Once again the Super Bowl delivered a thrilling contest, with New England taking the victory on the first drive of the game’s first ever period of overtime. It all went horribly wrong for Atlanta, and we thing that we know why.
Love them or hate them, a Super Bowl involving the New England Patriots is never dull, and Super Bowl LI was no exception as Tom Brady led them from a 28-3 deficit to a 34-28 victory as the game went into overtime for the first time in its history. In doing so the Patriots became the first team to come from a deficit of more than 10 points to win, Brady broke the record for all time passing yards in the game and running back James White the record for Super Bowl receptions and points scored.
What was surprising about this turnaround, though, was that it happened in just the way, and for just the reasons, that we predicted in our previews of the game. Whilst it would be nice to think that Bill Belichick was hanging on our every word, the thing that has to worry Dan Quinn (other than that his coaching staff clearly don’t read Uncle Sam!) is that his team fell for things that were so obvious that even we, in our small and humble way, could predict that they might happen.
We pointed out that, for all of the hype, the Atlanta defense wasn’t actually that great, especially in pass protection. We pointed out that Atlanta couldn’t afford to get overly aggressive and that they needed to tire out the bigger and older New England defenders, and that they needed to take away the pass options to the likes of White and Dion Lewis. These were exactly the reasons why the Falcons lost.
Nothing shows the tactical mess that Atlanta made of this game than their fateful final drive. Needing only a field goal to kill the game, they found themselves pushed back out of range by first a holding penalty on left tackle Jake Matthews and then a sack of Matt Ryan. Both of those came about because, when they just needed to rush the ball to gain a few extra yards, they went for the more aggressive option of a pass play. Heck, we even pointed out before the game just how good kicker Matt Bryant was from 50 yards or more, so why did the Falcons not just keep the ball on the ground with Devonta Freeman rather that looking to sling it downfield? That, we will probably never know.
What we do know, though, is that Atlanta ran only 46 plays in the course of the game. At one point their offense was off of the field for over an hour. Which meant that the Patriots’ defense was off it for the same amount of time. This left plenty of time for recuperation. With that in mind, it is no surprise that it was one of the biggest and oldest players on that defense, Chris Long, who bull-rushed Matthews into that holding penalty deep in the fourth quarter.
Conversely, of course, it also meant that the Falcons’ own defense were on the pitch for far longer – 93 plays, in fact. That’s a long time to keep playing with the sort of speed and intensity that they thrive upon, even with youth on their side. Grady Jarrett might have equalled the Super Bowl record with three sacks of Brady, but by the end this was a tired unit who were helpless as New England twice marched down the field to first level and then win the game.
Moreover, New England won the game by passing short. Even allowing for Julian Edelman‘s remarkable ankle catch, the game-tying drive featured four short passes, two of them to White, who picked an excellent time to get rid of his habit of dropping the ball. The overtime drive that won them the game featured just one deep shot, which fell incomplete but drew the pass interference penalty that allowed White to rush in for the winning score. Everything else was Brady dinking the ball over the offensive line and towards the touchline receiver, just as we said he would.
As we said, we’re not blowing our own trumpet here. We just think that if we knew it, Quinn and his team should’ve known it to. Amazingly, it’s the second time that New England have won a Lombardi Trophy because Quinn muffed things up at the end. Whilst we can’t hold him entirely to blame this time, the Falcons’ players can put this loss down to their coaches.