The Super Bowl is just 1 day away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 1 year ago to honor this not that significant occasion!
Houston hosted Super Bowl LI on February 5, 2017. The game pitted the AFC champion New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football Conference.
Atlanta Falcons 1 Year Ago
“Rise Up” was team motto for the 1016 Atlanta Falcons. That is exactly what they did. Led by the great coaching of former Seahawks assistant Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons were fast and explosive. Quarterback Matt Ryan won the NFL MVP and his favorite target was the outstanding Julio Jones. The Falcons scored more points than other team in the NFL.
The Falcons were young, fast and inconsistent on defense. They gave up 30 points per game over the first month but found themselves in a clutch road win over the World Champion Broncos in Denver. They lost two consecutive heartbreakers to fall to 4-3. From then on, they were very difficult to beat.
Atlanta rolled into the playoffs with the three straight blowout wins. They played the veteran Seahawks in the Divisional round. The first half was a tight, back and forth affair. The second half was all Falcons. Atlanta carried their momentum in the championship game where they crushed the Packers. Jones caught 9 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Falcons were on to the franchise’s second ever Super Bowl.
New England Patriots 1 Year Ago
Their opponent came as a surprise to nobody. They are called the New England Patriots. The path the Patriots took to the big dance was unconventional, however. Tom Brady was suspended for his involvement in the apparent deflating of footballs prior to the 2014 AFC championship game. Jimmy Garoppolo started the first two ball games and played lights out including a win at Arizona.
Jacoby Brissett started the next two and won one of those with an excellent job against the Texans. When Brady came back in week 5, he set the league on fire. In the regular season, Brady went 11-1 with 28 touchdown passes against only 2 interceptions. Unfortunately for New England, Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season with a back injury. Martellus Bennett stepped in and had a very productive year.
In the playoffs, the Patriots played a very sloppy first half as an 18-point favorite over the Texans. Dion Lewis scored three touchdowns, but also fumbled twice. The defense came up big when each of their three Rutgers defensive backs picked off Brock Osweiler. The 34-16 win propelled the Patriots back to the AFC championship game for an unbelievable sixth consecutive season.
In that game, New England proved way too tough for the Steelers. In the third quarter, LeGarrette Blount had one of the great rushes as he carried about seven guys with him on the play. Then, Kyle Van Noy forced a fumble. Moments later, Julian Edelman found the end zone. The two stories from this game were: Chris Hogan’s amazing performance and Le’Veon Bell leaving the game with a groin injury very early. The Patriots were on their NFL-record ninth Super Bowl!
Atlanta Explodes to the Lead
This Super Bowl will be talked about as long as the NFL is an organized sports organization. The first half belonged to Atlanta. After a Blount fumble, the Falcons swept down the field easily. They followed that up with another very easy touchdown drive. Tight end Austin Hooper caught a wonderful pass from Ryan to go up 14-0.
Aided by several defensive penalties, the Pats moved down the field again. And, again the drive ended in a turnover. Bruce Alford ran the Brady interception back for a TD and the Falcons appeared well on their way to their first World Championship. They added to their lead in the second half. In fact, midway through the third quarter, Atlanta led 28-3! Then, history took place in NRG Stadium!
Comeback Key Plays 1 & 2
The first key play for New England on the comeback trail was a fourth down conversion to Danny Amendola. Subsequently, James White scored the first of three touchdowns to cap the drive. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the PAT, so the score was 28-9 heading to the fourth quarter. The Patriots moved the ball on their next drive well also. Brady lofted a lovely third and one pass to Bennett to get the Pats into the red zone. However, Grady Jarrett sacked Brady on two of the next three plays forcing a field goal.
The second key play for New England on the comeback trail occurred on a third down for the Falcons’ offense. Dont’a Hightower forced a Ryan fumble recovered by Alan Branch giving the Patriots the short field. Amendola scored a few plays later and it was 28-18. On the 2-point play, the Patriots ran a play that worked during Super Bowl XXXVIII. The ball was snapped directly to James White for the two.
Still, it looked like Atlanta would escape. They got a giant play from Devonta Freeman and a spectacular sideline catch from Julio Jones to give them a first down on the 22. However, unsung Trey Flowers sacked Ryan and that was followed by a Jake Matthews’ holding penalty. Atlanta was now out of field goal range, so they were forced to punt.
Comeback Key Plays 3 & 4
The third key play for New England on the comeback trail happened on a third and 10 from their own nine-yard line. Brady threw a perfect pass to the far sideline to Hogan. First down. Three plays later, Edelman made the catch of the century two inches off the ground in triple coverage. On the next play, Amendola grabbed a 20-yarder. Eventually, the Patriots scored on another short White TD.
The fourth key play for New England on the comeback trail was the two-point conversion. On a designed play for Amendola, Atlanta jumped offsides. It did not matter as Danny just got in. Amazingly, the game was tied at 28. And, when the Patriots received the kickoff in overtime, everyone knew how this was going to end.
Brady threw some beautiful passes on the drive: two to White, one to Amendola, one to Edelman, one to Hogan, one to Bennett. The one to Bennett resulted in a DPI that left the ball 2 yards from glory. On second down, White ran a sweep right and landed with the ball on the goal-line. The Patriots did it!
Tom Brady broke a truckload of records en route to the most incredible Super Bowl victory in NFL history. His season started with a suspension and it ended receiving the MVP of the Super Bowl. But, he is not done yet!
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills