Fifty-one Super Bowls in the book, and there has never been anything like what we saw last night in Houston. No Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime, but beyond that, a comeback from 28-3 down with 18 minutes to play all the way to win is something that will never be forgotten.
All the superlatives of the New England legacy have already been written before last night. This will just add to the list and continue to make them both the most dominant group of our generation and the most insufferable (depending on who you ask).
But I will always ponder the ideas of the Falcons as that game was getting away from them. They had the game in complete and utter control late in the third quarter and there was no way back for the Patriots unless they were given plenty of assistance. And they certainly were.
Up 28-9, the Falcons were given the ball at the New England 41-yard line to start the next drive after a Patriots onside kick attempt that was penalized. They quickly advanced it to the 32 on the next play and faced a 2nd-and-1 well inside field-goal range. However, a Jake Matthews hold and a sack on third down converted that potential scoring drive into a punt.
Up 28-12, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-1 with 8:31 to play. They had a number of options using DeVonta Freeman as a runner in short yardage or play-action that has ruled the day. Instead, they line up in shotgun to pass with a virtually empty backfield - Freeman lined up in the H-back spot where a TE normally flanks out, which turns into a sack and fumble to put the Patriots back into the game with a takeaway deep in Falcons territory. If there was a consistent issue with Matt Ryan's performance on this night, it was his inability to avoid sacks. This one sure appeared to be a Freeman protection whiff on Donta Hightower, but regardless, the dreaded shotgun pass on 3rd-and-1 in a game where you are just trying to kill the remaining time is a frustration that will not soon disappear.
Then, up 28-20, the Falcons received a magical, seemingly historic catch by Julio Jones to give them what appeared to be a championship-clinching first down at the Patriots' 22. At this point, a field goal puts them up 11 with roughly 3:00 to play. Instead, Ryan takes another sack on 2nd down and Jake Matthews takes another penalty on 3rd down and what appeared to be a certain field goal has been converted into another punt from near midfield. They give the ball back and the rest is history.
There is no question that the Patriots made history in Super Bowl 51 and earned whatever plaudits are given, but the cooperation from Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan in the late stages of the game will certainly feel as if they aided greatly in giving this game away with poor game management.
Other (mostly Super Bowl) items for this week:
-- Another situation that was an underrated story was how New England dominated the time of possession and number of snaps last night. We complimented Atlanta plenty for building a young and speedy defense, but in a league where the defense is usually on the field for 60-70 snaps, they had six different defenders have to play 90-plus plays on Sunday night: Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen, Jalen Collins, and Brian Poole. Those six represent most of that young speed and it is fair to say that they likely were out of reactionary quickness by the end. Give New England all sorts of credit for employing ball-control and give Atlanta plenty of blame for converting just 1 third down all night long. It takes two teams to work together to get one side a 93-46 snap advantage over the other, which is easily the biggest margin I have ever seen in a game of this magnitude.
-- I cannot stand the NFL overtime rules. This has nothing to do with what happened last night, other than the fact that one team lost the coin toss and didn't get a chance to put their MVP on the field. A coin toss should not determine a champion. I understand the argument that Atlanta should just stop them, but this isn't about merely last night. This is about the NFL trying to adjust its overtime rule to make sense and all of the tinkering has not gotten them closer. The college rule is better. But, basically, each team should touch the ball before we declare a winner. I think anything short needs more adjustment.
-- Congratulations to the Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Terrell Davis, Morten Andersen, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner were the five who went in through the normal process. Kenny Easley was approved as the senior committee's finalist and Jerry Jones was put in as the contributor finalist. I saw plenty of people bothered by the outcome in another year of the complicated case of Terrell Owens, and I do consider him a Hall of Famer who will ultimately get in. But the cries of injustice are absurd for two major reasons to me: 1) There are all sorts of legitimate on-field conduct questions and a trail of coaches and quarterbacks who shared huddles and sidelines with him who would not call him a man worthy of unqualified honors. I think it is absurd for people to compare the destruction of locker rooms to off-field and off-roster conduct in a person's life to the idea that he just didn't understand the team concept in the ultimate team game. I equally think it is absurd to judge a player solely through a stat sheet, which seems like the only thing some people can see. This is a game that routinely promotes selfless sacrifice for team accomplishment, but somehow people want to act like Owens should not be held to this standard because it "shouldn't matter." I think that is quite an insult to an awful lot of great team players in the history of the sport. And 2) There is a maximum of five finalists a year inducted. Some players are allowed to skip the line and go right in because nobody can question their qualifications. If you put Owens in, you take one of these five out. All of them got enough votes to say they deserve induction, too. Perhaps they shouldn't be penalized for not acting in such a way that we have to discuss things like just not forcing divorces from three different teams in a way he did. He ultimately gets in, but please spare me "Owens, the victim" pleas about his case.
-- Julio Jones was targeted four times and caught all four passes. It was the fewest targets of the season for the best receiver in football and he caught every one. And his team lost. In other words, it is next to impossible to get your hands on that trophy.
-- Jason Garrett won coach of the year and Dak Prescott won rookie of the year in the NFL Awards. Ezekiel Elliott won MVP votes and finished third with more votes than every NFL player but Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. The future appears pretty bright around here.
-- It is now draft season. I will begin writing up prospect profiles and posting them for your enjoyment or critique this week. Eleven weeks between here and the NFL draft, where teams like these are put together. Can't wait to start diving in on the requisite 3 games/200 snaps of their best resume tape we can find. Nothing seen at the combine or the springtime will ever tell us more than we can find from simply watching football players play football.
-- And, as an added bonus, this week will also be the release of the Sturm NFL franchise rankings update. Fifty-one Super Bowls are in the books and the Patriots take another massive step up the charts into the Top 3 franchises of the Super Bowl era. Given that they were not in the Top 20 as of the year 2000, their rise all the way to the medal stand in 16 seasons is pretty remarkable. But, then again, so is what they have accomplished. You can like them or hate them, but you certainly owe them a little respect for these accomplishments.
-- Somebody stole Tom Brady's jersey out of his locker last night. I have never seen a guy look so sad after doing something so great. It seems if you do something like that, you should be able to have your own jersey. Give it back.