The Falcons initially had a great game plan for the Super Bowl and built up a 21-0 lead on a pair of TD drives plus a defensive TD. The Falcons were able to pressure Tom Brady with Ra’Shede Hageman, Dwight Freeney, and Grady Jarrett winning their match-ups. The Patriots needed something to not only stem the Falcons’ momentum, but also create momentum for their own team.
- Martellus Bennett hauls in tipped pass: This was Brady’s first pass after the pick six and the first of many 50-50 balls that went the Patriots way. Beasley managed to beat Marcus Cannon on a speed rush, the only time Beasley got to Brady in the game, and got to Brady at the time of the pass. Brady threw a wobbly duck in the air and it looked like it was about to be intercepted, until the ball was intercepted from the Falcons by Bennett. Not only did Bennett haul in the errant pass, he turned it into a first down gain and started the Patriots first FG drive.
- Danny Amendola converts 4th and 3: The Patriots at that point trailed 28-3 and on the previous play tried a double pass that fell incomplete. Needing a 4th down conversion at the most critical play of the game at that moment, Brady turned to a familiar number. Amendola lined up in the left slot, matched up against Brian Poole, who was playing 10 yards off the ball for some reason. Amendola takes advantage of that with a 10-yard out route and bodies off Poole at the stem of his route. Amendola is not only able to catch the pass, but escapes Poole’s tackle attempt and gains another 8 yards after the catch to push the ball to the ATL 35.
- The Clydesdale converts 3rd and 8: Later in the drive, the Patriots faced a 3rd and 8. The Falcons brought four, with TE stunts on both sides of the line. The Patriots were able to block three of the four rushers, but Jarrett was able to loop around Nate Solder and flush Brady off the spot. However, the Falcons also left a wide open scramble lane for Brady to exploit. The Falcons were playing man coverage behind that, which allowed Brady an easy path to converting the 3rd down while Brooks Reed could only watch. After a 12-yard gain, Brady slid down at the ATL 20. Some MLB players should take notes from this and how to slide.
- Patrick Chung denies Austin Hooper a catch: The play started off strong for the Patriots defense. After a first down run stuff, Jabaal Sheard was able to beat Ryan Schraeder with a speed rush and got to Matt Ryan. For whatever reason, Sheard was unable to bring down the Falcons QB, a problem that’s plagued him all season. As Hooper was coming around on a crossing route, no one picked him up over the middle, as Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, or someone else blew the coverage. As Ryan escaped the pressure, both Devonta Freeman and Hooper both were in the same area with Chung in position to defend either route. Ryan is able to hit Hooper between the numbers, but as the TE turned Chung was able to strip the ball before Hooper could get his 2nd foot down. It was a bang-bang play and the refs elected to rule it incomplete.
- Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy sack Matt Ryan to force a punt: The Falcons had a 3rd and 11 from the NE 42. The Patriots needed a stop to keep the Falcons out of field goal. After Chung saved the Patriots on the previous play, the Patriots elected to blitz Van Noy on a stunt. Van Noy lined up as a standing 3-tech and Trey Flowers at the nose. Flowers and Van Noy run a stunt as the latter looped around the center and right guard to get an unblocked path to Ryan. Ryan is unable to escape as Van Noy was right on top of him and Flowers was able to shed Andy Levitre’s block. While both players split the sack, Van Noy had Ryan wrapped up anyway but Flowers assisted him in putting Ryan to the ground. When the Patriots defense needed to pitch a shutout, they denied the Falcons a potential FG attempt to ice the game.
- Dont’a Hightower strip-sacks Matt Ryan: Hightower seems to have a knack for making Super Bowl saving plays for the Patriots, with the stop on Marshawn Lynch the play before Malcolm Butler’s famous interception and this one here. The Falcons had the right protection call, but for whatever reason, Freeman did not pick up a blitzing Hightower. On the other side of the play, Chris Long was able to bull-rush through Jake Matthews into Ryan’s face. Hightower quickly was able to close ground and got to Ryan as he was preparing to throw the ball to some unseen receiver. As Ryan’s arm went back, Hightower was able to lodge the ball loose. Alan Branch sees it and quickly jumps on top of the loose ball to secure a critical turnover.
- Malcolm Mitchell converts 3rd and 11: After the Hightower fumble, a sack and a short yardage pass put the Patriots in a 3rd and 11. With every possession crucial, someone needed to convert. Mitchell ran a 10-yard curl along the near sideline, driving the CB CJ Goodwin past the sticks and turning for the ball. Brady throws a low ball, which required Mitchell to dive to the ground to catch, but catches the ball past the yardage necessary to convert and keep the drive alive. While Mitchell didn’t make any spectacular plays, he made some big conversions.
- Trey Flowers sacks Matt Ryan: After a busted coverage and Julio Jones making Julio-esque catches, the Falcons were at the NE 22 and about to seal up the game with another score. Until the Patriots called 1-800-FLOWERS and he delivered a sack for the defense. Flowers went skinny in the A-gap between C Alex Mack and RG Chris Chester. At the same time, a blitzing Hightower beat Hooper on the edge to flush Ryan off the spot and right into the arms of Flowers. The combination of edge and interior pressure leaves no room for Ryan in the pocket and he tries to keep a dead play alive for some
- Chris Long forces a holding penalty to push the Falcons out of field goal range: While Flowers’ sack on the previous play made a chip shot a difficult attempt, the Falcons were still in field goal range. Once again Chris Long, who had a very underrated game since he didn’t wind up on the box score but made very important plays, beat Jake Matthews. With a potential sack pushing the Falcons out of FG range, Matthews resorted to trying to hold Long, although Long did get Ryan to the ground on the follow-through. The penalty pushed the Falcons to the NE 45 and an incomplete pass forced a punt.
- Brady finds Chris Hogan to start the game-winning drive: With a 3rd and 10 at their own 9 with just over 3 minutes left, the Patriots need a conversion in the worst way possible. The Falcons blitzed and played zone behind it. White does a good job of picking up Poole on the blitz and affording Brady the extra half-second he needed to find Chris Hogan. Hogan was running a 15-yard out from the slot. Brady is able to split the two defensive backs and hit Hogan waist high. Hogan wasn’t able to get out of bounds, which in hindsight wasn’t a bad thing as that meant more clock came off before the next play.
- Julian Edelman outdoes David Tyree: This was a case of a bad throw being bailed out by a tremendous catch by Edelman. Brady thought he could fit the ball between the two defenders, but Robert Alford jumped the ball looking for his 2nd interception of the night. Instead of catching it, Alford ends up batting the ball straight up in the air and Edelman somehow managed to keep the ball from ever touching the ground behind he secures it. Even though 3 Falcons were capable of making a play on the ball, the ball ends up in Edelman’s hands. For all the grief Edelman gets for dropping easy passes at times, he always finds a way to make the crucial catch when his team needs him most. It was at that moment I felt the Patriots were going to tie this thing because a potential game-choking INT turned into a jaw-dropping 23-yard gain. It feels awesome to finally get one the Patriots way after being victimized by it in their previous 3 Super Bowls.
- Patriots win the coin toss: At this point, the Patriots had erased a 25-point deficit and forced the first overtime in Super Bowl history. We all knew if the Patriots would get the ball first that they would not only get the ball, but end the game with a TD drive before Ryan ever got to possess the ball. For Matthew Slater, there was no wrong answer to the coin toss. Slater called heads and the coin landed on heads and the Patriots continued their onslaught on the Falcons with a memorable overtime drive that never had a single third down. James White ended the game with a 2-yard run as he somehow managed to drive through a tackle attempt by Ricardo Allen and stretch over the goal-line.
The Patriots were not only able to engineer the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history with great offense, the defense needed to step up. The defense did not allow a single point after the Falcons built up a 28-3 lead. When the Falcons threatened to add more points, the Patriots defense responded by pushing the Falcons out of field goal range. While the Falcons’ play-calling will be forever criticized on their last four offensive series, the Patriots simply made the big plays in the big moments. The Patriots pride themselves in being strong in situational football, which they put an absolute clinic on in the 4th quarter.
Unlikely heroes such as James White, Malcolm Mitchell, and Chris Long showed up to make big plays for the Patriots. White led the team in yards from scrimmage and set a record for points scored in a Super Bowl, Mitchell provided some big conversions in the second half, and Chris Long was efficient in rushing the passer all night. Sophomore defensive lineman Trey Flowers had a coming out party with 3 critical take-downs of Matt Ryan (2.5 sacks) and 5 QB hits including the final play for the Falcons in the game. Jon Gruden called Flowers the Patriots best defender back in December, two months later you can make that argument. While the Patriots needed some luck to pull it off, I believe that great teams make their own breaks, which the Patriots did. The Falcons gave the Patriots an inch and the Patriots came up and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.