The Greatest Comeback Ever was Aided by the Biggest Choke Ever

The Falcons puked all over themselves and the Patriots did exactly what you’d expect.

It felt like watching two completely different games. While the first quarter plodded along, each possession I was convinced that the Patriots were going to take the lead and never let it go.
Then the second quarter happened, and it was time to start drinking whiskey. The Falcons scored 21 points, 14 of which came off of turnovers. Blount’s fumble was frustrating because he was getting nowhere, but when Brady threw a pick-six, anger turned to absolute depression. Even after the halftime show, the Falcons added another touchdown.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the game turned. The Patriots scored 19 unanswered points, twice succeeding at two-point conversions  that were do-or-die. It was a legendary performance; Tom Brady very much earned his Super Bowl LI MVP honors, James White was absolutely clutch, and Julian Edelman channeled the demons of David Tyree to make one of the most insane catches ever in favor of the Patriots for a chance.
But for all of their greatness, I can’t escape the thought that the Falcons should have won this game. They had the ball at the New England 22 with 4:40 left, leading by eight. They inexplicably went away from the run after one play (a one-yard loss). Still well within field goal range, they proceeded to take a brutal sack and incur a holding penalty that cost them 23 yards, and quite possibly the game.
I still can’t fathom how Matt Ryan, Kyle Shanahan, and Dan Quinn all blew it so badly. There was absolutely no reason to risk pass plays that would use up less time on the clock and jeopardize such crucial field position. Perhaps fortunately for them, the bigger story is that Brady earned his record-setting fifth Super Bowl ring and assured his place as the greatest quarterback of all time, the Patriots mounted the greatest comeback ever in a Super Bowl, James White with his 14-catch (record-setting, on 16 targets, in addition to his 20 points), three touchdown (record-tying) game, and the joy of hearing the fans drown out the Commissioner’s voice with boos.
This is not meant to diminish the Patriots’ victory. The above positives about the team’s performance speak for themselves and stand well on their own merits. But it might not have been possible without incredible stupidity on the part of the Falcon’s offense. Rather, it’s an opportunity to reflect on one incredible truth.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are unique, generational figures in pro football, and I’m incredibly lucky to witness their greatness before my very eyes.
Other random thoughts on the game:
  • James White easily deserved to win Super Bowl LI MVP. His performance was unbelievable, and the difference between this season and last season is staggering. However, I still believe Brady deserved the MVP honors more. Despite the pick-six, he overcame his error on the biggest stage, and was solid in that crucial fourth quarter. At least he’s giving White the truck.
  • Questions are already arising about whether XLIX or LI is the better Super Bowl for Patriots fans. Given the gap between the 2004 and 2014 titles, which included one bad loss and one really bad loss, 2014 still feels a little sweeter. The nature of XLIX was very different, too, with the game being relatively close throughout. Most Patriots fans were horrified for the majority of LI, whereas it was only the time between Jermaine Kearse’s unreal sideline catch and Malcolm Butler’s pick where I felt those dark emotions.
  • Lady Gaga’s halftime show was solid. Jumping in from the ceiling was a great entrance, she played the songs that I would have wanted to hear from her, and the performance was light and fun. I wouldn’t have cared if she made a liberal political statement, but I was glad I didn’t have to find my firebrand conservative friends a safe space from another liberal celebrity.
  • Fox knows how to put on an underwhelming broadcast. The production was mediocre at best, and Joe Buck’s call at the end of the game really didn’t do the moment justice. I’m not sure any call could, but I’ll always remember Al Michaels yelling “Intercepted at the goal line by Malcolm Butler!” as disaster was averted in Super Bowl XLIX. Can NBC just call every Super Bowl going forward until Michaels and Collinsworth hang it up?
  • I’m glad Mark Wahlburg left early and missed the greatest comeback ever. He’s done some great performances in some of my favorite movies, but he’s said some really stupid things in real life (such as implying that he would have prevented his plane from hitting one of the Twin Towers on 9/11 if he had not canceled his flight). Given that he was repeatedly telling Brady that he was the best ever after Super Bowl XLIX, I found his lack of faith disturbing.
  • How are San Francisco 49ers fans feeling about their new head coach? If it’s anything other than terrified, I don’t believe you for a second.
  • Once again, Patriots fans have the right (and perhaps the prerogative) to be the most arrogant and insufferable fans in the NFL. No other team has embodied the concept of a sports dynasty the way the Patriots have since 2001, and it won’t last forever. I intend to enjoy every second of it.
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