For The Record – Joe Kazmar
Super Bowl LI very well could have been what the National Football League was in desperate need of—a super-exciting game that set many Super Bowl records.
After wallowing through a tough season marred by non-competitive games, declining ratings, terrible officiating and awkward national anthem protests, Sunday night’s game may have righted an NFL ship that was appeared to be slowly sinking.
Once again the combination of quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick turned the game around mid-way in the second half, transforming New England’s 28-3 third-period deficit into and astounding 34-28 Patriots overtime victory over the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons.
Great offensive plays and brilliant defensive alterations weren’t the only factors that led to New England’s record-setting comeback. Several Atlanta errors and bad plays also entered into the equation. It definitely was a case of two lop-sided halves in one game.
Atlanta completely dominated the first half as Matt Ryan, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player of the 2016 season, played flawlessly and accumulated a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.
Early in the third quarter, the Falcons scored another touchdown, increasing their lead to 28-3. And then, it was as if Popeye had given each Patriots player a can of his spinach, they came roaring back from that 25-point deficit to score 31 unanswered points.
According to an article in Monday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle, “In the first half, the Patriots seemed discombobulated and confused offensively. They dropped passes. Brady overthrew open receivers. They committed two turnovers, including an 82-yard pick-six by cornerback Robert Alford.
“Brady was harassed by Atlanta pass rushers, including tackle Grady Jarrett who tied a Super Bowl record with three sacks,” the article pointed out.
However, the Patriots were an entirely different team after Lady Gaga’s halftime performance. On the second drive of the series, Brady marched them 75 yards on 13 plays, capped by a five-yard touchdown pass to running back James White which sparked the comeback. The Falcons never reached the end zone again.
A 33-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal made it 28-12. Ryan was sacked on the next series and fumbled at the Falcons 25. Five plays later Brady tossed a six-yard TD pass to Danny Amendola, followed by an important two-point conversion making the score 28-20.
The Falcons drove the ball into field goal range as the clock was winding down to the four-minute mark. A Matt Bryant field goal would make it a two-score game and probably lock up the Super Bowl for Atlanta.
But Ryan was sacked for a big loss and then a holding penalty occurred on the next play shoving the Falcons out of field goal range and forcing an Atlanta punt, putting the ball in Brady’s hands with 3:30 left in regulation.
Brady then came through with his finest and strongest drive of his 17-year career with the Pats.
“Ten plays, 91 yards in just 2:33. From New England’s 9 to Atlanta’s end zone and another two-point conversion with just 57 seconds left of regulation life. The only thing that waited was the inevitable,” the Chronicle article stated.
This was the first time in 51 years a Super Bowl game went into overtime, tied at 28-28. New England won the coin flip, elected to take the football and Brady made short work of the renewed life his team received.
Brady rolled off 75 yards in eight plays in OT, giving New England a 34-28 win and the Patriots fifth Lombardi Trophy, tying them with the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. The Pittsburgh Steelers still lead with six championship trophies.
Belichick is the first coach to have a Super Bowl ring for each finger on a hand while Brady tied Charles Haley for the most championships by one player, although Brady won all of his titles with one team.
New England is the only modern sports dynasty to win five Super Bowl championships with the same quarterback and coach, despite the strict confines of a hard salary cap.
Of the Patriots’ five Super Bowl victories, believe it or not Sunday’s six-point victory was their most lopsided. They won the first four by 3, 3, 3 and 4 points.
The last Super Bowl played at NRG Stadium in Houston also was won by New England 32-29 over Carolina on a field goal as time expired in 2004.
Hollywood couldn’t have written a script and better than reality did for Sunday’s game.
KWICKIES…It was really strange that the odds on Super Bowl LI didn’t change during the entire week. New England started off at the beginning of last week as a three-point favorite and it remained that way until Sunday night’s kickoff. The over-and-under dropped from 60 to 56½.
Hideki Matsuyama won the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the second year in a row. Sunday he had to go four extra holes before outlasting Webb Simpson by making a 10-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 17th hole, the same hole the 24-year-old Japanese finished off Rickie Fowler a year ago.
I’ll always remember Coach Leroy Breedlove and the stories he used to tell me about his days playing with Satchel Paige and Ernie Banks and the Kansas City Monarchs. Coach Breedlove, who touched so many lives here in Orange, died last week at the age of 86. He will be sorely missed.
JUST BETWEEN US…Fans who flocked to Houston for Super Bowl 51 needed to have a loaded wallet for the extravaganza. Parking tickets fluctuated wildly, with some lots offering spots for up to $200. The cheapest ticket on Stub-Hub two hours before the game was $3,195 for a seat in the upper corner of the stadium. Inside, fans could buy frozen margaritas for $18 and Bud Light for $14. Water was $6. And the NFL wonders why fan interest continues to dwindle.