While the victory hangover still looms in my thoughts, as it will for some time, the clouds have parted for us here at Check Down and we have begun our full analysis of the game and the epic 25-point comeback pulled off by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Check out articles by Mando and Fronte here:
While we’ve now dove into each and every play and looked for positivity in the Atlanta Falcon’s future, I’m here to narrow down the top 10 plays from Super Bowl LI. Plays from both Atlanta and New England are included in order of final score significance and complete amazement. Some may be surprised by my choices, but in the grand scheme of the 63-minute 58-second game, I believe that these plays, in order of relevance, were the ten most influential and outrageous plays of Tom Brady’s 5th Super Bowl win.
#10: Danny Amendola’s TD with 5:56 left in the 4th
Danny Amendola was in a very similar scenario just two years ago in Super Bowl 49: with the clock winding down in the 4th quarter while the Patriots trailed, he was put in a position to draw one-on-one man coverage in the end zone in order to make it a one-possession game. He did nothing different this year. Amendola’s key score late in the fourth, coupled with a successful two-point conversion, was key in allowing the Patriots to claw their way back into the game and force overtime. Prior to the snap, Amendola lined up in the left slot with Malcolm Mitchell on the wing, both checked in man coverage with a safety option to pass-rush or cover territory over the middle of the field and end zone. Mitchell’s role was to jam the corner at the goal line while Amendola cut back towards the pylon. Amendola’s quickness against a gassed Atlanta secondary that late in the game allowed him to catch a fairly open pass from Tom Brady, making it 18-28 with just under 6 minutes left to play in the game.
#9: Robert Alford’s Interception Return
If the Patriots were to lose this game, this image would be considered one of the final additions to Tom Brady’s legacy if it were to end soon (which it won’t, don’t worry New Englanders). Already down 0-14 in the second quarter, Tom Brady had put together a drive deep into Atlanta territory, only to make one of the worst zone coverage reads of his career, throwing what seemed like a direct pass to Robert Alford, who took it 82 yards to the house, making it 0-21 with a Matt Bryant extra point. This picture tells it all: Tom Brady, facing adversity on the biggest stage of his life with everything on the line, his instincts collapsed, and it resulted in a score that could’ve put the game out of reach with Atlanta’s explosive offense. He throws the pick, and chases down Alford with everything he has, but to no avail. That would be a serious summary in attest to his amazing clutch performances and dominance. Regardless of the outcome this would be a play of great significance. Patriots lose, it’s about Brady’s collapse; Patriot’s win, and it’s all about Brady’s resilience. It worked out in favor for the latter.
#8: Danny Amendola 17-yard completion on 4th & 3
With both of these dominant offenses, I never would’ve expected either of them to be up against a needed 4th-down conversion. If anything, I thought it would be Atlanta, but quite the contrary. Amendola’s completion came at a crucial stage in the game: Atlanta is up by 25, and if they get the ball back, they had enough momentum to be able to score later that possession in however much time they wanted to. If that happens, it’s game over. But not only did Amendola convert it, he was able to do so in the middle of Atlanta territory! Later in the drive, what would be play #11 in this list occurred: Tom Brady’s 15-yard scramble on 3rd & 8 to the ATL 20 got them another crucial first down, and set up a touchdown, only to be emotionally negated by Gostowski’s botched extra point try. Didn’t matter though, I guess.
#7: Julio Jones’ Dagger Sideline Tiptoe Catch
I really really really wanted this to be higher, but I just couldn’t see it. If the Pats win, it’s a crazy play that just shocks the hearts of New England fans like Tyree and Manningham, only to win eventually. To me, this was exactly like the Rajai Davis home run in Game 7 of this past World Series; all the Cubs fan’s hearts are just surgically removed and thrown into the garbage, but they won anyway, so did it really matter? With 4:48 left in the game, Matt Ryan launched a perfect pass to All-Pro wideout Julio Jones, who somehow managed to get both feet grounded inbounds, converting a first down, and put the Falcons in serious position to hold off the ever-charging Patriots. I had exactly the feeling everyone else had: Not again. Tyree? You’re kidding me, okay that’s crazy great catch. Manningham? Wow that’s lucky as crap. Kearse? Oh COME ON JUST ONE TIME DON’T CATCH IT. Jones? He hadn’t played as large a factor as many thought he would, but of course he showed up at just the right time to plunge the dagger into my heart. What a show of athleticism and skill by Jones, I must say. Had the Falcons won, that would’ve been “the catch” of the season.
#6: Malcolm Mitchell 3rd Down Completion with 7:03 Remaining
If you don’t think Mitchell is going to be a great offensive threat in the next few years, think again. This kid, a rookie, went 6-for-7 for 70 yards during Super Bowl LI. With the clock running in a 3rd & 11 situation, Mitchell made a fantastic cut back to the 1st down line and was ready to receive a bullet from Brady to keep the drive going in a dire scenario. I put this as high as I did because I think it’s really special how much skill this young man has already gained in his first year in the NFL. Enough skill out of a 4th-round rookie for Tom Brady to trust in a 2-possession game on 3rd down with 7 minutes left. No one knows what would’ve happened next, but huge credit to Josh McDaniels, Patriots Offensive Coordinator, for that play call.
#5: James White’s Game-Winning Touchdown in Overtime
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. Many may say ask why it’s the game-winning play and it’s only at #5 on this list. Here’s my rationale: The Falcons offense had been on the field for close to 40 minutes. They were absolutely ready to just drop everything. On the 1 yard line with the Patriots having marched down the field in just 4 minutes with 3 chances to win the game, James White’s run was a brilliant play call and a fantastic moment in Patriot’s history, but did not garner my complete attention to be placed higher. Based on the scenario, there were more impressive plays during Super Bowl LI that I believed deserved greater attention and respect. And oh by the way, he ball crossed the plane of the goal line before he was down by contact, so stop f$&#ing saying that it didn’t.
#4: Trey Flowers’ Sack Takes Atlanta out of FG Range
Trey Flowers single-handedly saved the Patriot’s chances in Super Bowl LI with this devastating sack of Matt Ryan on 2nd & 11 to make it 3rd & 23 at the NE 35 yard line. Following a holding penalty and an incomplete pass on 3rd down, the Falcons couldn’t even kick a field goal after starting with unbelievable field position to start the drive. The 2nd half adjustments that the Patriot’s made included a different defensive look and better fundamentals for lineman, and Trey Flowers, a second-year defensive end out of Arkansas brought into replace Chandler Jones, saved the day for the Patriots in another crucial spot.
#3: Dont’a Hightower’s Strip Sack
There is no chance in hell that the Patriots were going to win this game if they were more than -1 in turnover differential that were capitalized on. With a LeGarrette Blount fumble and a Tom Brady pick-six both in Atlanta territory, the Patriots were going to need some huge defensive stop or turnover at some point in the game. In Super Bowl 49, it was the Malcolm Butler goal-line interception. This time, it was All-Pro linebacker Dont’a Hightower making a crucial strip sack in Atlanta’s half of the field that was recovered by Alan Branch which allowed Tom Brady and the New England offense to quickly get into the end zone for a score, and give themselves a chance to score again before the end of the game. Hightower has now made the two most game-changing defensive plays in the Patriot’s last two Super Bowl wins; the first was tackling Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line with his SHOULDER, keeping him out of the end zone and allowing Malcolm Butler to make his insane miracle interception. The second was this one.
#2: Danny Amendola’s Successful Two-Point Conversion
It’s pretty crazy to think that Danny Amendola wasn’t even mentioned in the Super Bowl MVP talks with 3 of the 10 most significant plays in the game. Obviously it was going to be Brady every time, but Amendola should’ve definitely been at least acknowledged for his heroics, this one in particular. Less than a minute to go, and James White just stormed into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 26-28, still trailing by two. The Patriots had just previously used a direct-snap play to fool the Falcons defense on the previous touchdown, as well as make them uneasy on this one, which they new they would likely have an opportunity at. Brady makes a quick pass to Amendola on the wing and he storms towards the goal line, only to be met by defensive backs Brian Poole and Jalen Collins. He was able to trudge his way backwards and get the ball across the plane before being pushed back onto the field. The play was confirmed and the Patriots had just tied Super Bowl LI. This was the second most important play of the game, following only this next absolutely outrageous feat of athleticism that will forever be ingrained in the eyelids of Patriots fans. That play is….
#1: “The Catch” by Julian Edelman
First it was David Tyree with the Helmet Catch that continued Eli Manning’s game-winning drive to steal Super Bowl XLII and the Patriot’s perfect season. Next, it was Mario Manningham’s tiptoe catch on the sidelines of Super Bowl XLVI for 38 yards during Eli’s game-winning drive to again steal the game away from the Patriots. In Super Bowl XLIX, Jermaine Kearse’s bobbled catch down the sidelines was another dagger to the hearts of Patriots fans before the famed Butler interception. Earlier in Super Bowl LI, Julio Jones made his tiptoe sideline catch to continue an Atlanta drive into Patriots territory. New England had suffered enough from these miracle and outstanding plays. It was our turn this time. During the game-tying drive, on a 1st & 10 with 2:28 left, Brady rocketed one down the middle of the field for Edelman, who was met by three Falcons defenders. Edelman tipped the ball up, was being rattled around by the bodies of Atlanta defensive backs trying to tackle him thinking that he had made the catch, and was able to bobble it around and maintain possession of the football without letting it touch the ground. This play was huge for a few reasons. One, it was a sick freakin’ grab, and one that turned the tables on Patriots Super Bowl history. Two, it cost Atlanta a timeout to unsuccessfully challenge the ruling on the field. Third, it brought New England into Atlanta territory and allowed Brady to continue a drive to eventually tie up the game and send it to overtime, where they would eventually win. Brady and Edelman’s chemistry had already been one of the best tandems in recent postseason history, capped off (for now) with an incredible play to keep Patriots players, coaches, and fans hopes alive for Brady’s 5th title.