We sit here in the wake of the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history. Elation abounds for the victors and pain raw for the losers. So much had to go right for the New England Patriots to overcome a 25-point deficit over the final 23-plus minutes of regulation. So much had to go wrong — both in scheme and execution — for the Falcons to squander away a championship seemingly on ice.
It took a skill, luck, and perhaps something otherworldly for Tom Brady to emerge victorious with his fifth Super Bowl. It hardly seems real and, oddly, the more it’s examined, the end result seems even more unlikely.
New England 34, Atlanta 28. How?
Everyone is trying to figure out which of the dozens of key plays was most important — and there are several frontrunners.
Julian Edelman’s ridiculous juggling catch. Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack of Matt Ryan. Trey Flower’s sack that moved the Falcons out of field goal range. Danny Amendola’s two-point reception.
All of these memorable moments, however, obscure what was truly the most crucial of them all.
Down 28-3 with 6:04 left in the third quarter, the Patriots faced a 4th-and-3 from their own 46. Failing to convert would put the Falcons just a first down away from a potential four-touchdown advantage and a short field away from an insurmountable 32-point edge.
Brady calmly connected with Amendola on an 8-yard out route. The wide receiver then eluded a tackle before being pushed out of bounds with a 17-yard gain. At the time it seemed only to prolong the intrigue, to delay the inevitable.
It turned out to be so much more. It turned out to the be first in a series of fortunate events that gave history a late-game rewrite. It is destined to be forgotten, buried under more spectacular individual efforts and questionable coaching decisions.
But this was it. One cannot convince me otherwise. Without this play, which seemed like mere window dressing at the time, the Patriots are flying home to Boston as vanquished foe, not triumphant heroes.
The later, bigger things were built on this foundation. The pillars of comeback needed a building block. It wasn’t a sexy design or eye-popping bit of skill but it did the job.
And in a way, it’s a testament to the Patriots greatness — why “do your job” is not a meaningless mantra but instead a recipe for success. One never knows when a little thing will become monumental.