I have to admit, and there’s plenty of evidence of it on Twitter, I thought the New England Patriots were all done last night. Through a first half that saw so many uncharacteristic mistakes that listing them would make an entire post, and a third quarter that saw some signs of life but still had far too many miscues, there seemed to be no sign of hope for the boys from Foxborough.
I’m sorry that I doubted Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The Patriots, despite doing pretty much everything wrong for nearly three full quarters, took the Belichick mantra “Do your job” to the next level and overcame a 25 point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime and lay claim to their fifth Vince Lombardi trophy.
New England’s style of play over the last few seasons has generally been the same: stay close and then take advantage of the mistakes their opponents make to take control of the game. It’s a playbook everyone knows about, and for 40 minutes of game play last night it was the Falcons that played that game perfectly. And then suddenly they made a few huge errors of their own, and the Patriots pounced.
Despite playing man-to-man coverage in the secondary previously and keeping the Patriot offense in check, Atlanta switched to zone in the middle of the third quarter to help prevent the Patriots from making a quick strike to get back into the game. The little bit of extra space between his receivers and the defense was all Brady needed, and he marched his team slowly down the field culminating in a five yard TD pass to James White.
After a defensive stop by New England the Falcons stayed in zone defense and Brady again marched his team downfield, this time resulting in a Stephen Gostkowski 33 yard field goal to get the Patriots within two scores.
At this point the game was still Atlanta’s to lose, but another miscue cost them the ball when Dont’a Hightower was able to strip sack Falcons quarterback and regular season MVP Matt Ryan, giving the New England offense a short field. Five plays later is was a Brady six yard pass to Danny Amendola for a touchdown and a White two point run to get the Patriots within eight at 28-20.
And then the Falcons made a mistake that has been made several times in previous Super Bowls against the Patriots, and it probably cost Atlanta the game.
Like in Super Bowl XXXVI when St Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz seemed to forget he had Marshall Faulk available, and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll doing the same with Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl XLIX, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn did not put the ball into Devonta Freeman’s hands and instead decided to throw it.
All Atlanta needed was the clock running and a field goal and they would have been Super Bowl Champions. But the brain cramp by Quinn of deciding to throw the ball instead of playing it conservatively ultimately cost them the game. A holding penalty and a sack took Atlanta out of field goal range and they had to punt instead.
The rest was classic Tom Brady, and he carried his Patriots 91 yards in ten plays, the last being a one yard touchdown rush by White. You could almost hear the entirety of Patriots Nation scream when Amendola caught the Brady pass for the two point conversion and a tie game.
The key play on that game tying drive looks rather innocuous in the box score, reading simply “1-10, NE36 (2:28) Tom Brady pass to the middle to Julian Edelman for 23 yards to the ATL 41. Tackled by Keanu Neal.”. But anyone that watched the game knows what that catch was. I remember yelling “That’s a catch!” even before the officials signaled it good.
In regulation it was miscues that eventually lead to many of the game’s scoring plays, but in overtime it was once again Brady just willing him team down the field. The exhausted Falcons defense could do nothing to stop the charging Patriots offense, and when White broke the plane of the goal from two yards out the improbable comeback victory was reality.
We should be used to such things by now here in New England with the Patriots, Bruins, and Red Sox winning championships after huge deficits, but every time it happens I’m still in awe and experience it like it’s the first time it happened.
But of them all, this one is the best for me. Down 25 points at one point and playing, to be kind, very poorly, the Patriots never gave up despite the long odds. How bad their chances of winning were came down to one stat: entering last night teams beginning the fourth quarter of playoff games with at least a 19 point lead were 93-0.
Now it’s 93-1.