The Atlanta Falcons had it, up 28-3 in Super Bowl LI, a game no team had ever come back from more than 10 down to win. Until the New England Patriots on Sunday night, that is.
When Tevin Coleman caught a short pass from Matt Ryan and scampered into the end zone to give the Atlanta Falcons a 28-3 lead with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI Sunday night, it was just assumed the Falcons were on their way to their first championship.
A 25-point lead in the second half of the Super Bowl had to be safe, right? After all, no team had ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit to win the NFL’s big game at the end.
But the danger signs were there, even amid the giddiness that came with having such a huge lead over the NFL’s 21st century Evil Empire, the Patriots, in the Super Bowl for the seventh time since the 2001 season and the ninth time as a franchise.
The Falcons’ defense, not a noteworthy group to begin with, spent 19:35 of the first half on the field as New England ran off 42 offensive plays to just 19 for Atlanta’s vaunted offensive unit.
The weight of being asked to stop Tom Brady and company over and over and over again was too much to ask of Atlanta’s young, developing defense. The group just wore down having to spend so much time on the field against the savvy Brady, who led the Patriots to a 34-28 overtime victory.
New England scored 31 straight points after falling into that 28-3 hole. The Patriots ran 93 offensive plays to just 46 for the Falcons and had the ball for 40:31, compaired to just 23:27 for Atlanta.
Of New England’s 10 longest plays of the night, six came in the fourth quarter and overtime, as the Falcon defenders ran out of gas.
Atlanta made some key stops and got some breaks, holding the Patriots to a field goal late in the first half on a drive that was prolonged by three defensive holding penalties against the Falcons. Later, the Falcons were gouged for 72 yards in 12 plays by the New England offense, but stiffened when they had to, forcing another field goal.
They also caught a break when Stephen Gostkowski hit the upright on an extra point attempt after New England’s first touchdown and still led 28-12 with 9:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
There were three critical moments that contributed to the collapse by the Falcons Sunday night.