In a game for the ages, the New England Patriots overcame a 25 point half-time deficit to win the Super Bowl 34-28 in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons. Both quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick now have five Super Bowl rings each, the most of any quarterback or head coach, and have become all time greats at their respective positions.
Atlanta dominated the first 40 minutes of the game. Inspired running from Devonta Freeman gave them the first score of the game. After a strip fumble by linebacker Deion Jones, tight end Austin Hooper caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan. Cornerback Robert Alford then intercepted Brady, running 82 yards for a pick-six. Tevin Coleman added another touchdown just after the half, giving Atlanta a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
But then, somehow, the Patriots came alive. On the next five drives, New England would score four touchdowns and kick a field goal. Running back James White struck first with a short pass from Brady. Then came the field goal. On Atlanta's next drive, linebacker Dont'a Hightower strip-sacked Ryan, and the Patriots recovered the fumble. Danny Amendola's touchdown catch and White's two point conversion made it 28-20. The Falcons then made a critical error, opting not to run out the clock. Trey Flowers sacked Ryan to give Brady the ball back.
Julian Edelman then made a spectacular, gravity-defying catch off a tipped ball to keep New England alive. White scored another touchdown and Amendola scored the two point conversion. At 28-28, the Super Bowl went to overtime for the first time in NFL history. The Patriots won the toss, and Brady orchestrated a ruthless 91 yard drive, with White scoring the game-winning touchdown.
So what can we learn from arguably the greatest Super Bowl (if not NFL game) ever played? Here are five key takeaways:
1. Never count out your opponent
Even when up by several scores, never rest on your laurels. Football is an incredibly physical game, which makes it unpredictable. Chaos could break out on any play and turn the tide of the game. It only takes a well-coached team with some luck and big plays to make a comeback, as Atlanta found out the hard way.
2. Never give up in a game
If you are playing from multiple scores behind, don't let that affect you or your team-mates. Brady and the Patriots overcame the largest deficit in Super Bowl history and ironically won by their biggest margin ever in a Super Bowl. How? They stayed calm and adjusted to their opponent, focusing on exploiting Atlanta's weaknesses and playing to their own strengths. Stick to your philosophy, even when on the back foot.
3. Don't focus on bad plays
This happened several times in Sunday's epic clash. Early on, Falcons cornerback Robert Alford got beat on a Julian Edelman catch. The very next play, Alford recovered a fumble for the game's first turnover and would also score a pick-six. Brady bounced back from that interception by throwing for 466 yards, a Super Bowl record, and two touchdowns. Edelman struggled early on with costly drops, but hauled in this incredible catch with the game on the line. Never dwell on a bad play and keep your emotions in check as best you can.
4. Play situational football
In any big or close game, great play across all three phases can make the difference. Take the Patriots in the second half, for example. Say, from deep in New England's territory after a stalled drive, punter Ryan Allen pins Atlanta within their own ten yard line. The defense then either forces a three and out, gets a stop before midfield, or forces a turnover. Brady gets better field position than when New England punted, so it becomes a net gain. Belichick and the Patriots excel at situational football, and a team that works together through all three phases is tough to beat.
5. Adjust to your opponent and the game itself
Recognising how a game is flowing and adjusting to your opponent can spark or stave off a comeback. New England recognised that Atlanta's strength could also be its weakness. With the Falcons playing fast, their young defense was getting tired. The Patriots exploited that by utilising a no-huddle attack focusing on speedy running backs and quick catches over the middle. The adjustment sparked the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
What did you think of Super Bowl LI? Let us know in the comments!