Welcome to Volume 2, Episode 1 of the Unconventional Review, a look back at a Patriots’ Super Bowl victory a few days after it becomes real. We did this for the Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seahawks two years ago, and hopefully there are more volumes in the future. This franchise, man. Anything is possible.
Well, let’s see. Since getting back from Houston in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I think I’ve watched Super Bowl LI three times in full now, and NFL Network’s condensed version, plus all the SoundFX stuff, Inside The NFL, Turning Point, Brady 6, the Super Bowl Classic films from the previous Patriots victories, and perhaps even something narrated by Beasley Reece, though that may have just been a flashback to the 1990 Patriots highlight film, which really should have been a mere snippet. Talk about a different time and place.
Anyway, watching all of this welcome Patriots stuff on the various networks — especially NFL Network — the past couple of days really hammered home how many things, by discipline, precision, execution, luck, and Falcons meltdown, had to go exactly as they did for the Patriots to have a chance, any chance at all.
In two years, I’ve never gotten tired of watching Malcolm Butler’s interception, not to mention the setup and the delirious aftermath. And I’ll never get tired of watching this. Or writing about it, for that matter. So let’s revisit Super Bowl LI one more time — at least until the next time.
THREE PLAYERS WHO WERE A JOY TO WATCH OTHER THAN TOM BRADY
JAMES WHITE: Six carries, 29 yards, two touchdowns. Fourteen catches on 16 targets, another touchdown. A two-point conversion on a direct snap. I mean … he basically combined the career Super Bowl highlights of J.R. Redmond, Kevin Faulk and Shane Vereen into one unexpected all-timer of a performance. And when did he turn into Tecmo Bowl’s Bo Jackson at the goal line, anyway?
TREY FLOWERS: Four tackles, 2 assists, 2.5 sacks, a constant menace in the Falcons’ backfield all day, and the purveyor of one of the two must-have defensive plays for the Patriots, a sack of Matt Ryan with just under 4 minutes left that knocked the Falcons, still leading by 8 and threatening to make it a two-score game, from the New England 22 to the 35. As a fourth-round pick last year, he’s turning out to be a fine gift from Belichick the GM to Belichick the coach.
DONT’A HIGHTOWER: Just a couple of tackles — in part because the Falcons stopped running the ball — but he made the other must-have defensive play, a strip-sack of Ryan at the Atlanta 36 with under 10 minutes left to play and the Patriots still down by 16 (28-12). They had to have something like that happen to make sure they had a real chance. Hightower made it happen. What a great all-around defensive player he has become. Pay the man, Bill.
SCRIBBLINGS IN THE BOX SCORE’S MARGINS
It’s still a mild surprise that Goodell didn’t activate his Buffalo Wild Wings button and put an invisible fence around the Patriots’ end zone in the fourth quarter so James White would get zapped any time he went near it. Or maybe a sinkhole on the 1-yard line. In all seriousness, we can probably put away the narratives that Goodell or the league is out to stick it to the Patriots, at least on the field. There were at least four plays (the Hightower sack being ruled a fumble, Amendola’s 2-pointer, White’s winning TD, and Edelman’s catch) that could have gone against the Patriots in an unjust world but did not. The refs did a great job. … It’s amazing now to watch the third quarter — when the Patriots converted a fourth-and-3 in Falcons territory, tried a trick play (an Edelman incompletion to Dion Lewis) and an onside kick — and realize how desperate and hopeless it all seemed at that moment. It was desperate, of course. But it was never hopeless. One of the details you pick up watching all of this mic’d-up SoundFX stuff is that the Patriots remained remarkably positive, especially Edelman and LeGarrette Blount. …Blount sprinting onto the field to tackle James White in the end zone after the winning touchdown. It was the best celebration by a bruising but giddy Patriots running back since Antowain Smith rapidly high-stepped it onto the field after Adam Vinatieri’s winning field goal split the uprights in Super Bowl XXXVI. … Hope Chris Long is back next year. Solid character dude who delivered in limited time in the Super Bowl, including drawing that huge holding penalty late in the Falcons’ reverse drive after the spectacular Julio Jones catch … I thought Kenny Chesney was Team Peyton?
SOME LAST WORDS ON THE FALCONS
He looked like the MVP that he is through the first three quarters, but the moment seemed to get big for Matt Ryan toward the end, especially when the Falcons got the ball back in a tied game with less than a minute left. Suddenly, he looked like the kid called upon to take over for Paul Peterson against Syracuse, if you know what I mean. It makes you appreciate what Brady did on the final drive against the Rams even more, if that’s possible. The poise it requires is unfathomable … A subtle goat for the Falcons: linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who interfered with Martellus Bennett in the end zone on the winning driving, moving the ball from the Atlanta 15 to the 2. It was all over but the confetti party at that point … Then again, as inevitable as Patriots victory seemed when the they won the overtime coin flip, if Vic Beasley is three inches taller or has slightly better body control, that winning drive would have died because of a stupid fade route … Had the Falcons held on, Grady Jarrett (three sacks, many bruises inflicted) would have had a case of MVP, though of course Ryan would have won it. I cannot believe how close he came to burying Brady for a safety on the first play of the tying drive. … The Falcons’ tactical mistake in a nutshell: They ran just five times after taking a 25-point lead. And yet Julio Jones had just four catches on the game. When the Patriots made their comeback, the Falcons were countering without using their best tactics or talent. Weird.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
Well, I can’t believe that there are still Patriots players who haven’t boycotted the field trip to the White Hou … OH, I’M KIDDING. I have no grievances this week. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in a more incredible come-from-behind fashion than the last time they won the Super Bowl in an incredible come-from-behind fashion two years ago. The fueling daydream that Roger Goodell would have to hand the Lombardi Trophy over to the Patriots to cap the season in which he had unjustly banned Tom Brady for 25 percent of the schedule came to fruition, and it was just as wonderful as you could have hoped.
I have covered three Super Bowls, two Stanley Cup Finals, and a World Series title among other events, and I have never heard anything as loud as the booing Goodell took when he was introduced at the start of the postgame festivities. Brady handled the entire thing graciously, including Monday morning’s MVP presentation. Goodell, meanwhile, looked the entire weekend like his innards were grumbling and there wasn’t a Port-A-Potty in sight. My only grievance is that his comeuppance didn’t last longer — and even then it was a riot to watch him scurry off stage. Here’s to the Patriots, who made their own justice.
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME
In the Do Your Job documentary after 2014 Super Bowl season, Belichick candidly acknowledges that a major reason the Patriots hadn’t won a title in the previous years was largely because All-Milky Way tight end Rob Gronkowski had been playing through or sidelined by an injury late in a few of those years. It was a striking, if matter-of-fact, statement by the coach, who doesn’t often put such an emphasis on one player. Of course, it’s the total truth, and that’s one of the secondary joys about what just happened in Houston — the Patriots actually won a Super Bowl without Gronk out there with them, doing his Evolved Bavaro routine on the rest of the league.
To put it another way: The Super Bowl champs will be adding — or re-adding — one of the most dynamic weapons in the league to their offense next season. They’re the best, and they’re already assured of getting better. Here’s to appreciating five and anticipating six.