Being this my first Super Bowl that I was watching live- I watched the last two after downloading it from the net much later- I was super-excited. One, because it was my first Super Bowl live and two, because my boys- the New England Patriots were playing in the big game for the title. And it was a game that totally lived up to the hype from start to finish.
Going into the game, there were a couple of things that were very intriguing. One by one, let’s look at both these sides and all the things that surrounded the big game.
New England Patriots
- Finished the Regular season with a 14-2 record and won the AFC East Division title.
- Started the season with star quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games following the Deflategate scandal from two years ago.His side went 3-1 in that period.
- Beat the Houston Texans 34-16 in the Divisional Playoffs
- Beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Championship Game
- Tom Brady was going for a record fifth Super Bowl title and would be the quarterback with the most appearances in the big game in Super Bowl history with this being his 7th appearance.
- Key Player: Tom Brady
- Finished the regular season with a 11-5 record and won the NFC South Division
- Beat the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 in the Divisional Playoffs
- Beat the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game
- Quarterback Matt Ryan completed the season with a record quarterback rating – a little over 117. He also now holds the regular season record for most number of receivers he threw a touchdown pass to with thirteen.
- Ryan’s star performance this season earned him his first NFL Most Valuable Player award and in doing so, became the first player in Falcons’ history to win it.
- This is only Atlanta’s second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
- Key Player: Matt Ryan
The game featured country singer Luke Bryan nailing the Star Spangled Banner followed by the coin toss featuring the 41st President of the United states, George Bush Sr. and his wife, Barbara Bush.
The First Half
Featuring the two best quarterbacks in the league this season, one would think that Matt Ryan and Tom Brady would have drives that would at least get them into field goal range in the first quarter. But that was not to be as the young, speedy Atlanta Falcons defence led by Dion Jones held the Patriots scoreless. For their part, Matt Ryan and his offence too, didn’t get going in the first fifteen minutes as the Patriots defence held the high-flying Falcons’ offence to a scoreless game. Some of the highlights of the first quarter included a Devonta Freeman run for 37 yards that would eventually be the first of many runs that would exploit a lacklustre run defence from the Patriots, and a sack from Trey Flowers on Matt Ryan. Brady, for his part, did have some good plays including a series of good throws to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and James White for big gains.But what followed was two sacks from Shaq Mason and Grady Jarrett to halt the momentum.
The second quarter, however, would prove to be disastrous for the Patriots. LaGarrette Blount, on a hand-off from Brady, ran into a crowd of Falcons and Patriots players and some strong hits would force a fumble from the running back. Matt Ryan immediately capitalised on the turnover as following two long completions to Julio Jones and a huge gain on a run by Devonta Freeman, a lateral cut to the left on a hand-off play to Freeman would lead to Atlanta’s first touchdown.
Matt Ryan would again hit two of his receivers- Taylor Gabriel and Julio Jones- for huge gains before hitting Austin Hooper for the Falcons’ second touchdown of the game.Jones catch was especially good as he managed to stay in-bounds on a tight throw from Ryan.
Luck, meanwhile, never seemed to run out for the Falcons in this half.In a drive, generously helped by holding penalties against Atlanta, Brady threw an interception looking for Danny Amendola- his third of the post-season- which was returned by Robert Alford for an 82-yard touchdown. This was the second turnover in a scoring position for the Patriots following Blount’s fumble.
The Patriots meanwhile, struggled as players like Chris Hogan- who had a record game against the Steelers- found no rhythm. Easy catches were dropped, an offensive line that sometimes failed to protect it’s quarterback and it’s running back enough- nothing was going right for the Patriots. Finally, A Stephen Gostkowski field goal put the Patriots on the board for as the Falcon’s led by 21-3 at the halfway mark.
The Halftime Show
Lady Gaga’s halftime show probably has to rank among the top halftime performances in Super Bowl history. While many feared that she might include an anti-Trump message, being a strong Clinton supporter and all, she made no attempts to do so whatsoever instead delivering a message of unity.
From the outset, you knew this was no ordinary show. At the end of a pre-recorded sequence, Lady Gaga literally jumped off the roof of the NRG Stadium with an army of 300 drones forming a twinkling American flag in the dark Houston sky.She began with “This Is Your Land”and followed it up with brilliant renditions of songs such as “Born This Way”, “Ballad Edge of Glory”, “Poker Face”, “Telephone”, “Just Dance” and finally ending with her famous song “Bad Romance”.
Her show, just 13 minutes long, didn’t feature as many costume changes as Katy Perry’s halftime show in Super Bowl 49, but had enough and more energy, spectacle, pyrotechnics and passionate confidence to enthrall audiences. Her performance was even praised by President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
Little did anyone know, however, that Lady Gaga’s halftime entertainment was only a prelude to what would happen in the second half.
The Second Half
The second half seemed to bring no respite for the Patriots initially as Edelman dropped a perfect pass from Brady after the Falcons went three and out on their opening possession. In their next drive, Matt Ryan connected twice with Taylor Gabriel for huge gains, and after another completion to Mohammed Sanu, Ryan threw to Tevin Coleman who sneaked in on the right hand side for Atlanta’s fourth touchdown of the evening.
But Brady would soon come back as he put together a string of passes, including a big completion to Danny Amendola and finally end it with a touchdown pass to James White. Gostkowski would, however miss the after-point, leaving the Patriots with 28-9 deficit entering the fourth quarter.
Brady would begin the fourth quarter with two throws to rookie Malcolm Mitchell for big gains. Following two completions to James White and Martellus Bennett, the Pats found themselves inside Atlanta’s 10-yard line. However, Grady Jarrett would come up with two huge sacks on the 39-year old quarterback to force a field goal from Gostkowski.
Lady Luck, however, smiled upon the Patriots now. Soon, Matt Ryan would be hit while attempting a throw by Dont’a Hightower, forcing a fumble that would be recovered by the Patriots.Brady would then capitalise, despite an early sack, to throw to Danny Amendola in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown.With a desperation to tie the game, Brady and the Patriots would go for a two-point conversion which would be converted by James White. The Falcons were up 28-20 but the momentum was with the Patriots.
Atlanta threatened to open up the game further on the subsequent drive when Devonta Freeman ran all the way from close to his end zone to the 45 yard line and Matt Ryan followed that play up with a difficult throw on the run when he was forced out of the pocket and an equally difficult catch executed by Julio Jones near the 22-yard line. The drive, meanwhile, came to a premature end thanks to a holding call on the Atlanta offence which meant that they were forced to go three and out following a subsequent incomplete pass.
Brady would then start what would become his season-defining drive at his own nine yard line following a brilliant punt from Matt Bosher. After a couple of incomplete passes, Brady connected with Malcolm Mitchell for a huge gain. The next play was by far the game’s highlight as Julian Edelman came down with what has to be the catch of the season – as a deflection from the Falcons’ Robert Alford sent it high up in the air – when he came down with the football just in the nick of time before it hit the ground. Atlanta challenged the call on the field but it was ruled on review that Edelman came down with the ball legally. What followed was basically this.
Brady to Amendola.
Brady to White.
Hand-off to White. Touchdown.
Faced with a two point deficit, Brady went for another two-point conversion and hit Amendola to tie the game and effectively send it into overtime.
With this being the 51st Super Bowl, you’d think one or two of the other fifty games would’ve gone into overtime. But surprisingly, this was the first time that a Super Bowl game went into overtime. Amazing stat but true.
With overtime starting, it seemed everything was in New England’s favour, from the momentum to the toss. With New England winning the toss, they elected to receive first (unlike a previous time when gave the ball to the Jets). From then on, it was a no brainer. Brady threw first to Amendola. Then to Hogan. Then to Edelman. A flip to White.
Then a pass interference call on an attempted pass to Marty Bennett, followed by a throw from the 2-yard line attempting to hit Bennett again but deflected out by Beasley.
Finally, Brady decided to go to the man who had been on the fringes of the side while others like Gronkowski and Edelman hogged the limelight but decided that tonight was the night to come alive- just like Malcolm Butler two years ago. A flip to James White and the latter battled his way through the Atlanta defence, just about managing to breach the plane with the ball and finally get the touchdown that secured New England a place in history, a place in legend and a place as one of the greatest teams to have ever played the big game.