There is an old cliché that many sports contests are a game of two halves but for Super Bowl LI it really was. Well that and overtime.
Yes from a 0-0 after the first fifteen minutes of play, the game ended up in overtime as the Patriots battled and dazzled their way back into the game. Never in the previous fifty Super Bowl’s had overtime been needed, never before had a team pulled back a deficit as much as the Patriots did against the Falcons but there’s always a time when record books have to be rewritten and yesterday that just happened.
For two great offensive teams it wasn’t the most attractive of starts with both quarterbacks being sacked in the first passage of play. Both teams seemed to lack any real rhythm so it was little surprise they went into the first break with neither team having scored.
But the Falcons were having none of that once they were back on the field. Devonta Freeman was talked about as being a danger and he rushed in from five yards to score the first touchdown. That was converted and it was 7-0 to Atlanta.
But if it had been stalemate in the first, the second was all about the Falcons. After the Freeman touchdown, league MVP Matt Ryan picked out Austin Hooper for a 19 yard touchdown and took the score to 14-0.
But that wasn’t enough and nor was it the most spectacular part of the quarter, the Atlanta defence had more to show. Tom Brady was aiming a pass towards Amendola when Robert Alford came round and picked it out, running in (well strolling at the end) for an 82 yard touchdown.
For Patriots fans there was nowhere to hide. It wasn’t looking good. They managed to claw back three points ahead of half time to leave them facing a 3-21 deficit for the second half. Not impossible, but certainly not easy. Especially when the previous Super Bowl comeback record was a mere 10 points.
But if Atlanta had the run of it in the first half then the tides turned in the second. Atlanta did score again, another touchdown and pushed the margin out to 28-3 and suddenly around the world people were turning away from the game convinced the Patriots had imploded. Nothing like it, first James White came in for his first touchdown, quickly followed by another three points and it’s 28-12.
The Patriots still needed two more scores but they had run the clock down a lot on that first touchdown. They showed they could get them but would time be against them? One thing they did have in their favour though was Tom Brady, who had already won the Super Bowl four times previously with the Patriots. What could he do?
They created an Atlanta turnover, there was an immediate sack but then Brady found Amendola and this time no intercept but a six yard touchdown. White stepped up with the two point conversion. Suddenly they are eight points behind and there’s 5.56 remaining on the clock. Can they do this?
What followed next has been replayed over and over again. It was surely one of the best catches in Super Bowl history. It was 1st and 10 from New England’s 36 and Julian Edelman takes the catch. But not any catch. This one was fighting off three Atlanta defenders, going through the legs of one and still coming up with the ball without it touching the ground. With 57 seconds left, White found the end zone for a single yard touchdown and the two point conversion from Brady to Amendola levelled the ball game. It was overtime.
The Patriots only needed a Touchdown to win and they sealed it and with it their fifth Super Bowl with Brady crowned MVP as both he and the team broke any number of records.
For the Falcons the first Lombardi Trophy still eludes them and probably more painful than the loss was the way it happened, how they just were steamrolled in the third and fourth from being in the driving seat. “There’s nothing you can really say,” Matt Ryan said. “That’s a tough loss. Obviously very disappointed, very close to getting done what we wanted to get done, but it’s hard to find words tonight.”
Many things will be said about the Falcons and how devastating a loss that was and for the Patriots to show the drive and determination to never stop until the final whistle goes. But if the NFL were wondering how they could top Super Bowl 50, they had two teams providing end to end entertainment.