A collapse of epic proportions took place Sunday as Atlanta coughed up a 25-point lead and fell short of its first Super Bowl title.
The game once looked to be a blowout on Atlanta’s end as it looked to be excelling in all three phases. But it then turned out to be an instant classic as New England rallied for a 34-28 overtime victory.
In the first half, Atlanta was clicking on all three phases, and it looked to be the same story as the previous wins by sizable margins over Seattle and Green Bay. That stood true in the early stages of the second half, as well, as Atlanta’s offense drove down for a touchdown on its second possession for a 28-3 lead.
Then, it began to show that it was this group’s first Super Bowl, opposed to the seventh appearance for the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick tandem. Atlanta’s offensive execution fell apart, and the momentum fully shifted when Matt Ryan was strip sacked and New England took over in the Falcons’ territory help the Patriots pull off the largest rally in Super Bowl history.
Three who mattered
Ryan: Aside from the fumble on the sack, Atlanta’s quarterback and the NFL MVP had another solid night with 284 yards and two touchdowns.
Grady Jarrett: The Falcons’ second-year defensive tackle had one of the best nights of his career by putting a great deal of pressure on Brady. Jarrett tied the Super Bowl record for sacks in a game with three.
Brady: It looked as if Atlanta had done a good job with containing the veteran quarterback early on, as Brady was sacked on multiple occasions and looked off-kilter. But after halftime and facing a second-half deficit, Brady showed once again why he has won multiple MVP awards and Super Bowl championships. Brady finished with 466 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.
Patriots running back James White: Brady was surgical in his approach, completing passes to seven different receivers. The most reliable of those targets was White, who proved to be a nuisance out of the backfield. He set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions and totaled 110 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons held a 28-12 lead and on third-and-1, they decided to call a pass play, and Ryan fumbled in the process of being sacked. New England took over on Atlanta’s 25-yard line and eventually scored to make it a one-possession game. Atlanta failed to score on the following drive and Brady was able to drive his team down with 3:30 remaining to tie the game and give his team the first possession to win the game in overtime.
Falcons’ defense picked apart in second half: Atlanta’s defense looked to put the critics to sleep once again in the first half and show the further trend of improvement. Two forced turnovers and only three points allowed led many to believe a victory would be forthcoming. But in the second half, the undermanned and inexperienced secondary allowed 232 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Shanahan turns away from run game: From the first play it was evident that Atlanta would find success in the run game as Devonta Freeman found a crease on a toss sweep play for a 37-yard gain. That was en route to a total of 86 yards on the ground and a 21-3 halftime lead. But the second half was a stark contrast as Atlanta only totaled 18 yards. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan cited a change in defensive coverages as reason for the struggles, but Atlanta had multiple third-and-short situations in which it opted to pass rather than run. Those decisions proved costly, especially on the final drive when only a field goal was needed to ice the game.
Bosher frequently flips field: Falcons punter Matt Bosher had a significant impact in the loss as the defeat cannot be credited to poor special teams in any regard. The Patriots were forced to start their drives with poor field position on multiple occasions. On six punts, Bosher averaged 47 yards per punt and had a long of 56.
Falcons vastly outscored in second half: The statistic of the day could be the change in scoring margin. Once climbing the margin to 25 points, it looked to be nothing but a finished product for Atlanta. But after outscoring New England 21-3, the Patriots completely flipped it in the final half and overtime by outscoring the Falcons 31-7.
Alford’s pick provides temporary spark: It first looked like the Falcons would pull away right when the Patriots were given a prime opportunity to climb into position. On three consecutive third down opportunities, New England was stopped short but bailed out due to defensive holding penalties — one by Robert Alford and two by Brian Poole. Four plays after the final miscue, Alford returned a Brady interception for a touchdown to give Atlanta a 21-0 lead. While it resulted to be false hope for the fan base, Alford’s pick-six was the second-longest in Super Bowl history, only behind James Harrison’s 100-yard return in Super Bowl XLII.
They said it
Taylor Gabriel on fourth quarter collapse: “No (the Falcons didn’t lose confidence), because we were moving the ball pretty well all game. We just stalled on a few third downs and gave them a chance to get back in the game and they did. So just tip my hat off to that unit. As long as we stay as brothers and come back, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back next year.”
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn on defensive fatigue: “I think for sure that we ran out of gas some. I don’t know what the time of possession was, but I can tell you how hard these guys battled for it. We knew it was going to come down to the end for sure, and just at the end for them to have scores back-to-back, that was the difference for sure.”
Brady on the victory: “They’re all sweet. They’re all different and this was just an incredible team and I’m just happy to be a part of it. It’s just a great group of coaches and teammates and we overcame a lot of different things and it’s all worth it.”