Depending what team you are a fan of, the New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI, or the Atlanta Falcons lost Super Bowl LI.
I don’t want to take anything away from the Patriots. Surmounting the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history is no small feat. Being down 21-3 at halftime is, for a lack of better words, deflating.
Brady was getting his chops beat like he stole something in the first half and for much of the third quarter. The ground game was non-existent. Brady had half as many rushing yards as each of the three Patriots running backs on one third-down scramble (15).
Patriots’ receivers were dropping balls. Patriots’ defenders were missing tackles, and could not stop the Falcons through the air or on the ground.
In every facet of the game, they seemed to be overmatched.
Except two. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
It gets old, and monotonous, and seems like beating a dead horse, but you can never count out Brady and Belichick on the big stage (unless they are playing the New York Giants of course).
From a viewership standpoint, you could see it. Once New England got in the end zone for the first time it was like the wind left the sails of Atlanta. And all of a sudden the Patriots had the little bit of juice that they needed.
Luck started to turn in their favor.
And the way I saw it: The Falcons were doing everything in their power not to lose, instead of playing to win.
They were trying to be aggressive by continuing to pass the ball, but the situations in which they chose to do so came back to bite them…hard.
Here are 5 reasons why the Falcons LOST Super Bowl LI.
5. New Talent vs. Grizzled Veterans
Dan Quinn is a second-year head coach. Matt Ryan was playing in his first Super Bowl. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were playing in their 7th Super Bowl as a couple. I know it seems overstated, but in one game, winner takes all format, there is the priceless attribute of “having been there before.”
Think of it this way. You and your buddy decide to play a round of 18 at the local course. You’re both relatively equal, but your buddy is generally one shot or so better. However, you have played this course several times, whilst your buddy has never played. Even though he may be a marginally better player, you have a distinct advantage by knowing how the stage is set. Check one for Brady and Belichick.
4. Falcons Linebackers/Saftey’s did not adjust to James White out of the backfield.
As far as the three-headed rushing attack of LaGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White, the Falcons did a relatively good job keeping them contained in the ground game (31, 27, and 29 rushing yards respectively). Blount was thought of as a possible MVP candidate and yet he could never really get anything going. Good job Atlanta.
However, anyone that watches any New England games know that they use Dion Lewis and James White in the passing game more than just about any other team (aside from maybe Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Atlanta). Running back screens are used constantly until Brady catches the Defense cheating, and then Lewis, White, or Brandon Bolden back in the day, will beat you deep on a wheel route.
Brady played this same story out in the 4th quarter on Sunday. White finished with 14 receptions, the same number of receptions of all Atlanta receivers combined, for 110 yards. He had one receiving touchdown and two rushing touchdowns, along with a two-point conversion. The Falcons simply made zero adjustments for him down the stretch and he made them pay. In my opinion, White easily could have been MVP over Brady.
3. Julio Jones had 4 receptions
The best receiver on the planet and the best player on the entire Falcons team had 4 receptions on only 4 targets, in the biggest game of his career. Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan had to do a better job getting him involved. He demonstrated that tight coverage wasn’t gonna stop him when he made maybe the greatest catch in Super Bowl history down the sideline. A catch that will be overshadowed by Edelman’s lucky catch on the game-tying drive that Brady threw into triple coverage, bounced gently off the forearm of a defender and fell softly into the hands of a falling Edelman (still a great catch but you get what I’m getting at).
I don’t care if he is getting double or triple coverage, get him the ball and he might have made some big plays on third down.
2. The Falcons D-Line ran out of gas
Throughout the first half and much of the third-quarter, the front four did a fantastic job in getting pressure on Brady. This pressure allowed the Falcons to keep seven guys in coverage to stop the Patriots ariel assault. Five sacks, multiple pressures, and countless knockdowns kept Brady uncomfortable, and quite frankly, made him look somewhat pitiful throughout much of the game as he was overthrowing and underthrowing receivers.
This pressure disappeared on the final three drives that led to the Falcons demise. Brady was allotted ample time in the pocket to pick apart the Falcons secondary as he has done for so many years. No new pressures or blitz packages were drawn up, and Brady enjoyed plenty of success with screens, out routes, dig routes and crossing patterns that methodically moved the Patriots down the field to three straight touchdowns.
1. Atlanta’s Offensive play-calling down the stretch
Play-calling was definitely the number one factor as to why the Falcons lost Super Bowl 51.
I understand that Matt Ryan is the NFL MVP (as was announced on Saturday night). I understand that you have a strong receiving corps. I understand that you do not want to play scared. But I also know that the Falcons worst enemy is not Tom Brady, or Julien Edelman, or Lagarrette Blount. It’s the slowly winding clock.
Give the Patriots enough time and momentum and they will break your heart. It’s the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Do not play into the hands of the Patriots.
The Falcons running game was very productive all game. Freeman was running extremely well, and Coleman was complementing him nicely. So why abandon it?
You’re up 25 points and you rush the ball a total of 18 times? The Falcons averaged 5.8 yards per rushing play. So why abandon the run?
Even if first downs were not obtained, multiple minutes could have been burned off the clock by running the ball.
If Shanahan truly wanted to keep the gas pedal on the floor and didn’t think that New England could stop his passing attack, then why not run play-action? The running game was working, at least keep the defense honest by “pretending” to run.
Instead, Matt Ryan continued to line up in the shotgun, letting the defense know “we are here to throw it” and was sacked in two critical junctures that completely changed the game. One forced a fumble around midfield that sparked the Patriots’ comeback. And the other knocked Atlanta out of field-goal range. A field-goal that would have all but iced the game late in the fourth-quarter. Instead, they punted, setting Brady up for the game-tying drive with plenty of time left.
As I mentioned early, Atlanta was one of the top teams all season in terms of receiving by running backs. Freeman and Coleman had three receptions combined.
If you really want to throw the ball, why not line up, run play-action, and then send Freeman or Coleman on a seam or wheel route? It’s what worked for the Falcons all season.
These 5 factors are what contributed to Atlanta essentially handing New England its 5th Lombardi Trophy in the Belichick era.
Congratulations to Belichick, Brady, and the entire New England Patriots organization. They are now in the argument for most dominant NFL Dynasty of all-time.