Tis the end of the football season, and as a Falcon fan, things don’t get much worse. The biggest game of the year isn’t even 24 hours old and we still struggle to wrap our heads around what happened. Did the Falcons just collapse? Was the defense gassed? Did Tom Brady just work his magic? Did the officiating affect the outcome? Well in some respects, all of the above. It’s complicated to single out any one key moment or play that dictates a game, because every play is important. A different outcome results in a different mentality in the next play and every one after that.
After jumping out to a 25-3 lead in the 3rd the game’s momentum started to shift. Tom Brady couldn’t be contained forever. The Patriots used Amendola’s quickness in and out of breaks to beat press man from both Poole and Collins. Brady did a great job recognizing Campbell’s youth and exposing him on the late defensive pass interference call in overtime. He routinely put the ball on point even when under pressure. Brady did as we have all come to expect from him. They managed the clock (40+min of possession) which in turn did leave a gassed Falcons defense late that Brady exploited at every opportunity. Brady played an excellent game and there’s no other way to slice that. So did Brady work his magic? No question about it.
The big question is did the Falcons collapse or was it Tom Brady’s late heroics? Honestly, both answers work. Up late in the 3rd with a chance to get a field goal and make it a 3 score game, the Falcons elected to pass (twice) and ended up losing 23 yards. One could argue that if the Falcons elect to run the ball (and at worse) settle for a 45-49 yard field goal, that with Matt Bryant, it is all but guaranteed. However, I agree with the play calling. We were moving the ball behind Matt and his arm. We needed to stay aggressive as the game wasn’t over (obviously). I thought it rang true to the Falcons creed all season and they can’t bail on that at the end.
To me the game had two main deciding factors: The heroics of Tom Brady and some missed officiating. Before you think this is just an Atlanta fan being sour (to be fair that’s partially true), let me give you the documented evidence of how officiating (and Tom Brady in between) ultimately decided this game. Also of important note, this is not meant to say the officials called a terrible game. In all honesty, I personally only felt two (#3 & 5) were grossly obvious, and outside the last 15min of the game, the officials called an excellent game. It would be irresponsible to accuse the officiators of intentionally not making calls, but the evidence below brings into question why the Patriots only received one (accepted) penalty in the second half (a 3yd PI on Malcolm Butler to start the 3rd quarter that was a strange call in the Falcons favor). It seems as though watching the game the officials may have been just as mesmerized by the brilliance of Tom Brady as the fans watching. So much that their eyes wondered at times from the focal points of plays.
From the first drive by the Patriots in the second half, until the game ended, the Patriots were penalized twice both on the first drives of each team. One being an early offensive pass interference on Chris Hogan, which happens to look like the final two point conversion. In the first 35 mins, they were penalized 6 times, and in the last 30min, they suddenly became flawless (in the eye’s of the officials, that is). We’ll start with the 4th quarter. At this point the game is 28-9 and the Falcons have the ball and are punting to New England to start the quarter.
Missed Penalty #1
The Patriots open up with two completions and a run up the middle with White. After picking up a couple first downs, its 2nd and 10 from their own 41 yard line with 13:15 left in the game. Here is missed call #1. In the shot below you can see a chop block on Grady Jarrett by Nate Solder. He went to cut Brooks Reed and caught Jarrett instead.
Missed Penalty #3
Falcons are forced to punt again (instead of a FG), and we pick up after Tom Brady makes a great drive down the field and scoring a TD bringing the game to 28-26 Falcons. On the 2 point conversion, there is clear blocking by Edelman and Hogan before this pass is caught. This is textbook offensive pass interference and one I was surprised wasn’t called as this was called early in the 3rd quarter. (Focused on Brady’s comeback maybe?)
Missed Penalty #4 & 5
We pick up in OT, the Patriots are driving, and are down to the Falcons 25 yard line with 12min left in OT. Here is two HUGE missed calls. First, Beasley beats Marcus Cannon with and outside-in move. Cannon has no choice but to hold beasley down with his shoulder pad to keep him from making a play on Brady:
I wouldn’t expect every one of these calls to get made. It is reasonable and understood that calls will get missed. However, this is a lot of missed calls at key moments and for a team averaging over 2 penalties a quarter, it’s hard to imagine how the officials didn’t throw at least one flag on the Patriots in the last 30min of the game. Just like the Falcons deserved the crucial pass interference on Campbell and the hold on Matthews, it is inexcusable the officiators made zero calls during the final stretch of the game when there were some obvious and key penalties that continued the shifting of the tide in this game.
At the end of the day, though, none of the above changes anything. The Patriots are Super Bowl 51 champions. History will say the Falcons blew this game. As a team, they probably feel like they did. History cannot be changed, and it does not favor the Falcons. We have two choices at this point: We can dwell on the above opportunities lost, or we can push harder and further than ever before. This is when you must prove your resolve and your resiliency. We CAN choose to continue loving the process and the journey in brotherhood. We CAN choose to let that bond push each of us to get better everyday. Because it’s that work, that passion, that drive, that will etch our names forever on the winning side of history. This is the time when Falcons MUST rise up!