The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons have two different approaches to game day preparation. The Patriots want to focus on strength and stamina. The Falcons prefer quickness and freshness. The Patriots wore pads at practice leading into the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. The Falcons avoided pads for the last couple months of the season.
“We feel fresher going into the games,” Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox explained via ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “What works for them might not work for us. We've been relatively healthy. Some people believe that putting the pads on is mental toughness, but at the end of the day, your team might need to be mentally tough while our team might need to be physically fresh. It's just what you believe in; there's no right or wrong answer. I've seen both sides of it, and they both work.”
Well, the Falcons were woefully unprepared for the Patriots offense to run 99 snaps (including six negated by penalty) as the Patriots tired out the Falcons defense.
The Falcons defense didn't manage a single pressure on Tom Brady's last 15 dropbacks of the game. Completely gassed #SB51— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) February 6, 2017
Brady's time to throw speed up plays its part in Falcons' pressure% by quarter:— Ben Stockwell (@PFF_Ben) February 6, 2017
“Well, I think for sure we ran out of gas,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said after the game.
The Falcons slowly generated less and less pressure as the game wore on and that allowed Patriots QB Tom Brady to mount the greatest comeback in NFL history. The New England players knew that all of their hard work in the weight room would eventually pay off during the longer-than-a-usual-game Super Bowl spectacular.
“We were running a hill last week, and I was like, ‘Who runs the hill in week 23?’,” Patriots TE Martellus Bennett said after the game. “Guys were tired, but guys got out there and they ran full speed up the hill. We have just been a team that works, a team full of workers.”
“We have these stupid hills in Foxbourogh that we have to run, literally until we can’t,” Patriots WR Julian Edelman echoed. “We all bitch and complain about it. Sorry I said that but hey, we do it. We put in the work and the conditioning. We were able to do that.”
“We paid a serious price to get to this point,” ST Matthew Slater agreed. “We put in a lot of work. We are practicing in pads on Super Bowl week. We are squatting 80 percent of our maxes on Super Bowl week. We worked for this. Our bodies were ready and our minds were ready, and we just kept believing in one another.”
The Patriots eventually ground down the Falcons defense, which resorted to rotating in lesser players due to sheer exhaustion, and outgained the Falcons 276 yards to 69 yards over the fourth quarter and overtime.
“With this group of guys, I don’t think you could be prouder of just a mentally tough unit,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “I think just going into halftime and the attitude at halftime, they knew it was going to be two different games – it was going to be a first-half game and a second-half game. They just stayed the course.”
While the Patriots have a trademark on Do Your Job, the idea of Trust The Process belongs to a different sports franchise. The Patriots players trusted in themselves and in all of the hard work they put in over the course of 2016 and it ultimately paid off with a victory in one of the most memorable Super Bowls of all time.