2017 Super Bowl Reactions

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Patriots Quarterback, Tom Brady, celebrates with the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LI on February 5, 2017.

With that, the 2016-2017 NFL season is in the books. The final game went down in history, breaking or tying a miraculous 31 records. Tom Brady almost certainly cemented his legacy as the greatest player of all time, as he earned his 5th Super Bowl title. Meanwhile, the Falcons come out on the losing end of the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. I’ll break down how it all happened.

In a game of many surprises, the first quarter showed just how well the teams had prepared. In what was supposed to be a shootout with scoring chances abound, the first 15 minutes ended without a point on the board. The Patriots were able to sustain drives, however, they failed to get into field goal range, or for that matter, hang on to the ball. During a promising drive to start the second quarter, running back Legarrette Blount was stripped by linebacker Deion Jones. Robert Alford scooped up the loose ball and took the wind out of New England’s sails. The Falcons took advantage by going 71 yards for the first touchdown of the game. Then, after the Falcons forced a quick 3-and-out, they scored again. Quarterback and MVP Matt Ryan went 3-3 for 61 yards and a touchdown pass to Austin Hooper on the drive.

It was obvious that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was feeling the pass rush. He was sacked 5 times, tied for the most he’s ever taken since 2001. With no time to scan the field, it was nearly impossible for the Patriots to get in rhythm. Just as I had said, the pass rush and man-to-man defense was working perfectly… maybe too perfectly. When the Patriots got the ball back down 14-0, Brady drove his men inside Falcons territory for the third time in the game. Then, as the pocket collapsed he tried to force a pass to Danny Amendola, and Falcon cornerback Robert Alford jumped on it. He returned the interception 82 yards for the score, evading a diving Brady along the way.

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Falcons cornerback, Robert Alford (left), returns an interception thrown by Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady (right), for a touchdown in Super Bowl LI on February 5, 2017.

As Brady looked up at the scoreboard in disbelief, he found that New England trailed 21-0 with just a few minutes left in the first half. While the Falcons steamrolled, it seemed as though the Patriots would suffer another crushing Super Bowl defeat. However, they were able to salvage a field goal just before Lady Gaga performed at halftime. It was up to head coach Bill Belichick to rally his boys and adjust the game plan, and it’s fair to say he did.

While the Patriots continued to shut down the Falcons #1 threat Julio Jones by holding him to just 4 receptions, they needed to find answers elsewhere. The scoring began again midway through the 3rd quarter when the Falcons drove 85 yards for another touchdown, this time by Tevin Coleman. A deflated Patriots team had to pick themselves up and try to overcome a 25-point deficient (sorry for the pun). Finally, they did in fact find the end zone, as they put together the longest drive of the game. James White’s 6-yard TD reception gave life to New England despite Stephen Gostkowski missing the extra point.

Still up by 3 possessions, the Falcons played conservatively. Chewing up a little bit of clock and not taking as many risks as they did in the first half. While this makes sense… and hindsight is 20/20… this is the Super Bowl. The Patriots finally got a little momentum and the Falcons were keen on just trying to hang on to their huge lead. Had things not gone as they would, of course, we wouldn’t now be questioning these decisions. But as anyone who has played the Patriots knows, you never want them to believe they can come back.

After a Falcon 3-and-out, Gostkowski was able to redeem himself with a field goal. The ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback, placing the ball at the 25-yard line, and two plays later Matt Ryan was strip-sacked. The Patriots easily found the end zone again, and James White ran in for a 2-point conversion. Suddenly, with 6 minutes to go, the Patriots were down by just a single possession.

 

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There is no doubt the Falcons could feel the game slipping away from them. On their next drive, they tried to commit to keeping ball control. But after just 6 plays, they were punting again. The Pats got the ball at their own 9-yard line with plenty of time. As for much of the second half, Brady was quick and deliberate with his throws. The Atlanta pressure never had enough time to get to Brady, and he was hitting his marks. He completed one throw after another as they marched down the field.

Then in a twist of irony, he lobbed a pass deep intended for a triple-covered Julian Edelman. In a “David Tyree Redux” Edelman bobbled the ball off a defenders leg and got his hands to stick to it while trapped amongst the converging defensive backs. The irony, of course, is that the Tyree Play is what cost the Patriots their Super Bowl victory against the Giants in 2008. So, as the drive continued, the experienced Brady stayed clutch. Long known for his last-minute game-winning drives, he put New England inside the 5-yard line and allowed James White to rush in for his 14th point of the game. Brady found Amendola at the goal line to score the 2-point conversion, and the comeback was complete.

For the first time in Super Bowl history, more than 60 minutes was needed to crown a champion… overtime. The Patriots won the pivotal coin toss and elected to get the ball first. Wasting no time, the Patriots played fast and mixed up their play calling effectively. The Falcons never got a chance to blitz because Brady was so fast at delivering the ball to his targets or handing it off. He spread the field with screen passes to stretch the defense, and there was no way Atlanta could send the house to stop him. With everyone at Brady’s mercy, he took control.

Seven plays and 73 yards later, it was second and goal at the Falcons’ 2-yard line. Brady took the snap and pitched it to James White. He was hit behind the line of scrimmage, but would not be denied, spinning and fighting his way toward the goal line. With one final stretch, the Patriots were World Champions. Their 34-28 OT victory is their largest margin to win the Super Bowl in franchise history, and they never led for a second of actual game time. That is, the first time they took the lead was the walk-off game-winning touchdown.

There’s a lot to say about all the preparation Atlanta put in to this game, but unfortunately they showed their cards too early. As I had warned, while constantly blitzing every play was effective, it tipped off the New England coaching staff to make adjustments. When Brady started firing darts before the pressure could get to him, Atlanta was forced to drop back in coverage. This gave Brady an even bigger advantage, and the wheels came off.

With New England gaining momentum with every play, the Falcons played conservative. In other words, they played “not to lose.” I don’t know about you, but if you ask me, that is no way to win the biggest game of the year. I understand that they felt comfortable with a 25-point lead, and rightfully so. But the Patriots never quit, and there is no doubt they earned their 5th Lombardi Trophy. After watching this historic comeback, it’s very hard not to call Tom Brady the G.O.A.T. after he led his team from the deepest valley to the highest of mountains.

In a year of sports comebacks (Warriors and Indians blowing 3-1 leads in their respective finals), this blown lead fits perfectly. While you must commend the Patriots for their fortitude and perseverance, you can’t help but feel sorry for the bitter pill the Falcons must swallow this offseason. Luckily, as they open up the doors to a brand new state-of-the-art facility, they’ll have plenty of hunger to make it back to the final game.

Congratulations to the New England Patriots… Super Bowl LI Champions.

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2017 Super Bowl Prediction

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Super Bowl LI is finally here! The highly anticipated matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots promises to go down in history. Regularly rated as the most-watched television event in U.S. history, the big game will feature two high-octane offenses battling with young, athletic defenses. The world will see which of the two perennial MVP candidates, quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, will receive that award on Saturday night. However, you can bet they’re looking forward to a much more coveted prize on Sunday. Let’s take a look at what each team needs to do to hoist the prestigious Lombardi Trophy.

The Falcons are looking to give Atlanta its second national championship. So far, the Atlanta Braves’ 1995 World Series victory stands alone in the Atlanta championship trophy case. But coaches Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan have an excellent chance to vanquish their opponents this weekend and open up the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season with a championship banner.

Their plan shouldn’t deviate from the success they’ve had so far, albeit with a few tweaks. First, it goes without saying, but they have to stay hot on offense. A two-week lull always calls in to question whether or not a team can keep momentum like the Falcons have had. However, they’ve already proven that extra time to prepare is not a problem when they rolled over the Packers in the Divisional Round. That was also after 2 weeks off earlier this postseason. In fact, the time off could help heal any injuries and make sure everyone is 100% healthy for the last game of the season. In particular, receiver Julio Jones has been dealing with a small toe injury, and he has enjoyed the time to heal and mentally prepare for the Patriots’ defense. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense haven’t taken much of a day off either.

The Falcons have shown the importance of being prepared for their opponents, and the results speak for themselves. It’s especially important to consider that the Patriots are the best in the business at formulating specific game plans to exploit opponents’ weaknesses. Assuming this game comes down to the final drive, whichever team can prepare most effectively will know what to do in crunch time.

Speaking of crunch time, keeping calm in the larger-than-life environment will be crucial for Atlanta. This is brand new territory for all but 4 players on the Falcons roster. They must try to play like it’s any other game, and run through their normal progressions. Getting caught up in the hype can only lead to disaster, and they’re already a step behind New England in that aspect. I have no doubt that the Falcons are ready to do just this, as it’s been business as usual in the practice facilities.

While Atlanta’s #1 offense should continue to put up points, so can Tom Brady. If only there was a way to stop him… Oh wait! There is! Pressure. I cannot stress this enough. While it probably won’t be the sole factor in determining the victor, it can go a long way to bettering the Falcons’ chances. The defensive line must put pressure on Brady. I’ve already discussed this matter a few times when the Steelers had their chance to knock New England out of the playoffs, but the Patriots tend to struggle when the pocket collapses around Brady. I wouldn’t recommend blitzing every play, but the Falcons should be close; disguising a few blitzes or faking the rush can help just as much. It’s been a proven formula in all of the Patriots’ losses that Brady does not do well when he is blitzed.

Also, Atlanta better avoid playing zone defense. Brady loves to torch opponents by finding holes in zone coverage. Luckily, the Falcons defensive backs have the speed and stamina to hang with the Patriots quick receiving core. I would expect a lot of man-to-man, and any time the Falcons fail to recognize what makes the Patriots’ offense click is just putting themselves another step behind. However, I have full confidence in Quinn’s coaching staff to dissect every aspect of the AFC Champs.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-NRG Stadium Views

If there’s one thing the Patriots have going for them (and there’s more than that), it’s experience. Tom Brady alone has more Super Bowl appearances than the entire Falcons’ roster. The Falcons players have combined for 5 title chances, while Brady enters his 7th Super Bowl. This will also be New England’s 7th Super Bowl as Brady’s and head coach Bill Belichick’s dynasty lives on. Here is how they can add a 5th ring to their collection.

It starts with offense. The Patriots are used to being a juggernaut in the AFC, but they haven’t seen an opponent as explosive as the Falcons yet. In order to stay close, the Pats will need to keep pace with Atlanta. Any stop they can produce on defense would be icing, as they’re incredibly hard to come by.

Depending on the Falcons’ defensive scheme, Brady can still continue to pick apart the inexperienced secondary. He’s a veteran, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time. No matter what the Falcons do on defense, Brady will find success. I expect at least 3 touchdowns to a couple different receivers. Even if the Falcons show the worst, man-to-man and blitzes, Brady can rely on his arm to pinpoint the ball through even the tightest coverage. The main concern would be for receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan to avoid dropping passes. Mistakes like these in the past have resulted in multiple blown opportunities, so working on improving their hands over these past two weeks would have been time well spent. However their talent and speed is unquestioned, so never fail to underestimate anyone Brady is throwing to. In any case, it’s no doubt New England will score, but will they score enough?

Depending on whether or not the Falcons apply pressure to the pocket, the Pats may be limited on the scoreboard. The defense has a tall task ahead of them when trying to slow down Atlanta’s blazing offense. Belichick’s formula is well documented- take out the #1 man. Week in and week out, New England effectively eliminates the #1 offensive threat. This postseason, former opposition stars such as Deandre Hopkins, Le’veon Bell, and even Antonio Brown have all had subpar performances due to the extra focus from the Patriots. For the Super Bowl, the challenge will be tougher.

It’s fair to say Julio Jones is the guy to watch out for. He’s explosive and he can catch anything thrown to him within a 5-mile radius. He’ll still get his fair share of catches, but I expect Belichick to make sure his defense never lets Jones get too much open space. That said, quarterback Matt Ryan should be named MVP on Saturday night. This title will be well-earned, as he has put up astounding stats. He completes over 2/3 of his passes, and will eclipse 5,000 yards on Sunday. Not to mention, his 117.1 QBR leads the league this season. My point is, even if Jones is limited, Ryan will still complete passes to other options like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.

It gets even scarier when you mention the duo in the backfield. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have been a force for the Falcons all season. The Patriots defense has its hands full with so many speedy playmakers to cover. The secondary has the skills to match Jones, Sanu, and Gabriel, but because most of the defensive backs will be stuck in coverage, the linemen will need to hold their ground and stop the Falcons running backs from getting into space and coming up with big chunks of yards.

All and all, this will be an offensive show. The Falcons and Patriots are the #1 and #3 highest scoring offenses in the league respectively. Both defenses have a ton of pressure and will need to stay focused and use every ounce of energy they have to stay on their assignment. Again, the Falcons must, must, must bring the pressure on Brady while the DBs play man-to-man on the receivers. The proven formula to stop New England is pressure, period. Meanwhile, the Patriots should double-team Jones and try to neutralize his productiveness while the D-line limits the run game. It’ll be much easier to frustrate the inexperienced Falcons than vice versa. However, I don’t expect anyone to get flustered in the heat of the moment, and it may very well come down to whose game plan is better, and who can execute it more effectively. The common adage is appropriate for this one… defense wins championships.

Prediction: Falcons celebrate, they win 31 – 27.