8 Takeaways From Super Bowl LI’s Thrilling Finish

 

1) The Patriots completed the greatest comeback ever on the NFL’s biggest stage.

The Super Bowl was a laugher midway through the second quarter, with the New England Patriots down 21-0 following a pick-six thrown by this generation’s finest postseason quarterback. It was 28-3 Atlanta with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. ESPN’s Stats & Information department calculated the Patriots’ odds of winning this game at 0.2 percent… and they came back and won. The 25-point comeback is not just the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history; it’s one of the greatest comebacks this league has ever seen in any game in its near-one hundred year history. A lot of things had to go right for the Patriots to come back and win – a catch for the ages by Julian Edelman, a timely sack fumble by Dont’a Hightower, two touchdowns plus two two-point conversions plus a huge defensive stop of the league’s most potent offense. The result was the first Super Bowl ever to go into overtime, and winning the coin toss was all the Patriots needed. There was no stopping Tom Brady, as he marched his offense right down the field before James White ran it in from two yards out to secure an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl championship for Brady and Bill Belichick.

 

2) You literally can never count the Patriots out of a game as long as they have Brady & Belichick.

The Super Bowl was a microcosm of the 2016 New England Patriots’ season. Head coaches love the word adversity, and no team overcame adversity more than the Patriots. This is a team that was without Tom Brady for a quarter of the season due to a (ridiculous) four-game suspension. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was lost for the year in December due to a back injury. Belichick made seemingly questionable decisions to trade star pass-rusher Chandler Jones (last offseason) and inside linebacker Jamie Collins (during the season). The wide receiver corps was composed of a bunch of undersized slot receivers, and the defense is littered with other teams’ failed draft busts (Kyle Van Noy, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo, and Shea McClellin, to name a few). On a team with an average quarterback and an average head coach, they might win eight games. On a team with Brady and Belichick, they’re Super Bowl champions.

 

3) It’s becoming difficult to argue against Tom Brady as the best QB ever.

I’m the biggest Peyton Manning supporter there is, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue for him over Brady as the game’s greatest quarterback ever. It’s splitting hairs whether you’d take Brady or Manning – they’re 1-2 on everyone’s all-time lists with maybe Joe Montana or John Elway sprinkled in. But Brady now owns the substantial edge in Super Bowl rings (5-2), and his performance Sunday was the stuff of Michael Jordan in the late 1990s. Brady is 39 years old and the sport’s oldest non-kicker, and yet he’s still the best player in the league. Brady’s regular season was miraculous; 28 touchdowns to just two interceptions gets shrugged off because we’re used to what Brady can do, but don’t underestimate the brilliance it requires to pass the football so efficiently. He’s made it abundantly clear he wants to play into his mid-forties, and while that seems impossible, who are we to question Brady? He’s already the most decorated postseason QB in history (25 wins and five Super Bowl titles), and he’s still just in his prime.

 

4) We are witnessing the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

There seems to be a dynasty every decade in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers dominated the 1960s. The Pittsburgh Steelers owned the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers had the 1980s, and the Dallas Cowboys had the 1990s. But the New England Patriots? They’ve now owned consecutive decades. The club that won three titles from 2001-2004? They’re still going. Adam Vinatieri and Richard Seymour and Troy Brown are gone, but with Brady and Belichick still there, it’s still a dynasty. This is a team that has consistently owned not only the AFC East, but the whole AFC since Brady and Belichick started. Since 2001, the Patriots have won 196 regular season games, plus 25 more in the postseason. The next-best teams (Pittsburgh/Indianapolis) have won 166 games; that’s three 10-win seasons less than the Patriots. That’s simply unfathomable.

 

5) Hats off to James White for a game for the ages.

This speaks to the genius of Bill Belichick. All week, NFL experts insisted Dion Lewis was due for a big game, seeing as he possesses the quickness and pass-catching abilities to be a matchup problem for Atlanta’s defense. So what did Belichick do? He turned it into a James White game. After LeGarrette Blount lost a fumble in the first quarter, Belichick essentially benched the NFL’s leading touchdown scorer and turned White into a workhorse. White finished the game with just six carries for 29 yards, but he tied a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions. He added 110 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown grabs – in addition to a touchdown run and a two-point conversion. That’s 20 total points for White, who became the first player in NFL history – regular season or postseason – to accumulate 14 receptions and two rushing scores in the same game.

 

6) Matt Ryan turned in arguably the greatest season ever.

It seems like people glossed over what Matt Ryan did this year. Sure, he won the league MVP and took the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl, but there’s a good chance history will forget just how incredible he was in 2016. This is a quarterback who’s always been a great player, but he took his game to a whole new level this season. Ryan became the first QB in league history to average 9.3 yards per attempt while starting all 16 games, and he actually upped that yards-per-attempt average in the postseason, putting up a ridiculous 10.4 total. Per my good friend @theryanmichael, Ryan finished with the highest passer rating – regular season and postseason combined – in NFL history. He’s now riding a streak of seven consecutive games with a 120 passer rating, and he’s thrown 20 touchdowns without an interception during that span. He just put up the fourth-highest passer rating in a Super Bowl (144.1), and the highest in a loss in NFL postseason history – and he did it against the greatest coach ever and a defense that led the league in fewest points allowed.

 

7) But oh, those sacks.

The passing numbers for Matt Ryan were flawless, but the five sacks for 44 yards lost sticks out like a sore thumb. The blind side hit to Ryan in the middle of the fourth quarter that resulted in a lost fumble really wasn’t Ryan’s fault; Devonta Freeman gave a pathetic effort in trying to pick up a weakside block. It was the sack late in the fourth quarter – the one that pushed Atlanta out of field goal range – that really hurts. Ryan absolutely has to find a way to get rid of that football. Taking a sack forced Atlanta to have to punt, giving New England the ball with enough time to score.

 

8) Kyle Shanahan’s fourth-quarter game plan was questionable.

For the first 18 and 3/4 games of the 2016 season, Kyle Shanahan did a tremendous job as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. For the final quarter of the Super Bowl, he left a lot to be desired. His play calling after Julio Jones’ catch was unfathomable. With the Falcons in field goal range following Julio Jones’ phenomenal catch, Shanahan elected to pass the ball on 2nd-and-11 from the New England 23. Matt Ryan was sacked, moving the Falcons back to the 35. The Patriots called a timeout to stop the clock. A nine-yard completion on 3rd-and-23 was negated by a holding penalty, and then Ryan threw incomplete on 3rd-and-33. In all, Shanahan ran the ball just four times in the final nine minutes of the game, despite trying to run out the clock and featuring arguably the game’s best two-headed backfield. When a loss in the Super Bowl comes down to the fact that your offense lost 23 yards with the game on the line, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

 

Posted by Cody Swartz

The oldest and wisest twin. Seven-year Eagles writer. Former Phillies writer. Half-marathoner in training. Sabermetrics lover. First-time dynasty fantasy football league participant. Follow Cody Swartz on Twitter (@cbswartz5).

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