HOUSTON — I’m on such a high! I can’t tell you what it means being from Chicago to cover the Super Bowl and see your son, Larry Jr, share the greatest honor the NFL has, the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award shared with Eli Manning. They were in the same Draft class in 2004 — Manning was drafted by New York and Larry Jr. by Arizona.
This was my 36th Super Bowl. The City of Houston did a great job. It was a treat to see four young men from Minnesota play in Super Bowl LI: Michael Floyd with New England; RaShede Hageman, De’Vondre Campbell the ex-Gopher, and Tom Compton with Atlanta. My college coach at Indiana State University, Bobby Turner, is the running back coach for Atlanta.
The Falcons won the coin toss and deferred until the second half. After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons’ defense forced the game’s first turnover. LaGarrette Blount fumbled and the Falcons recovered. The turnover sparked the Falcons to a quick-strike 21-0 lead. They played a near perfect game Sunday in building a huge 25 point 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI.
NFL 2016 MVP Matt Ryan was 3-0 in his career in Bowl games while starring at Boston College. It’s no secret that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with an 88-61 career record. All he needed was confirmation in the playoffs.
With weapons like Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons were turning Super Bowl LI into a reality statement. Atlanta was 6-0 when they scored 40 points or more. It appeared the Patriots in the first half had no answer defensively for the high-flying Falcons’ speed.
This game was supposed to be about the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Bill Belichick proving again they were the best quarterback-head coach combo in Super Bowl history. Brady even made a critical early error, throwing an 82-yard interception to Robert Alford.
It appeared the Falcons were making a super statement — they were blowing the Patriots away 21-0.The team that had scored a defensive touchdown in the Super Bowl previously was 12-0. It was 21-3 Falcons at halftime. The 70,807 stadium fans were stunned.
After the long, 31-minute halftime concert featuring Lady Gaga, the Falcons built their lead in the third quarter to 28-3. Brady was able to move his team against the Falcons defense, but the Patriots would either drop a pass or Brady would miss an open receiver.
Late in the third quarter Brady finally got the Patriots a touchdown with a five-yard pass to James White. It was 28-9 after kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Time was running out on the Patriots, it appeared, with just 2.05 left late in the third quarter.
Brady and the Patriots drove for a field goal; it was 28-12 starting the fourth quarter. The Falcons took possession after the Patriots failed on an onside kick. But the proud Patriots, having made defensive adjustments, forced Ryan into a mistake. Hit by linebacker Dont’a Hightower when trying to pass, Ryan fumbled and it was recovered by Alan Branch of the Patriots at the Falcons’ 25-yard line.
Brady then threw his second touchdown pass six yards to Danny Amendola. The Patriots then converted the two-point play when White scored. Momentum was now clearly with the Patriots at 28-20 Falcons. After failing on an onside kick and missing an extra point, the Patriots kicked deep. Now it was on the Falcons starting at their own 10 to get first downs and drain the clock. Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots’ 22-yard line. A field goal and the Falcons were up 31-20.
Ryan hit Julio Jones on the sideline, who made a remarkable catch for 27 yards and a first down at the 22. Then the Patriots’ defense rose up and stuffed Freeman — he lost a yard. On second down and 11, Ryan tried to pass and was sacked — he lost 12 yards. On the next play the Falcons were called for holding — it’s third and 33 yards. After another incomplete pass, the Falcons punted from the Patriots 45 yard line.
After a fair catch the Patriots then started at the nine yard line trailing 28-20 with 3.30 left in regulation. Brady and the Patriots marched 91 yards in 10 plays. Julian Edelman made one of the greatest catches you will ever see against three defenders. He somehow grabbed a deflected Brady pass, falling down and keeping his concentration, and pulled it in for 23 yards.
Shortly after, White scored his second touchdown, 28-26. Brady then hit Amendola for a two-point conversion and Super Bowl LI is tied 28-28.
The Falcons had time, .57 seconds, to get in field goal range; however, the Patriots’ defense stopped the Falcons again. For the first time in Super Bowl history — overtime. The Patriots won the toss and Brady was money again.
Moving the Patriots right down the field, passing every down from shotgun formation, Brady, the MVP of Super Bowl LI, tried on first down at the 15 to hit tight end Martellus Bennett. Interference was called — first down at the two-yard line. White then ran two yards for his third touchdown of the game, and the Patriot’s win it 34-28 in sudden death.
The Patriots, with the mother of all comebacks, rallied 31-0 and captured their fifth Super Bowl. Thirty records were broken or set in Super Bowl LI.
For the fourth time, Brady was named MVP. He completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns. Bill Belichick becomes the first head coach to win five Super Bowls. Brady becomes the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls.
And the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) debate is, is Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time? Absolutely — he’s now 208-61 when he starts regular season or playoffs. In the playoffs he’s 25-9; in the Super Bowl he’s 5-2.
New England had 546 yards total offense, the Falcons 344. The Patriots had 37 first downs, the Falcons 17. Time of possession: Patriots 40.31 Falcons 23.27. Third downs: Patriots 7-14 for 50 percent, Falcons 1-8 and just 13 percent. Penalties: Patriots 4-23, Falcons 9-65.
Statistically the Patriots dominated Super Bowl LI. This was the greatest Super Bowl game I have ever covered. At times both teams appeared to be dominating the other. But when it counted in fourth quarter, the Patriots’ defense and Brady grabbed control.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.