It All Comes Down to This
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More stories from Mike Glennon
March 23, 2017
There are still many unanswered questions as the sports world eagerly awaits the kickoff of Super Bowl LI this Sunday, but one thing is for certain: Houston is in store for a good old-fashioned shootout.
In one of the most highly anticipated and talked about Super Bowl games in decades, it’s hard to narrow down what exactly makes this particular matchup so special. Is it the fact that the 1st and 3rd ranked offenses in the league will go head-to-head? Or the fact that the Belichick/Brady combination can further weave itself into the fabric of NFL and sports history? Can Matt Ryan, along with his juggernaut offense, finally bring another championship back to Atlanta, all while dethroning a dynasty?
All these questions and factors are leading to possibly one of the greatest games in Super Bowl history, between these two talented teams that have played incredibly well as of late.
When it comes to the New England Patriots, you really don’t have to look much further for two great players: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. That’s not to slight anyone on the Patriots team, but what we’re watching here is truly special. We’re witnessing two individuals master the craft that is football; something very few have ever done.
With a win on Sunday, Brady and Belichick have the chance to be the only two individuals in NFL history to have five Super Bowl wins under their belt. This is the seventh Super Bowl the pair has been to since 2001. Just to put that into perspective, 22 NFL teams have won fewer than seven playoff games in that same time period. It would be their 25th playoff win together, the most of any coach/quarterback combination in history.
Brady truly seems to be an ageless wonder, acting as though he is a fine bottle of red wine, only getting better with age. Even though he missed the first four games of the year due to suspension, he was able to set an NFL record for the best touchdown-interception ratio in a single season, with 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He also threw for 3,554 yards and had a league best 58.8 percent completion rate on throws over 11 yards.
Despite some New England fans thinking otherwise, Brady is not going to be able to win this whole thing all by himself. He’s going to need great performances from players on both sides of the ball, including running back LeGarrette Blount and cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Blount had the best year of his career as he had his first NFL season with 1,000+ yards on the ground and 10+ touchdowns. He was an incredible drive closer, leading the league with 18 touchdowns this year. If Blount can get things going on the ground and open up the play-action passing of Brady, then that will spell serious trouble for Atlanta.
New England comes into this game with the second ranked rushing defense and the 14th ranked pass defense, eighth in the league overall. Their run-stopping power has been impressive all year as they have only allowed three plays longer than 20 yards on the ground and have only allowed six total rushing touchdowns. This is especially important going against a team like Atlanta, who likes to use the run game to open up passes downfield.
If there is one player on defense to keep an eye out for it, it would have to be Butler. This player is definitely no stranger to the Super Bowl spotlight. As a rookie, he intercepted a ball thrown by Russell Wilson at the goal line to seal a victory for the Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49. In this year’s Super Bowl he will be trying to defend the best wide receiver in the league and future hall of famer Julio Jones. For the Patriots to come out on top of a game that is surely to be back and forth, they’re going to need some big stops by this young man and the rest of the secondary.
Coming into this year’s playoffs, the nagging and hounding question still followed Matt Ryan and these Atlanta Falcons: would they finally be able to overcome the hump? Well, I think they have more than soundly answered that question as they drubbed both the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers to get to this point. Take into mind that if the Falcons are able to take the Lombardi trophy back to Atlanta with them on Sunday they will have beaten three Super Bowl winning quarterbacks to do so, joining the New Orleans Saints as only the second team in NFL history to accomplish such a feat.
Atlanta is also trying to finally bring home [only] the second championship in their long professional sports history. Is it a coincidence that Matt Ryan wears No. 2 on his jersey? Fate even? Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but one thing that is definitely not a stretch is labeling Ryan as an elite quarterback in this league; his final test being the Super Bowl championship.
Ryan, although always consistent in play, has never really taken that next step into the elite quarterback conversation, until now. He leads his top-ranked offense, which set an NFL record for most points in a season this year, into this game against a secondary that can give up a lot of points. Not only did he throw for a career-high 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns in the regular season, but he has 730 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in the playoffs.
On top of that, he has completed 69.9 percent of his passes this season and as a team they are 61.1 percent on 3rd down in the postseason. While under pressure from opposing defenses, Ryan has a 50.4 percent completion rate and averages 7.5 yards on those plays. Atlanta has yet to give up a sack this postseason, so Ryan could be in for a stellar day through the air.
A huge part of the Falcons’ air attack involves Julio Jones, who has quickly become one of the best receivers in the NFL. in just a few short years. Jones had a fantastic regular season, even with battling an injury in December, finishing with 1,409 yards, six touchdowns, and also reaching an NFL-high 100.6 yards per game.
In the playoffs this year, Jones has had 15 receptions for 247 yards and three touchdowns in just two games. That includes nine receptions, 180 yards and two touchdowns last week against Green Bay; making him, alongside Jerry Rice and Fred Biletnikoff, just the third wide receiver in NFL history with multiple 180-yard/two touchdown games in the postseason.
But of course, Bill Belichick is going to make his adjustments and work his sorcery to try and take Jones out of the game. Still, the scary thing about Atlanta is that they just keep coming at you in waves. In the conference championship game, the Falcons had seven different receivers that made at least one catch for over 15 yards. Look for Mohamed Sanu to really pick up the slack of any sort of double coverage on Jones, just like he has been doing all year. He also has a pair of touchdowns in this postseason.
Let us not forget about the Falcon’s defense, the defense that has been firing on all cylinders. They ended their season with 15 interceptions, 18 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and 38 sacks. In their six-game winning streak they have caused 13 turnovers, and for the season they finished with a +12 turnover margin. Vic Beasley has been a punisher all year long for the Atlanta defensive line as he led the league with 15.5 sacks. This defense will make sure that absolutely nothing comes easy to Tom Brady.
As one compares the awe-inspiring talent on both sides and looks at how these teams have made it to this point, it should be enough to get even the most casual of football fans to chomp at the bit for this game to start on Sunday. History will be made one way or another in Houston. This game has all the makings to be one of those classic “where were you when it happened” sporting events and if it turns out to be even half the game it should be, then the world is in for one amazing ride.