A Super Bowl LI Pre and Postgame Review
Tom Brady? Again? Really?! Yes, the 6’4” “Greek God” was back in his record seventh Super Bowl appearance this past Sunday, February 5, along with the 5’11” head coach, Bill Belichick. Brady and Belichick hold the record for the most Super Bowl appearances by a player or a head coach (this is also Belichick’s seventh). The dynamic duo is 4-2 in Super Bowls, with wins over the Rams in 2002, the Carolina Panthers in 2004, the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005, and most recently the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. Brady was coming off his record 11th AFC (American Football Conference) championship game. Now, I could go on and on about Tom Brady’s resumé and his playoff dominance. But I won’t, so instead I will provide you with this picture (courtesy of NFL on ESPN) that shows Brady’s uncanny playoff career:
The Patriots were 14-2 in the regular season, beat the number one defense in the NFL, the Houston Texans, in the divisional round, and then beat the high-powered offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship. But, if you’re still not amazed by Tom Brady, watch this. You’re welcome.
Representing the NFC (National Football Conference) were the Atlanta Falcons. If you don’t follow football, you may have never heard of the Falcons. The Falcons organization has been carried into the spotlight and into consistent success through drafting superstars like Deion Sanders, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, and Julio Jones. The Falcons have been carried by their offense this year, lead by quarterback and MVP candidate Matt Ryan. The Falcons took the next step during the offseason with the signing of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. He has helped lead the Falcons to the NFL’s number one scoring offense, which averaged 33.8 points per game in the regular season. The 11-5 Falcons earned a first round bye, beat the Seattle Seahawks, and conquered the red-hot Green Bay Packers to punch their ticket to the big game.
This year’s 51st Super Bowl was played in Houston, Texas. The game started promptly at 6:30 p.m on Fox Network and was announced by Joe Buck and NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman. The National Anthem was sung by country music artist Luke Bryan, and during halftime Lady Gaga was doing her best to steal the show. The New England Patriots were favored by three points before kickoff. The point spread was set at 58.5, and the chances the coin toss would be heads were 50/50. I had my money on tails.
My prediction on Sunday was that the game would be high scoring. The Patriots defense had allowed the least amount of points per game this year (15.9), which made their matchup with Atlanta’s offense intriguing. I felt New England wouldn’t be able to stop Ryan and Co., forcing the Patriots to put points on the board. My bold prediction for the game beforehand was that Matt Ryan would turn the ball over twice on Sunday, and one coming on a crucial drive late in the fourth quarter.
My final score prediction: New England 35, Atlanta 31. This would solidify Brady’s place as the greatest quarterback of all time, and with five Super Bowl rings, tying Charles Haley (JMU ‘85) for the most Super Bowl wins by a player. Collegiate kicker and recent William & Mary signee Jake Johnston (‘17), gave me his take on this year’s Super Bowl before the game on Sunday: “I actually love the Falcons this year. I think it’s gonna be a close game but I think the Falcons will come through because [Atlanta head coach] Dan Quinn brings the defensive edge and experience after being defensive coordinator for the Seahawks in past Super Bowls. I also don’t think the Patriots have enough experience in close games this year. Atlanta 45 New England 34.” Looks like Jake’s kicking skills are stronger than his football predictions, though.
If you tuned into Sunday night’s game, it is very possible that you, along with the other 113.7 million viewers, witnessed the greatest Super Bowl in history. The Patriots’ victory doesn’t settle, but at least calms debates about Brady being the greatest quarterback of all time, and Belichick being the greatest coach of all time.
Before we dive into a synopsis of the game, I must address the NFL award ceremony results. Atlanta’s Ryan won the NFL MVP award, ahead of Brady, who finished second in voting. In past Super Bowls, when the players who finish one and two in MVP voting match up, second place is 3-0. This Super Bowl had everything in place to be a shootout, yet the first quarter ended 0-0. Coming into the second quarter, I was afraid my above predictions were going to look like a complete joke. However, the game started to take off. Atlanta scored two quick second quarter touchdowns, one off of a New England fumble. The Patriots responded with a drive deep into Atlanta’s territory, only to have Brady throw a pick-six (an interception returned for a touchdown). As the first half came to a close, Atlanta took a commanding 21-3 lead. As the third quarter commenced, I hoped for a closer game. Atlanta refused to listen to me as running back Tevin Coleman caught a five yard pass to make the score 28-3.
I had hyped up Brady before this game, and I did it for a reason: he is the greatest quarterback to ever play football. The man is a fierce competitor and refused to be embarrassed on the grandest stage of them all. Atlanta didn’t score again after Coleman’s touchdown. The Patriots proceeded to answer the Falcons’ touchdown and scored their first touchdown of the game to conclude the third quarter, but failed to convert the extra point.
After a field goal, New England saw themselves down 12-28, and they needed two touchdowns and two two-point conversions to tie. With just over five minutes left in the game, Brady lead his offense to do exactly that. Wide receiver Julian Edelman gave the Patriots hope and even more momentum by pulling off what seems like the favorite for the greatest Super Bowl Catch of all time. Running back James White ended up tying the game with 57 seconds left for his second touchdown of the day. This forced the first overtime in Super Bowl history. The Patriots won the toss, chose to receive, and marched down the field to see White run in the game-winning touchdown. The Patriots had completed the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history (25 points), breaking their own previous record of 10 points. The final score was 34-28, only a few points off of my prediction (And yes, I was right about the coin toss landing on tails).
Brady was named MVP of the game by setting records for most passing yards (466), most passing attempts (62), and most completions (43) in a Super Bowl. Others, including me, felt White should have been the MVP of the game. New England’s running back totaled three touchdowns, including the game winner, a two point conversion, 29 rushing yards, 110 receiving yards, and a Super Bowl record 14 receptions. With Matt Ryan’s loss on Sunday, this marks the eighth consecutive time the MVP of the NFL has lost in the Super Bowl. And if it is worth anything, 12 of the last 13 teams who have won the Super Bowl have worn white jerseys.
The Patriots ended up scoring 31 unanswered points, all in the second half and in overtime, and erased a 19-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Was it the greatest comeback in NFL history, or the biggest choke in NFL history? It will certainly be debated for a while. No matter what anyone says, everyone who watched witnessed greatness and plenty of history being made. Brady and Belichick’s fifth Super Bowl, the comeback, the slip, the catch(es), overtime. There is no doubt in my mind that Super Bowl 51 will go down as one of the greatest Super Bowls the sports world has ever seen.