Super Bowl 51 was one of the most entertaining Super Bowls of all time. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots made history by overcoming a 25 point deficit against the Atlanta Falcons, in route to their fifth championship. The best QB and head coach tandem of all time? There’s just no doubt about it.
There are many people asking themselves how the heck did the Falcons end up blowing a 25 point third quarter lead? 20% of the issue was poor play calling by the Falcons and 80% was the excellent play by the Patriots.
Poor Play Calling and Clock Management by the Falcons
Bad Play Call # 1
The Falcons had a third down and one situation in the fourth quarter and they decided to pass the football- this was a critical mistake as the Patriots caused a sack fumble. The Patriots ended up recovering the football in Falcon territory, and eventually drove in to score a touchdown and convert the two-point conversion to get within 8 points. The Falcons should have ran the football to kill clock and to keep the drive going. They had a solid lead, a chance to keep their drive alive and to kill more clock. Terrible play calling.
Bad Play Call # 2
Following a Patriots touchdown that brought New England within 8 points, the Falcons showed some life and got the ball to New England’s 22 yard line. This drive was aided by an unbelievable catch by Julio Jones. With under five minutes left in the game, the Falcons sole responsibility was to run the football to drain the clock. If they did not get a first down, they could have tried to kick a field goal. If they settled for a field goal, they would of killed game clock and would of increased their lead to 11 points with four minutes left in the game. They did run the ball on first down unsuccessfully. Second down resulted in a sack and a holding penalty on third down eventually took them out of field goal position. The Patriots were loading the box in an effort to stuff the run, but Atlanta had to run the ball anyway. They should have ran the football on all three downs to kill the clock and at the very least attempt a field goal. Absolutely terrible play calling.
Atlanta’s Second Half Play
The Falcons played an absolutely horrible second half of football. One drive of 75 yards, and a touchdown in the third quarter, was all they could muster. Besides the great catch by Julio Jones that put them in field goal range but they ended up going backwards. They had a 25 point lead and they blew it. Atlanta’s last 5 possessions of the game all lasted less than 2:26. They weren’t able to get first downs and/or drain the clock. You have to credit the Patriots defense for making adjustments to really buckling down and getting back to playing Patriot defense. Atlanta came out in the second half and got completely outplayed and out coached by the Patriots.
Where were all of Atlanta’s weapons on offense? Other than Julio Jones bailing the Falcons out with his incredible athleticism, the rest of the offense stalled. Julio Jones (4-87 yards) was kept under control because of the Patriots double teamed him every single play. Gabriel did have a nice 35 yard catch, but other than that, the Patriots shut their receivers down and did a decent job against the run. Atlanta scored on an interception return for a touchdown, aided by Brady’s misread and throw. So in reality, the Falcons only scored 21 points with their offense. Bill Belichick’s Patriots took away Atlanta’s best player and played sound second half defense (as we often say, defense wins championships!). The Falcons offense got shut down.
The Atlanta Falcon’s defense was shredded the entire second half of Super Bowl 51. The first half was a different story, as Atlanta was in create a turnover mode- causing a strip fumble and a return interception for a touchdown. These turnovers lead to 14 points for the Falcons. However, in the second half I witnessed them blow a 25 point lead. In the second half the Patriots had FOUR drives that went 70+ yards, one of which went 91 yards for a touchdown (game tying drive with under 3 minutes left). Where was the defense? You can blame the poor play calling all you want but your defense has to get a stop.You can have to credit the Patriots because their players made plays. The OL gave Brady time and the receivers made unbelievable contested catches in the second half of the contest.
Take a look at this drive chart:
The Falcons gave up four drives in the second half and overtime of 70+ yards. The success percentage of a team going 70+ yards and scoring a touchdown is 10%. The Falcon defense got shredded and you can attest that to the Patriot offense making plays. The offensive play calling had nothing to do with the them giving up four 70+ yard drives. The Patriots always seem to find a way to make plays when they need too. They had the best team- players, coaches.
This wasn’t so much of Atlanta losing the game, it was more so the Patriots ruthlessly taking the game. 20% of the loss was the Falcons and 80% of the reason was the Patriots.
(See Also) 7 Things Football Coaches can Learn from the Patriots