Long offseasons, summer practices, a grueling sixteen week schedule, and an exciting postseason culminate every year in the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl. Super Bowl 51 (LI) was just as thrilling and intense as any other championship to be played previously. In fact this year’s Super Bowl was the first ever to go into overtime, as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots captured their fifth title by defeating the Atlanta Falcons.
The game was determined by the Falcons inability to keep a large lead, and the Patriots ability to capitalize and make a historic comeback. St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) first year student Zach Thompson states: “This was one of the better Super Bowls I’ve seen. It really came down to some turnovers and huge penalties at the end of the game by Atlanta. This gave Tom (Brady) the opportunity to win the game.”
Going into the game the Patriots were the favorites, seeing as they have arguably the best dynasty in football history with now five Super Bowls since 2002. However the Falcons seemed ready for the challenge and were countering with reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, Matt Ryan (QB). Over 110 million people tuned in as the Falcons were going to seemingly do the impossible. Half way through the third quarter, Atlanta was coasting with a twenty-eight to three lead. They were on the cusp of their first ever Super Bowl Championship, but then it all started to fall apart. Very quietly, the Patriots began to figure themselves out as they narrowed the gap to twenty-eight to twelve with about ten minutes left in the game. The Falcons had every opportunity to win the football game. All they theoretically needed was to score three points then to run the clock down. However, during their next possession, the Patriots forced them to punt after just three plays. Brady, on the other hand, got the ball, made four quick passes, and scored a touchdown. The Patriots went for two to make it a twenty-eight to eight game.
In this moment, there were about six minutes left in the game and the Falcons still clearly had the upper hand. A score on their drive would take time off the clock and easily give them a large enough lead to seal their victory. It looked like Atlanta would do just that as Ryan opened up the possession with a thirty-nine yard completion to Devonta Freeman to bring his team to midfield. A few plays later Ryan threw to Julio Jones on the edge of the field for a twenty-seven yard gain. Now sitting at the twenty-two yard line, the Falcons were almost guaranteed a win unless they did one of the following things: turn the ball over, allow a sack, or have a penalty. If they avoid these and they score a touchdown, or if they kick a field goal, they will almost certainly win the game. However on consecutive plays, the Patriots sacked Ryan for a twelve yard loss and then a Falcons lineman commits a holding penalty – forcing the Falcons out of field goal range. Atlanta punted the football and were mere spectators as Brady carved up their defense’s secondary. Wide receiver Julian Edelman made a phenomenal juggling catch for twenty-three yards in the process. Running back James White scored his second touchdown of the evening.
Regulation ended with both teams tied at twenty-eight, Super Bowl 51 became the first ever Super Bowl to go into overtime. The momentum however was already swayed and upon winning the coin flip, the Patriots marched down the field in nine plays before James White rushed for a touchdown to win it. Brady finished with 466 yards passing and two touchdowns, while White was his leading receiver with fourteen catches for 110 yards and one touchdown (Super Bowl record) (bleacherreport.com). Brady was also awarded MVP honors for his fifth Super Bowl title with New England.
Fellow SMCM first year Sam Roeder adds on: “The most exciting part of the game was watching the Patriots drive and drive throughout the fourth quarter and into overtime … Their (New England) incredible coach Bill Belichick really fired the team up later in the game. Also early on in the game Brady seemed out of touch with his receivers, so once they got on the same page they began to make big plays.”
In the future, one thing the NFL may wish to revise is the overtime rules. While the Patriots definitely had the momentum and fairly won the game, the Atlanta offense did not get an opportunity to score themselves. Many people believe the NFL should change their overtime rules in order to allow both offenses to have a possession before the game ends. Thompson agrees, stating: “I think the overtime rule needs to be revised because it really comes down to a coin flip. When you have two quarterbacks that are consistent in scoring touchdowns, it is very likely only one of them will get a shot. The NFL should change it to allow both teams an opportunity to score before the game ends.”