New England scored in overtime to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston. After linebacker Deion Jones (nine tackles) ripped the ball away from LeGarrette Blount at the start of the 2nd quarter, Atlanta outscored New England 28-3 for the next 24 game minutes. The Falcons scored touchdowns on three of four drives and an 82-yard “pick six” by Robert Alford (three pass breakups). But in the final 25 minutes, 111.3 million viewers (per Nielsen) saw the Patriots engineer the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Dont’a Hightower’s 4th quarter strip sack was the play of the game
Photo published by Fanside.com
Nine Observations from Super Bowl LI
1. Dont’a Hightower’s third down strip sack of Matt Ryan (17 of 23 for 284 yards and two touchdowns) was a game changer. Within NRG stadium, the explosive defensive play finally brought the Patriot-heavy crowd to their feet and into a fever pitch. On the field, the ball was recovered by Alan Branch and allowed the Patriots’ offense to tighten the score to 28-20 with six minutes remaining in the game.
2. Lineman Trey Flowers (six tackles, 2.5 sacks) ended both of the Falcons’ 1st quarter drives with a sack, and then beat center Alex Mack on a sack that pushed the Falcons out of comfortable field goal range late in the 4th quarter. On the game, New England limited Atlanta’s offense to only three scores on 10 drives (30%) after the Falcons scored on 13-of-18 drives (72%) in their first two playoff games.
3. In the first half, Devonta Freeman (75 yards) and Tevin Coleman (29 yards) averaged 9.6 yards on nine carries, mostly on stretch zones and crack tosses. In the second half, New England limited them to a two yard average on nine carries, which may have affected Atlanta’s play calling. Ironically, Atlanta’s offense first play was a Freeman crack toss and New England’s last play was a James White crack toss.
4. The Patriots’ strategy for curtailing Julio Jones (87 yards) was to play inside coverage – with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe – and keep a safety over the top, leaving only the sideline open. While Jones made some plays – including an incredible toe-tapping 27-yard reception along the right sideline in the 4th quarter – the defense limited the All Pro to four catches and also kept him out of the end zone.
One improbable catch of a deflected ball jettisoned Julian Edelman to Super Bowl immortality
Photo by Patrick Semansky, Associated Press; published by Newsday.com
5. The Patriots’ passing offense was off balance for much of the game, evidenced by numerous off-target throws, tipped balls, and dropped passes. Credit the Falcons’ defense for giving the Patriots something that wasn’t obvious: Known as a Cover-3 zone defense, Atlanta instead played tight man-to-man, with single defender’s taking turns clogging up the middle to try and take away the short, “easy” completions.
6. In their furious rally from a 28-3 deficit, the Patriots’ third- and fourth-receivers came up big. Malcolm Mitchell (five catches and 63 yards) pulled in a third-down conversion, while Danny Amendola (seven catches and 67 yards) kept the game alive by converting on fourth down. Amendola also scored a touchdown on a short pass in the left flat and he tied the game on a screen pass for a two-point conversion.
7. Rough game in pass protection for right guard Shaq Mason whom Courtney Upshaw pushed into Tom Brady for a sack in the 1st quarter. Later in the 4th, Grady Jarrett (five tackles and 3.0 sacks) beat Mason to the outside for a quick, red zone sack. Jarrett also cut inside right tackle Marcus Cannon for sack in the 4th. Dwight Freeney got past Nate Solder for a sack on the play following the Hightower strip sack.
8. By the start of the 4th quarter, Atlanta’s defense had played 59 snaps – the average for an entire NFL game – and their pass rush was slowing. Per ProFootballFocus.com, Tom Brady (Super Bowl record 466 yards) was pressured only three times during the final quarter and overtime. With freedom in the pocket, Brady completed 21 passes for 246 yards and led the team on four scoring drives in the 4th quarter and overtime.
9. What more could James White have done? The running back played 71 snaps (per ESPN Boston), set the all-time Super Bowl record with 14 receptions, scored three touchdowns, and perfectly executed the famous “Kevin Faulk” direct snap-run for a “got to have it” two-point conversion. Third on the depth chart, White personified the fact that winning Super Bowl LI required everyone on the 46-man roster.