removing any doubt that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in history and that Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in history.
The game started with a trade of blows until Atlanta struck first blood with a Devonta Freeman rushing touchdown early in the second quarter. Atlanta followed that up with a second touchdown, a 19-yard strike from QB Matt Ryan to TE Austin Hooper.
The Atlanta offensive line dominated the Patriots front seven in the first half, allowing for the high-powered Falcons’ offense to pass and rush with great success.
The momentum swing continued to sway in Atlanta’s favor after a Tom Brady pass was returned by Robert Alford for an 82-yard touchdown.
It’s unsure whether Lady Gaga placed a curse on the Atlanta Falcons, but their offensive production disappeared in the second half.
The Patriots defense was noticeably better on pass coverage, and while they did not stop Julio Jones, they bent but did not break.
Neither did the spirits of Tom Brady and his fearless army of 52. They were frustrated and disappointed at times, but they never gave up. Their second half comeback is professionalism personified.
It was a sports movie ending, only in real life. And you know what, you only see sports dynasties like these in sports movies.
From the Edelman catch to James White slipping into the end zone to win the game, it was textbook Patriots football.
On defense, the players were making the tackles they missed in the first half and covering Atlanta’s dangerous receivers with more pressure and tenacity. The defensive line still had a rough game, but they came together to bring down Matt Ryan when it was needed most. Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack to give New England the ball at a crucial moment is the greatest example of this.
On offense, the team was slow to start, and that’s being kind. The offensive line struggled, especially in the second quarter. Guard Shaq Mason was overmatched at times, but he and the rest of the unit tightened up when it mattered most.
The wide receivers, including Edelman and Chris Hogan, had a mysterious case of the drops that was eerily similar to the second Super Bowl loss to the Giants in 2011. James White was outstanding as a receiver, catching 14 passes for 110 yards, the biggest catch being his game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Tom Brady had a flat-out career-defining second half. His throws were absolutely on the money, and what we come to expect from the greatest in the game. He threw more than sixty times for 466 yards and three touchdowns. Brady has Super Bowls where he was not at his best, but this was not one of them.
I should say this again to make it clear: this was a tale of two halves. From top to bottom, the Patriots turned it around in the second half to climb back in the game. As a fan, it was one of the great nail-biters I’ve ever seen. I’m sure you agree.
There are many questions as to what the Patriots will do, between free agency and their backup quarterback, but for now, let’s soak this one in.
New England Patriots, Super Bowl LI Champions.