Sean Pendergast

Super Bowl LI: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT) — 4 Winners, 4 Losers

The Patriots win!
The Patriots win! Screengrab/NFL
click to enlarge The Patriots win! - SCREENGRAB/NFL
The Patriots win!
In a week when our city shone the brightest it possibly could on such a big weeklong stage, NRG Stadium played host to a Super Bowl that was an absolutely fitting conclusion to a phenomenal week, a classic battle that saw Tom Brady engineer the largest comeback in Super Bowl history in leading the New England Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl title, 34-28 in overtime over the Atlanta Falcons.

There's no such thing as a "normal" comeback when a team is down 28-3 early in the second half. Weird things have to happen. Some of those weird things were caused by the Patriots, and some of them were caused (seemingly) by the mere AURA of the Patriots, as the Falcons saw their collective football IQ drop about 50 points in the final nine minutes of the game.

It's just what happens to teams not quarterbacked by Eli Manning and coached by Tom Coughlin when they play against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady — at some point, they do dumb things, they call dumb plays, they pee down their leg and lose all their football faculties. That's largely what the Falcons did. They made enough silly mistakes to leave the door slightly ajar, and Belichick and Brady kicked it open.

It's how a game in which the Pats had a 98 percent chance of LOSING heading into the fourth quarter (according to — NINETY-EIGHT PERCENT CHANCE! — turned into an overtime win and, how about this: the BIGGEST margin of victory of all their five Super Bowl wins, six points.

It was an incredible night capping off an amazing week. In fact, let's start off with props for the organizers of this event in our town...


4. Houston Super Bowl committee
I speak as someone who is probably guilty of this, so believe me when I say that most of us in the media have our figurative default switch set to "COMPLAIN" when we travel out of town to strange lands for big events like this. Traffic, food, nightlife, air quality — if there's a subpar variable factor, we will home in on it and wallow in self-pity with the best of them. I say all that to laud our Super Bowl committee for an incredible job well done on hosting not just the media, but fans from the other cities. To a man, everyone I interacted with over the past seven days, both from Houston and from out of town, was blown away by how organized the city was and how generous the accommodations were. (By "generous," I am referring to the delicious meals and open bar "happy hour" provided in the media lounge. The Houston committee seemed to know the "golden rule" — feed the media, and the floor on your grade is like a B+, at worst.) Great job, Houston.

Hey, by the way, how about a buzzer-beating NCAA tourney finisher and the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history within ten months of each other in the same stadium? Houston, again, you rock.

3. Robert Kraft
If you played the prop bet on Roger Goodell and Kraft shaking hands on camera, congratulations on cashing your ticket. Fortunately, the handshake didn't need to be sincere in order for you to get paid, because we found out literally 15 seconds later that Kraft still harbors a ton of ill will toward the commish...

Oh, man, pick up your teeth, Goodell. Kraft just kicked them out of your mouth.

2. James White
It's nights like this that reinforce why the Patriots are so good. (Actually, pretty much every night — or day — they play football reinforces it, but I digress.) Two weeks ago, it was Dion Lewis's scoring a touchdown rushing, receiving and returning. Last week, it was Chris Hogan's catching nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Last night, it was James White with 14 catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). Never mind that Julian Edelman is Brady's favorite healthy target, and Rob Gronkowski missed the playoffs with a back injury. It's this plug-and-play replicability of pieces that Brady enables that has essentially tricked Bill O'Brien into thinking that he can run whatever he's calling his offensive "system" these days. Speaking of Brady...

1. Tom Brady
With about nine minutes to go, it looked like Brady was on his way to one of those 400-yard passing games that quarterbacks get when they're piling up meaningless yards against "prevent" defenses and their coach has abandoned the run. Fast-forward to White's game-winning touchdown, and Brady set records for attempts (62), completions (43) and yards (466) in the most meaningful way possible, capping the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. He needed the gods to intervene for at least one play, the amazing Edelman catch off the deflection, but we will just chalk that up as karma balancing out the Tyree "helmet catch" in Super Bowl XLII. Any non-believers that Brady is the best ever will REALLY be reaching when they try to make that case now. He is the best, the GOAT.


4. Kyle Shanahan
This will get more attention in a post later this week, but Shanahan's play calling in the fourth quarter is the biggest reason the Falcons blew this game. The call for a pass on 3rd and short on the play where Ryan wound up fumbling the football, up 28-12, and then the multiple pass plays when the Falcons were in field goal range and went 20 yards backwards, up 28-20, were absolutely brutal. Yes, the players need to execute there, too, but the coach needs to call plays that set them up for ultimate success. Shanahan, who has been getting ungodly love over the past several weeks and who is being given massive power in San Francisco as their new head coach, instead got an early jump on losing games in the calendar year 2017, something he will do frequently next fall in the Bay Area.

3. MVP winners
You've got to feel for Matt Ryan. The reigning league MVP, as of Saturday night, had a solid game statistically (17-23, 284 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) and was on his way to a likely Super Bowl MVP award if the Falcons had a) run the ball on the aforementioned 3rd and 1, or b) come away with a field goal on their drive up 28-20. Instead, partly his own fault and a massive part Shanahan's fault, Ryan is now the next name on this list...

2. The Atlanta Hawks
So the Atlanta Hawks staged a 20-point comeback in the final eight minutes of Thursday's game against the Rockets at Toyota Center. So apparently this was a big enough win for the Hawks to get Twitter-funny and jinx the shit out of their football-playing Atlanta brethren...
Good job, good effort, Hawks.

1. Me
The only entity more pathetic than the Atlanta Hawks? Well, being the accountable soul that I am, I will tell you that, unequivocally, it is I, Sean Thomas Pendergast. Not only was I one of millions who were burying the Patriots alive...

...but I also capped off an absolutely wretched December and January of betting (including 1-6 ATS from the divisional round on) by losing my "UNDER 59" bet when the Patriots forced overtime and drove the ball down the field for a winning touchdown. I couldn't even get a damn push. By the way, if the Patriots had won by a field goal instead of a touchdown, then the first spread (Pats -3) and total (59) would have pushed, and a big part of the Vegas betting public would have experienced the equivalent of one gigantic popcorn fart.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast