February 7, 2017
Good teams make own breaks,
but Patriots got two stunners
By KEITH GAVE
So how do you come all the way back from a 25-point deficit late in the third quarter to tie the biggest game of the year – and then win it in overtime? Tom Brady showed us exactly how in Super Bowl 51: One play at a time.
Unquestionably this was one of the most impressive comebacks in sporting history – because it was so improbable. And that begs the questions how and why it happened, which leads us to the other side of this remarkable story.
The epic meltdown by the Atlanta Falcons ranks right up there, and likely even surpasses, Greg Norman’s collapse in the 1996 Master’s, when he blew a six-stroke lead in the final round to Nick Faldo, and the 2004 New York Yankees, who won the first three games in their ALCS series against archrival Boston – then lost the next for and failed to advance to the World Series.
Atlanta should have put this game out of reach with about four minutes remaining after Julio Jones made yet another spectacular catch while keeping the tips of his toes in bounds at the New England 22-yard line with 4:47 to play. All the Falcons needed to do was hand the ball off to Devonta Freeman three times to run some time off the clock and kick a field goal that would have made it 31-20.
But no, The underdog Falcons got greedy. On a call that rivals the idiotic one that cost Seattle a second consecutive Super Bowl title in 2015, Atlanta called a pass play on a second-and-11 at the 23. Matt Ryan, the deserving NFL MVP, dropped back to pass and his pocket disintegrated. Trey Flowers dropped him for a 12-yard loss.
New England, smelling blood now with all the momentum on its side, called a time out. On the next play, Atlanta’s Jake Matthews took a holding penalty, backing the Falcons up another 10 years and taking them well out of field-goal range. After another incomplete pass, Atlanta punted to the New England 9-yard line.
All Brady had to do then was drive his team 91 yards down the field for a TD, then convert another 2-point try to send the game into OT. Which he did. One remarkable play at a time.
Don’t get me wrong. The Patriots made all the necessary plays on both sides of the ball at critical junctures. They deserved to win.
But for the second time in three years, they were beneficiaries of some mind-numbing stupid calls by the opposition. Yep, Brady and the Patriots were beneficiaries in Glendale, Arizona, when Seattle stood 36 inches from glory on second down with 20 seconds left to play. All Seattle had to do was hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, a guy who had scored 48 touchdowns in his previous four seasons, a guy who doesn’t exactly need a compass and Google Maps to find the endzone, and the Seahawks win the game.
Instead, inexplicably, Russell Wilson dropped back to pass, and he threw the ball into the arms of a rookie defender, who preserved New England’s tenuous lead. Tom Brady came in, took a knee and won another Super Bowl.
I have no problem with the legions anointing Brady and his coach, Bill Belicheck, the greatest of all time. But let’s be honest in the process: They were beneficiaries of some extraordinarily bad play-calling by opponents.
This game was Atlanta’s to win every bit as much as Seattle should have won in 2015. But they didn’t. That’s why they play the games, and that’s why we watch.
Mrazek stakes claim to his job
Speaking of watching, the Red Wings kept us tuned into their roller-coaster season with a pair of unlikely, back-to-back wins in New York against the Islanders and at Nashville on Saturday.
Both efforts were impressive for different reasons. On Friday, they kept fighting back and to take a one-goal lead into the third period. And when the Islanders managed to tie it with just 2:26 remaining in regulation, the Wings refused to settle for a point and roll the dice in OT. They kept battling and got a break when Danny DeKeyser’s shot double-banked off two New York defenders and found the net for a 5-4 win.
Goaltender Petr Mrazek wasn’t great, but he got the win. In an encore performance the following night, Mrazek was better than great. He looked like the guy we’ve seen in spurts over the past two years, stopping all 42 shots he faced in a 1-0 victory – his first shutout in nearly a year.
That performance surely made General Manager Ken Holland’s decision easier when he has to choose which goaltender to trim from the roster when Jimmy Howard returns, likely this week. Rookie Jared Coreau is destined to return to Grand Rapids.
Meantime, the Wings lost a steady, young defender when Toronto nabbed Alexey Marchenko off the waiver wire over the weekend. That hurt, but it wasn’t a surprise. Marchenko was a well-known commodity to Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who was behind the Detroit bench when Marchenko played 13 games for Detroit a couple of years ago.