It started out slow, moved into a one-sided affair and concluded as one of the greatest Super Bowls in memory. Super Bowl LI came down to the wire, capping off an otherwise dull postseason with a classic for the ages.
Led by Tom Brady, the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, winning with a touchdown on the first drive of overtime.
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
It was an epic championship game that vaults Brady into territory no other quarterback has explored. He now has five Super Bowl wins, one more than Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
He wasn’t the only quarterback to play well, but he proved once and for all that he’s the greatest quarterback of all time, headlining our winners category. There were some poor performances in this game, which we’ll delve into as well.
On that note, these were the biggest winners and losers from Super Bowl LI.
Winner: Tom Brady is the GOAT
Where to start.
Brady was abused in this game. He was sacked five times, hit eight more times and was hurried throughout the contest. He watched as his team fell into an early 21-0 hole before finally making something happen before the half to go into the locker room down by 18 points.
Then the Falcons turned up the heat some more with a touchdown in the third quarter to go up by the score of 28-3.
The game should have been over. After all, Brady’s biggest comeback of all time was 24 points before this game.
The Patriots trail the @AtlantaFalcons by 25 points (28-3)
Tom Brady's biggest comeback of his career…
24 points (Week 12, 2013 vs DEN)
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 6, 2017
None of that mattered. Momentum meant nothing. History meant nothing.
Desire was everything.
Brady led a comeback for the ages. He engineered four straight scoring drives in the second half before overtime, then led the Pats down the field on a methodical eight-play, 75-yard drive that featured one of the craziest catches you’ll ever see (courtesy of Julian Edelman) and culminated with a two-yard run by James White.
Finishing with more passing yards than any quarterback in Super Bowl history, Brady went for 466 yards on 43-of-62 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. He was magnificent. He was at his best when the game was on the line, delivering strikes down the field on the game’s final drive while winning his fifth title as a pro.
The best part? Brady isn’t close to being finished. He wants to continue playing the game for years to come, and the Patriots have a chance to win the Super Bowl every year he’s competing. When his career is said and done, nobody will come close to accomplishing what he’s done.
Loser: Matt Ryan couldn’t finish the deal down the stretch
Matt Ryan won the NFL’s MVP trophy Saturday night after a stellar regular season in which he threw for nearly 5,000 yards with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Displaying outstanding patience and a mastery of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Ryan was magnificent for most of the night and appeared to be leading the Falcons to their first Super Bowl victory of all time. At the half, the Falcons led 21-3, thanks in part to Ryan’s play. He went for 115 yards on 7-of-8 passing with one touchdown, which was a perfect pass to rookie tight end Austin Hooper (watch here).
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last.
Thanks to some outstanding pressure by New England’s front seven, Ryan was under assault for much of the second half. He ended up losing a fumble in the second half that led to a Patriots touchdown that put them one score away from tying the game.
Then later on when the Falcons were in field goal range, Ryan took a sack that he absolutely could not take when he was hauled down by Trey Flowers for a 12-yard loss. After the game, Ryan admitted he should have thrown the ball away but did not regret the aggressive approach offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan adhered to late in the game.
A holding call on offensive tackle Jake Matthews pushed Atlanta’s offense back another 10 yards.
Instead of kicking a field goal to go up by 11 points, the Falcons punted the ball, which led to a legendary fourth-quarter touchdown-scoring drive by Brady and ultimately cost Atlanta the game.
Ryan was on point most of the game. He finished with 284 yards on 17-of-23 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he wasn’t at his best with the game on the line, and it cost his team a championship.
Winner: James White comes up huge
Tom Brady is undeniably the MVP of Super Bowl LI. But James White should be a close second.
In a game that saw New England’s receivers struggle to gain separation, struggle to catch balls that hit them in the hands and generally struggle to make big plays until the overtime period, White was the consistent offensive playmaker Brady needed to stay in the game.
Catching a Super Bowl record 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, White also came up with 29 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.
He was Weapon X for the Patriots, who always seem to see one player nobody expects to come up big make the key difference in these big games.
Loser: Kicking themselves silly
The Patriots ended up being hurt by mistakes on kicks two separate times, costing them potentially two points in a game that ended up going into overtime.
The first mistake was on the refs, who called a penalty on linebacker Shea McClellin after he leaped over Atlanta’s offensive line attempting to block an extra-point field goal. He never touched the center, as was alleged, and the Falcons got a second chance to kick after missing the first attempt. Matt Bryant ripped the second attempt through the uprights.
Questionable flag on the first XP attempt. Someone else thinks so too. pic.twitter.com/0Fu4qTuXIw
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) February 6, 2017
The second mistake was self-inflicted. It came on an extra-point attempt, as Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point on New England’s first touchdown of the game. As we’ve reviewed in the past, kickers missing these extra points is completely mental (more on that here).
In the end, it mattered not, as Brady brought the Patriots back to win in overtime, but these mistakes almost cost New England its fifth NFL championship.
Winner: Robert Alford in the right place at the right time
There were only three turnovers in Super Bowl LI, and Alford came up with two of them.
He took advantage of a brilliant strip by linebacker Deion Jones against LeGarrette Blount, coming up with the loose ball to set up the game’s first touchdown and give the Falcons an early lead (watch here).
Then later in the first half with over two minutes left on the clock and the Patriots driving in the red zone, Alford showed up again. He stepped in front of a throw by Brady to take it back 82 yards for the score and give the Falcons a 21-0 lead before New England finally scored right before halftime (watch here).
The cornerback was all over the field making plays for Atlanta. All told, Alford came up with 11 tackles, one fumble recovery, two defended passes and the pick-six. It was a timely performance for the fourth-year player, and one that almost keyed the Super Bowl victory for the Falcons.
Loser: Offensive lines were outmatched
As we mentioned before, Brady was a veritable punching bag on passing downs.
Atlanta’s defensive front had its way with New England’s big guys up front until the very end of the game when Brady turned on the magic. In addition to their pass-rushing numbers, the Falcons did a fine job holding LeGarrette Blount to minimal gains on the ground.
On the other side, the Patriots also had a field day defensively against Atlanta’s offensive line rushing Matt Ryan.
Ryan was sacked five times, hit 12 more times and coughed up what turned out to be the pivotal turnover of the game when Dont’a Hightower came off the edge on a blitz and forced a fumble to set up the touchdown that sparked New England’s comeback win.
All told, quarterbacks were sacked 10 times and hit another 20 times, with Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett coming up with three sacks and New England’s Trey Flowers tallying 2.5.
That’s not the kind of “protection” either quarterback was used to seeing all year, and it highlights just how good both defensive fronts were in Super Bowl LI.
Winner: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman go ham
The Patriots were indomitable against the run for much of the season, finishing with the No. 3-ranked rush defense while allowing just 3.9 yards per carry and six total rushing scores.
One of the biggest storylines leading up to the Super Bowl was whether Atlanta’s potent rushing attack could break loose against this defense. Thanks to the offensive line, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons answered that question with a resounding yes.
Combining to rush for 104 yards on just 18 carries, Freeman and Coleman continually gashed New England’s defensive front. It started early in the game with a 37-yard romp by Freeman, who also rushed for a touchdown.
Additionally, Freeman caught two passes for 46 yards and was the most consistently dangerous weapon the Falcons featured in Super Bowl LI.
Loser: LeGarrette Blount fumbles away precious momentum for Pats
The normally sure-handed LeGarrette Blount came into Super Bowl Sunday with just one lost fumble in 2016.
Then in one instant, his stellar record went up in flames. Falcons rookie linebacker Deion Jones made a tremendous play to rip the ball out of Blount’s hands to force just the second lost fumble for the running back all season long.
After turning the ball over, New England’s defense lost precious momentum and allowed the Falcons to go 71 yards on just five plays, culminating in a five-yard touchdown for Devonta Freeman.
This play ended up as a huge turning point in the game. Before Blount fumbled, the contest was a defensive stalemate. Afterwards, it turned into an avalanche of scoring for the Falcons in the first half, which ended 21-3 in favor of Atlanta.
And it all started with one big fumble by a guy who hardly ever loses the ball. Timing is critical in every venture. Unfortunately for Blount, his bad timing hurt the Patriots in a huge way. Thankfully for Blount, Brady came up big in the end with a performance for the ages.
Winner: President George Bush overcomes illness to toss the coin
It wasn’t long ago that both President George H. W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush were both in the hospital. President Bush was in the ICU to combat bacterial pneumonia, and Barbara was being treated for fatigue and coughing.
Yet they were both on hand to toss the coin and get the game started Sunday in Houston, thanks to some tremendous determination (more on that here).
— NFL (@NFL) February 5, 2017
Nearly everyone in the stadium, including Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and the usually stoic Bill Belichick, gave the president and his first lady a rousing round of applause.
Bill Belichick joins in the applause for George HW and Barbara Bush pic.twitter.com/8yZPsTLMd6
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) February 5, 2017
President Bush, who was shot down while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, was in a wheelchair, being pushed by a serviceman. Former first lady, Barbara, rode alongside him in a golf cart until it was time to toss the coin. Then she walked behind President Bush and stood behind him as he tossed the coin.
It was a touching moment and a tremendous way to get Super Bowl LI kicked off in style.
Loser: Commercials fall flat
Super Bowl commercials are supposed to knock our socks off. That didn’t happen very often. Especially early when we needed a bit of extra entertainment in a 0-0 game.
With slow start on the field in the 1st quarter, a missed opportunity for a great commercial to dominate social media. There were none.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 6, 2017
Coke’s America the Beautiful, sang in English, Spanish and Arabic, was tremendous, but it’s not new.
That was joined by other political-laced advertisements, with Airbnb, Wendy’s and Budweiser using their money and time to subtly protest President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations — commercials that evoked a strong response one way or another, depending on your personal view on the subject.
Then there were the truly funny commercials, which were unfortunately few and far between. Cam Newton’s Buick commercial that featured him playing against a bunch of kids was pretty darn funny. Terry Bradshaw’s stain commercial for Tide gave us a chuckle, and the build-up to it was pretty smart as well.
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
NFL Network’s Super Bowl Legends Babies commercial was another that we loved (watch here). So it wasn’t all bad. Still, for the most part the commercials featured in Super Bowl LI were about as flat as weeks-old Mountain Dew.
I've seen Instagram promos funnier than these Super Bowl commercials.
— Wellington Boyce (@WellieBoyce) February 6, 2017
This is even more shocking considering the hefty price tag companies agreed to pay for their spots (average of $5 million per 30-second commercial). Thankfully there was some entertainment to be found when the players weren’t battling it out on the field, as Lady Gaga’s halftime show was outstanding.