Confidence oozing up and down Atlanta’s sideline.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons showed just how they scored the most points in the NFL. In the blink of an eye, it’s 21-3 at halftime.
The defense was running fast and hitting hard. Tom Brady getting pressured to the tune of 5 sacks. The secondary was physical and the receivers couldn’t get open. Completely shutting any attempt at running the football, forcing a fumble in the process. That’s right, Robert Alford’s pick-6 on Brady had all the Patriot-haters celebrating already.
Uh oh, coming out the half New England looked extremely energized. They forced us into a quick punt and had a nice return. Oh, good, Atlanta stood firm and forced a punt. Alright, the Birds sustained a drive, just like they did in the 2nd, capped off with a Matt Ryan to Tevin Coleman touchdown. Now, just keep the foot on the gas and finish this thing out.
Actually, the Falcons were held scoreless for the final 23 minutes of the game. The Patriots controlled the clock against the highest scoring offense. But how? They weren’t running with much success. No, what they did was use the short passing game to move the chains, engineer 2nd half touchdowns, and play keep away from the Falcons’ MVP. Time of possession turned out to be 40 minutes to 23 in New England’s favor. That’s how they did it, folks.
But, they’re calling pass interference on the Falcons in the 4th quarter. Uh, yeah, it was pretty obvious in the first half and you could see the Patriots being very vocal about it. Surprised? Head Coach Dan Quinn came from Seattle, one of the most aggressive and physical defenses in the league. Everybody knows that he emulated what worked for him back when he was their defensive coordinator. The similarities were routinely brought up by opponents. The officials paid attention to it and the Falcons played the odds that they wouldn’t get called for it to often. Especially after being allowed to play hands on for the first 30 minutes. They lost that bet. They got caught 3 times on one drive, resulting in 3 first downs for the Patriots.
Up 28-3, how in the world couldn’t they run out the clock. They looked good pitching the ball outside the tackles. The receivers did their part at the line of scrimmage. Devonta Freeman had a handful of breakout runs. Julio Jones, it felt like every catch he made was spectacular. The Falcons’ defense is playing so well, they’ve forced Goliath to be one-dimensional, to pass the ball since they’re playing from behind.
Well, remember that whole 5-sack thing from earlier? The Pats also got 5, where most of those came on drive-ending 3rd downs, including a sack-strip on Ryan. Jones did dominated, but he didn’t get enough work in as he was limited to 87 yards on 4 receptions. More passes for the future Hall of Famer that Brady is, he completes 43 for 466 yards in a historic performance. The Pats showed poise despite trailing by 25 points. They refused to let a missed extra point affect them. Occasional defensive breakdowns led to big plays by the best offense in football, yet they remained stable.
So, what exactly happened? A lot happened. The Patriots have been on this stage before. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady worked the short and intermediate routes, left and right. Brady continued to get the ball out quick, which means he read the defense pre-snap to make good and quick decisions. The Brady Bunch kept dropping passes in the first half. They adjusted to physical contact, shook off any jitters, and mostly made catches in the 4th quarter where they scored 19 points.
Do not forget, 2 Falcons turnovers led to 14 points. It wasn’t so much the “Hotlanta” offense on cruise control. It wasn’t that the Pats’ defense was giving up all of these points like a matador. Plus, Ryan, Jones and company barely touched the field. They were still productive and explosive, but the few sustained drives they had mainly took place in the 2nd quarter where they scored 21. They didn’t change the play-calling with the lead, the other team simply executed better. Some can say that the Falcons clearly choked the game away. Others will say that they haven’t been there before and weren’t mentally fit to hold on. I think it was a tale of 2 quarters, and the team with the most recent momentum finished strong.
Here’s the quarter-by-quarter breakdown:
2nd: 21-3 – Falcons won by 18
3rd: 7-6 Falcons – Falcons won by 1, up 19 points
4th: 19-0 Patriots – tied at 28 going to overtime
They tied in the 1st, nearly tied in the 3rd, and each won a quarter by a landslide. Hence, OT. Then, the team that won the coin toss went down the field in 4 minutes to score the game-winning touchdown.