-By, Hammond Hearle
Going into the second half of Super Bowl LI, the optimistic certainty that Patriots fans began the game with was beginning to dissipate, to say the least. This year, both teams had something to prove. Atlanta has never won a Super Bowl and has had to rebuild their team since Quarterback Michael Vick was let go the year before Quarterback Matt Ryan joined the team from Boston College. On the other end of the spectrum is the Patriots. New England feels a need to prove “we still got it” after the Deflategate Scandal that plagued the last two seasons and for which Brady served a four game suspension in September. Personally, I had begun to take the Patriots’ presence in this landmark game for granted. The Patriots have been so good for so long that it has become a natural progression of the football season that the Patriots make an appearance in at least the playoff game and it definitely came as a shock that the patriots had only a field goal to show for the first half of the Super Bowl.
It seems I would be remiss if I did not point out the incredible duo that is Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady. They are the first coach-quarterback combination to win five Super Bowls together and have dominated the NFL since they joined the Patriots together in 2000. And so, considering the success that seems to be linked to Brady, it is understandable that many title games are advertised as a quarterback vs. quarterback showdown. The Manning vs. Brady rivalry comes to mind or Tom Brady versus a big name contemporary such as Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, or Drew Brees.
After the endless string of missed catches, botched plays, and sacks that made up the first half for the Patriots, a major change was needed for the Patriots to accomplish the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. As Brady began to lead long, successful drives, numerous Patriots agreed after the game that while “we hadn’t been playing Patriot football in the first half” there had not been doubts about their ability to win the game which led to their time-pressured but successful second half. As a fan, it seemed the game was all but over when the Falcons had completed four touchdowns before the Patriots’ first. However, Brady attributed the win to complete “mental toughness” from each member of the team. Finally, with two minutes left in the third quarter, White made the first touchdown of the game, only for Gostkowski to miss the field goal. After an additional twelve minutes of playing and only a field goal to show for it, Amendola caught the next touchdown, making it a ten point game. In order to tie the game, the Patriots had to make one more touchdown as well as two consecutive two point conversions. White got the remaining touchdown with Amendola completing the second two point conversion with less than a minute left in the game. After winning the coin toss to begin the first overtime quarter of Super Bowl History with the ball, the Patriots’ White ran another touchdown into the endzone after a four minute drive. Besides the touchdowns, the two most important plays of the game are arguably the Patriots’ strip sack of Quarterback Matt Ryan and Edelman’s gravity defying catch. Edelman had dropped almost every pass thrown his way in the first half because of impenetrable Falcons defense, but finally reminded everyone why he is one of Brady’s favorites after his catch in the last minutes of the fourth quarter.
So many little moments added up to a history making victory for the New England Patriots. If the Falcon’s had gone for a two point conversion earlier in the game and either gotten it or missed it, the game would not have been pushed into overtime. Similarly, if the Patriots had missed one of theirs the game would have ended before the second coin toss was called. These details led many commentators to argue if the ending was a result of a coin toss, an untimely choke for the Falcons after a near perfect season and game, or the sheer greatness and depth of the Patriot team. Personally, I never saw the Falcons commit glaring errors, but I did watch the Patriots come back from an impossible deficit (with the help of the coin toss).