Julio’s excellent performance could not overcome the Patriots’ comeback. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
It was a tale of two halves on Super Bowl Sunday as Matt Ryan and the Falcons squared off against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Atlanta finished the regular season with the league’s best offense, and it was apparent in the first half. Led by Matt Ryan, Atlanta put together a near-perfect first half on offense. It was their defense, though, that made the difference.
After both teams were forced to punt on each of their first two possessions, Falcons linebacker Deion Jones forced a fumble on the Falcons’ 33-yard line. With this momentum, the Falcons turned a six-minute, 52-yard drive by the Pats into an 82-yard pick-six and a 21-0 lead. It wasn’t until the end of the first half that New England finally got on the board, though they trailed 21-3 at the break.
Much of the skepticism surrounding this Falcons team was related to its defense. In recent columns, I suggested that if Atlanta could force turnovers and control the football, they could beat anybody. That’s exactly what they did in the first 30 minutes of the game. The fact that the Pats’ offense, which averaged nearly 28 points per game in the regular season and over 30 points in the playoffs, was held to just three points is certainly impressive.
The Falcons’ defense is young and inexperienced, but improved late in the season. That being said, the Falcons’ hot start shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. And although the Patriots made some questionable play-calls throughout the half, it was a result of Atlanta’s pass rush getting to Brady.
The Falcons recorded two sacks on four quarterback hits and four passes defended in the first half to go along with a forced fumble and an interception. It seemed as though this game was over, and considering no team has ever come back from being down more than 10 points in a Super Bowl, it was. The Patriots kept their composure, though.
Even though they were down by 18 at the half, New England was on offense for the final nine minutes of the second quarter. Between that and the extended halftime, Matt Ryan and the offense were off the field for about a half hour.
This didn’t seem to have an immediate impact as Atlanta was able to add seven to their lead with eight and a half minutes left in the quarter. That would be all for the Falcons, though. Perhaps the defense was getting tired, or maybe Tom Brady just got things together.
The Falcons looked lost on offense. The Patriots’ calmness proved to be the difference, as untimely penalties and a fumble in Patriots’ territory made it a one-possession game in the fourth. The Pats’ comeback was capped by two two-point conversions late in the fourth, resulting in the first overtime game in Super Bowl History.
In the overtime period, the Falcons’ 99.6 percent chance of winning was erased, and this time, it was their defense’s inexperience that cost them. They came out aggressive in the first half, but after 40:31 of allowing 546 total yards and 37 first downs, they burnt out as the Patriots took their momentum and rolled downfield to seal the victory.