Midway through the game, Super Bowl LI seemed to be just another blowout. Instead, it became the greatest comeback in NFL history and one of the best games NFL fans have ever seen. Presenting the cast of Super Bowl LI!
The Hero- Tom Brady
For the first half, Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense was shut down as the Falcons put them in a 21-3 hole. But in the last twenty minutes of regulation, Brady had a legendary performance. New England’s offense was so reliant on the passing attack that Brady amassed 43 completions on 62 attempts for a total of 466 yards, all Super Bowl records. On the game-tying and game-winning drives, Brady was nearly perfect. Though he didn’t score the winning touchdown, the Super Bowl MVP proved that he is the Greatest of All Time.
The Star– James White
Prior to Super Bowl LI, few football fans outside of New England had heard of Patriots running back James White. After all, White was buried behind LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis on New England’s depth chart and was utilized mainly as a receiver. When Blount’s fumble in the second quarter allowed Atlanta to take an early 7-0 lead, the Patriots turned to White’s receiving prowess to spur on the offense. Out of the backfield, White had a Super Bowl-record 14 receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown, but most importantly rushed for a touchdown at the end of regulation and later the first-ever walk off touchdown in Super Bowl history.
The Wise Old Man- Bill Belichick
Lady Gaga might have sung it, but Bill Belichick was the one with the poker face all game long. Aside from a couple muttered profanities, Belichick was composed and his experience showed with the play-calling (especially on the 2-point conversions) and clock management in the final quarter. Belichick’s team didn’t look like a Super Bowl team the first three quarters, but they pulled out all the stops when it mattered and made the Falcons’ coaches look like fools in comparison.
The Unsung Contributor- Malcolm Mitchell
When the Patriots needed to build momentum for their comeback, rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell made catch after catch while the more heralded Patriot receivers repeatedly dropped perfect passes. Mitchell’s impact on the stat sheet isn’t astonishing (6 catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns), but without Mitchell’s sure hands, the Patriots wouldn’t be Super Bowl champions.
The Goats– Matt Ryan, Kyle Shanahan, and Falcons’ D
Everything needed to go wrong for the Falcons for them to blow a 28-3 third quarter lead, and almost everything did go wrong. With such a titanic collapse, the blame is widespread, and deservedly slow. The Falcons’ defense surrendered 25 second-half points and would’ve ended the game if they’d stopped either of the Patriots’ two point conversions. Brady carved through the secondary and in overtime, Atlanta’s exhausted defense didn’t put up much of a fight against the Patriots. But most of the blame is centered on one offensive drive late in the fourth quarter when the Falcons seemed ready to finish the victory. Following a perfect throw from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan that was miraculously caught in bounds by receiver Julio Jones, Atlanta had the ball with 4:47 in regulation on New England’s 22-yard line. A score would give the Falcons a double-digit lead and almost definitely a victory. Instead of handing off to run out the clock and kick a field goal, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan called a pass. Ryan was sacked, and on the following play tackle Jake Matthews was called for holding. The Falcons were knocked out of field goal range and punted, allowing New England one last drive to tie the game.
The Valiant Losers– Julio Jones, Robert Alford, Grady Jarrett
The Falcons’ collapse wasted brilliant performances from players on both sides of the ball. Though he managed only four catches, Julio Jones was phenomenal and made incredible plays on each catch. His snag late in the fourth quarter should’ve ended the game. Cornerback Robert Alford helped Atlanta build its’ early lead with a fumble recovery and then an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown. Most surprisingly of all, defensive lineman Grady Jarrett racked up three sacks, the last two helping force a Patriot field goal.
The X-Factor- Momentum
For the first 40 minutes of regulation, the Falcons got all the breaks. Then, the momentum flipped to New England and the Patriots used it to fuel their epic comeback. Not to diminish from Julian Edelman, but his insane bobbling catch was just one of the fourth quarter and overtime plays that could go either way and just happened to go New England’s. Converting not one but two two-point conversions is unheard of, but the Patriots did it. The game also would’ve been significantly different had the Falcons won the overtime coin toss and received the ball first, instead of New England winning the toss and leading the game-winning touchdown drive.
Was this the Greatest Super Bowl Ever?
If any Super Bowl becomes a Hollywood movie, it would be this one. The 25-point comeback by New England was the largest by a huge margin, and the comeback seems even more impressive given the lack of time still on the clock when the Patriots started to strike. In my mind, Super Bowl LI ranks among the best, but behind two other classics- both in games that Tom Brady’s Patriots played in. Super Bowl XLIX, between the Patriots and Seahawks, was the best game I’ve ever seen, while Super Bowl XLII between the 18-0 Patriots and underdog Giants was monumental and iconic. In case you haven’t figured it out, Super Bowls with the Patriots are the best. With the dynasty-level dominance of the Patriots, don’t expect this Super Bowl to be the last.