Tom Brady leads Patriots to historic comeback victory
So America hasn’t changed that much in the last few months after all: the New England Patriots are the Super Bowl champions once again. They beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime amid a frenzied, brain-frying climax in Houston. At one point New England had trailed 28-3 with little over a quarter to play.
For the Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, it was a stunning ending to a season that ended in redemption and possibly cemented his position as the greatest player of all time. Brady, arguably the most famous athlete in the US, had missed the first four games of the season due to a suspension for his part in the Deflategate scandal. On his return, he led the Patriots on a charge towards their fifth Super Bowl title in remarkable circumstances.
“We all brought each other back,” said Brady of his team-mates after the game. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle. They have a great team, I give them a lot of credit. We just made a few more plays than them.”
The game had been billed as the experience and wile of Brady and his head coach Bill Belichick against the explosive offense of the Falcons, led by Matt Ryan and the extravagantly talented wide receiver Julio Jones. But the high-scoring contest nearly every expert had predicted refused to emerge and the first quarter ended scoreless – the two best quarterbacks in the league this season had managed just 59 yards of passing between them.
It was the Falcons who finally scored. Given the unspectacular play so far, it was fitting that it came from a short run by Devonta Freeman. But Ryan has developed a taste for the limelight after what had been, until this remarkable season, a career of mild underachievement. In his first Super Bowl, it was Ryan’s seventh pass attempt before he failed to find a receiver: he made up for that on his eighth, a beautiful pass to the rookie Austin Hooper to make it 14-0. The Falcons were running, the Patriots gasping. A quick glance of the record books showed the task ahead of the Patriots: no team had ever won the Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points. The task went from challenging to positively vertiginous when Brady, under pressure from Atlanta’s pass rushers, was intercepted with 2:36 left in the first-half by Robert Alford, who had a long time to savor the highlight of his career as he trotted 82 yards into the end zone largely unopposed. Even the Patriots cheerleaders appeared to be smiling through gritted teeth as they danced in the end zone during the break for the two-minute warning. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal to end the half was as good as it got for the four-time champions as they went into half-time 21-3 down.
While much of the attention was justifiably on Ryan’s accuracy, it was the swashbuckling Falcons who had been models of efficiency – they had scored on both of their trips into the red zone – while the Patriots, a team known for their brutal professionalism, had been sloppy, turning the ball over twice. They had also failed to stop the Falcons’ run game: Atlanta had averaged 9.6 yards per carry in the first-half; New England managed just 2.5.
If Belichick, the famous disciplinarian, attempted to tighten his team up in the locker room, it appeared to have done little good. Few could remember the last time a Patriots team was this listless but nothing should be taken away from the skill with which Ryan, looking every inch the league MVP, dismantled the New England defense. He led his team 85 yards down the field in eight plays at the start of the third quarter to make it 28-3 and apparently put the game out of reach. The touchdown came from a six-yard pass to Tevin Coleman and and that point Ryan had completed 12 of his 14 passes.