The Daily Briefing – Tuesday, February 7, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

We’re back.  We have Bill Barnwell’s long and excellent recap of what happened in Houston Sunday night towards the bottom.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

The Packers released RB JAMES STARKS on Tuesday.  Starks, scheduled for a 2017 cap hit of more than $3 mil, missed the last six games (including playoffs), with a concussion sustained in an auto accident.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

The Falcons surprise by taking Steve Sarkisian off Nick Saban’s Alabama staff to be their new OC.  Jeff Schultz in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

 

The Falcons’ next offensive coordinator has never called a play in the NFL and, in a far more important issue, was fired from his last head coaching job at USC because of admitted alcohol issue.

 

But this Steve Sarkisian hire might just work.

 

The Falcons will hire Sarkisian as Kyle Shanahan’s replacement. They will be handing him the keys to the NFL’s highest scoring offense and a quarterback, Matt Ryan, who was just named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

 

This will be the message from coach Dan Quinn and the organization: “Tell us what you know, show us how you think we can get better, but most of all don’t screw it up.”

 

Sarkisian has long had a great offensive mind. It is what enabled him to get head coaching jobs at Washington and USC. It’s the reason Alabama coach Nick Saban brought him in as an “offensive analyst” this past season behind offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and then gave Sarkisian the OC job with Kiffin left for Florida Atlantic. Sarkisian actually coached only one game, the national championship game against Clemson. He’s also relatively young (42) and relates well to his players.

 

But almost every problem Sarkisian has had has stemmed from admitted alcoholism. It doesn’t make him evil and it certainly doesn’t mean this is a bad hire. It just means that if he is not strong in his recovery and lapses back into poor behavior because of the stresses of the job — or anything — his life and career will unravel again an the Falcons’ offense and season obviously will be impacted.

 

I’ll have more on this hire later. But my first thoughts are: It’s a good hire. If …

 

Chip Kelly had been mentioned as a possibility for the Falcons OC job, and now that speculation carries over to him signing up to OC for Saban at Alabama.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Josh Weinfuss of ESPN chats with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice about WR LARRY FITZGERALD:

 

If there’s one player who knows what Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald went through as he pondered his playing future, it’s Jerry Rice.

 

The Hall of Fame receiver, who sits atop the three major all-time receiving record lists Fitzgerald has scaled throughout his career, played until he was 42 and faced similar decisions — whether to retire or continue playing — during the latter part of his career. But with the aid of hindsight and experience, Rice has one wish for Fitzgerald, who announced Wednesday he’ll return for a 14th season.

 

“I hope he’s at peace with it,” Rice said.

 

The key for Fitzgerald continuing at the same pace he’s played at recently — he led the NFL in receptions in 2016 — will boil down to one thing, according to Rice: how well Fitzgerald’s body responds.

 

“This is totally different from, say, a quarterback,” Rice said. “Tom Brady wants to play until he’s 45. He could do that. But as a receiver, it takes more. You’ve still got to be able to run. You’ve still got to be able to have that burst. You’ve got to have that separation. You have to have that endurance. So it’s something I feel Tom Brady can really accomplish, but as a receiver, eventually Father Time is going to catch up with you and say, ‘Hey, no, you’re not like you were (at) 20. You can’t do some of the things you did when you were 20.’”

 

Rice admitted he was “fighting” his age and his body toward the end of his career.

 

One of the toughest parts of deciding whether to keep playing, Rice said, is weighing the love of the game and desire to continue against the reality of knowing it’s time to hang it up.

 

Having worked out with Fitzgerald in the past, Rice said if there is a secret to longevity and productivity in the NFL, Fitzgerald knows it. Comparing the twilight of his career to Fitzgerald’s, Rice said an aging receiver needs to answer two difficult questions if they want to continue playing: Do they still want to play at a very high level? And do they still want to be the guy? Toward the end of Rice’s legendary career, which ended with three teams in two seasons, he was more of a mentor to younger receivers than anything else.

 

But Fitzgerald’s career isn’t taking the same trajectory as Rice’s, mainly because Fitzgerald could be entering the final year of his career eight years younger than Rice was when retired. Fitzgerald proved last season he still was capable of producing league-leading numbers at age 33. He led the NFL with 107 catches and had more than 1,000 yards for the second straight season.

 

Fitzgerald also came closer to Rice’s historic records in 2016, finishing the season third on the all-time receptions list with 1,125 (424 behind No. 1 Rice), ninth on the all-time receiving yards list (8,506 behind No. 1 Rice) and eighth on the all-time receiving touchdowns list (93 behind No. 1 Rice).

 

Fitzgerald has said in the past he doesn’t plan on playing long enough to catch Rice in any of those categories, but it’s possible Fitzgerald could end next season third on the all-time receiving yards list if he turns in another 1,000-yard season and sixth on the all-time receiving touchdowns list if he has 10 touchdown catches.

 

“Well, my records are not meant to be broken so that’s not going to happen,” Rice said with a laugh. “No, I’m just joking. Watching all of those guys, man, and the numbers that they’re putting up now, it’s a passers league. The ball is in the air, and I know records are meant to be broken.”

 

But, if next year should be Fitzgerald’s swan song, he’ll accomplish something Rice couldn’t by playing his entire career with one team.

 

“It doesn’t happen that often,” Rice said. “I think that shows the loyalty of the organization, also Larry in general.

 

 

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Kyle Shanahan didn’t have long to stew on what should have been.  He is out of the ATL.  Nick Wagoner  of ESPN.com:

 

It required time and patience, but the San Francisco 49ers finally got their man.

 

The Niners announced Monday that they have officially hired Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to be their head coach. The deal is expected to run for six years, matching the contract the 49ers gave new general manager John Lynch. Shanahan becomes the team’s fourth coach in as many years, replacing Chip Kelly, who followed Jim Tomsula and Jim Harbaugh.

 

For Shanahan, becoming a head coach is the realization of a dream.

 

“As a young man, I had the unique benefit of being exposed to the storied history of the San Francisco 49ers firsthand,” Shanahan said in a statement. “From that exposure, I developed great respect for those who created a world-class, championship standard. As this team begins the task of re-establishing that standard, I could not ask for a better partner than John Lynch. He is a man who certainly has personal knowledge of what championship organizations look like. John and I look forward to establishing a strong culture that will serve as our foundation for constructing this team.”

 

In the process, the Niners became the last of the six teams with head-coach openings to make a hire. It was a deal 36 days in the making.

 

The 49ers fired Kelly on Jan. 1 and first interviewed Shanahan on Jan. 6 while the Falcons were enjoying a bye week for the wild-card round. The Niners interviewed him again during the bye week before the Super Bowl, also talking to Lynch and two other general manager candidates in the process.

 

But the Niners couldn’t hire Shanahan until his season ended. That happened Sunday when the Falcons lost in devastating fashion to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Atlanta blew a 25-point second-half lead, with Shanahan’s playcalling late in the game coming under scrutiny.

 

“It’s not really the run-pass ratio that I look at,” Shanahan told reporters of his decision to keep throwing after getting into field goal range late in the fourth quarter. “It’s you stay on the field and you run your offense. We went three-and-out two times, which was huge. I think we had second-and-1 on both of those. To not convert on second-and-1 and then third, it was tough. That’s why we let them get back into the game.”

 

San Francisco moved swiftly after Atlanta lost to meet with Shanahan and finalize a contract that had been expected since New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels removed himself from consideration on Jan. 16.

 

“As an offensive mind, I think he stands alone in the National Football League, as evidenced by the explosive and record-setting offense in Atlanta,” Lynch said. “Though he grew up around coaching, what has most impressed me about Kyle is that he’s become his own man in the profession. Our philosophies on football and our visions for leading the 49ers back to being a championship team align in every way. I am thrilled to have Kyle Shanahan on board.”

 

While the 49ers waited for Shanahan, they watched as all of their other candidates took jobs elsewhere or pulled out of the hunt. The Los Angeles Rams hired Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Chargers chose Anthony Lynn, and the Buffalo Bills reeled in Sean McDermott. When McDaniels stepped aside and the Niners focused their attention on Shanahan, Seattle assistant head coach Tom Cable also opted out.

 

Shanahan was one of the most coveted coaching candidates in the league this offseason, interviewing with Denver and Jacksonville and having a meeting with the Rams postponed because of weather. All three teams hired coaches before Shanahan was eligible to agree to a deal.

 

At 37, Shanahan becomes the second-youngest coach in the NFL; only the 31-year old McVay is younger. But Shanahan’s experience belies his youth.

 

Shanahan was the youngest position coach in the NFL in 2006 when he coached receivers for the Houston Texans, and two years later he was promoted to become the youngest offensive coordinator in the league.

 

In the time since, Shanahan has spent nine years as a coordinator, with stops in Houston, Cleveland, Washington and Atlanta. In six of those nine seasons, Shanahan has called plays for an offense that finished in the top nine in the league in yards per game.

 

Shanahan’s finest work came this season when Atlanta led the league in points scored (540) and yards per play (6.7) and was second in yards per game (415.8). That performance earned Shanahan the Pro Football Writers of America’s Assistant Coach of the Year award, and quarterback Matt Ryan won the league MVP award.

 

 

SEATTLE

QB RUSSELL WILSON has gone somewhat political.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has worked hard over the years to present a polished, safe, inoffensive image.

 

But while getting his hair cut yesterday, he let his hair down a little.

 

Via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Wilson posted a Facebook Live message from a barber’s chair, in which he bemoaned the current state of our country under President Donald Trump, and begged Barack Obama to come back.

 

The four-minute video began with him saying the President’s immigration policy had created a difficult environment.

 

“Despite anybody’s political issues or views, everybody has a right to choose who they want to vote for,’’ Wilson said. “But this thing is getting out of hand — getting out of hand, people.

 

“Just so you know, I voted for Hillary [Clinton]. But when you think about it’s only been two weeks right? Or even less. We’ve got to attack this issue here. So basically, I think that when you think about all the negativity that’s happened within a 10-day period, however many days it’s been, it’s already too much. It’s already crazy. It’s already affecting people’s hearts and souls and lives in such a negative way, in my opinion. . . .

 

“We go to LAX [Los Angeles] airport and there are people all over the place fighting for their lives and protesting and all the protests that have gone on, all the protests that have gone on in the African-American community, obviously the Muslim community, too. If we are going to be a nation that says we are equal, we have to be equal. Obviously being smart and all that kind of stuff. But you also have to be able to treat people fairly, have to be able to love everyone. And I know from even my own faith, the Christian faith, you still have to love everybody, no matter what our issues are, we still have to find ways to love people and care for people, and so I think that’s the thing that’s been crazy already.

 

“I don’t even know if he’s going to be able last four years, in my opinion. You don’t want to wish bad upon anybody because if he doesn’t last four years that means that something went wrong. So hopefully nothing goes wrong anymore than what it’s already doing. But it’s just been a crazy 10 days already and you know. . . . ’’

 

The message was kind of startling not for its passion or its articulation, but its mere presence. Wilson has taken great pains to be the most vanilla quarterback in the NFL, and having him step so far out of the lanes he had previously stayed in was a surprise.

 

AFC WEST

 

OAKLAND

A boost for the Raiders in 2017 as it looks as if pass rusher ALDON SMITH will be able to play.  Jimmy Durkin of BayAreaNewsGroup.com:

 

Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith is expected to be reinstated in March, so long as he remains compliant with the league’s substance abuse policy after violations of it led to his current banishment.

 

That news was reported on Sunday, via the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, and a day later Smith spoke on Instagram Live in a couple of quick videos.

 

“I’m back,” Smith said in one of the videos, “and there’s nobody who can stop me. You already know it. Raider Nation, we got this s—.”

 

Smith didn’t say much else in the videos, other than replying to a question by saying, “Yeah, I’m ready” and laughing at a few of the other comments that strolled in.

 

Assuming Smith stays out of trouble and is reinstated in March as expected, he’d be back in time to join the Raiders for their offseason training program as well as organized team activities and mini-camps. Smith has been out of football since his league banishment was handed down Nov. 17, 2015. League rules prevent him from working out at the facility and being involved with the team.

 

His return to the Raiders, who he played nine games for in 2015 before the suspension was handed down, would be a boost to a defense that finished last in the NFL in sacks last year despite the presence of NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack.

 

Mack paced the Raiders with 11.0 sacks and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin added 7.0, but they had just 25 sacks as a team and failed to generate any interior pressure. Adding Smith to the mix would allow the Raiders to better take advantage of Mack’s versatility by using him as an inside rusher at times with Smith and Irvin on the outside.

 

That’s all just hypothetical though until Smith gets cleared to return and he and the Raiders are clearly hopeful that will happen soon.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Pat Macmannon at ESPN.com looks at the possibilities to play QB for Cleveland in 2017:

 

The Super Bowl is over, which means the Cleveland Browns’ annual chase for the quarterback can begin.
This is the most exciting time of the year for Browns fans, the time when the team tries to find a guy who can start two seasons in a row.

 

The upside from the Super Bowl is that Tom Brady and Matt Ryan prove teams can find quarterbacks by design (Ryan as the third pick in the draft) or by accident (Brady in the sixth round).

 

Candidates to be the Browns’ opening day starter in 2017 could come from the roster (unlikely), the draft (also unlikely), veteran free agency (possible) or trade (possible). Here’s a rundown of candidates the Browns could turn to:

 

Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots

Tom Brady’s backup has one year left on his contract and the Patriots have Jacoby Brissett on the roster. Garropolo played well in two starts when Brady was suspended, but also was injured. He is highly thought of by NFL coaches. If the Patriots are ever going to get something for Garoppolo via trade, it would be this offseason. The price will be steep, perhaps starting with the second of the Browns’ two first-round picks, the 12th overall. Garoppolo would have to agree to a trade to a particular team by agreeing to a new contract. If Garoppolo does not want to play in Cleveland, for instance, he could politely decline a new deal because the Browns won’t give up the 12th overall pick for a one-year quarterback. That new contract that would make Garoppolo the starter? Expensive as well, with perhaps the absurd deal that Houston gave Brock Osweiler as the benchmark for Garoppolo and his agent.

 

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last week that Kaepernick will opt out of his contract and become a free agent, giving him and the team a fresh start. Various reports said the Browns kicked the tires on Kaepernick a year ago before turning to Robert Griffin III. Kaepernick’s social stances last season put him in the eye of political debates, but the fact that he’s willing to stand for his principles shouldn’t preclude him from joining the Browns. He played 12 games in 2015, completing 59 percent of his throws with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. In years past, he led the 49ers to an NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.

 

Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Bucs

Glennon spent four years with the Bucs, but his future has been elsewhere since the drafting of Jameis Winston. There are some in the league who believe he is the best free-agent option. Glennon stands 6-foot-6 and moves fairly well. He didn’t play in 2015, and threw just 11 passes in 2016 (completing 10), but he has 18 starts with 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his four seasons with Tampa Bay.

 

Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

Initially this offseason it seemed the Bills would part ways with Taylor and that he would intrigue the Browns. He started 30 of 31 games for the Bills before being benched for financial reasons for the ’16 finale. He took care of the ball (12 interceptions in 816 passes in 2015 and ’16) and he scored touchdowns (37 passing and 10 rushing). Those all check off every one of Hue Jackson’s boxes for what he wants in a quarterback. Taylor’s contract pays him $27.5 million this season in bonus and salary. That might be too rich for the Bills, who may release him. The Browns would then be a logical landing spot. One factor that may complicate things: Rick Dennison is the Bills’ new offensive coordinator, and Dennison was quarterback coach in Denver a year ago when the Broncos debated Taylor as an option to succeed the retiring Peyton Manning.

 

Robert Griffin III, Browns

The Browns can bring Griffin back by paying him a $1.5 million roster bonus in March, but injury and ineffectiveness in 2016 point to the Browns moving on. Jackson said at the Senior Bowl nothing has been decided yet. The fact that nothing has been decided would indicate the decision has been made. If the Browns believed Griffin was the future, the decision would have been made.

 

Cody Kessler, Browns

Kessler led the Browns in passing as a rookie, but also showed concerns with durability and arm strength. He can get better, and it would be to his credit if he does. It seems likely he’ll be on the team. But the Browns appear destined to bring in others to compete for the job.

 

Josh McCown, Browns

McCown could return as the veteran backup/mentor, but it does not appear likely he’ll return as the starter.

 

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina; DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame; Deshaun Watson, Clemson; Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

These are the top draftable quarterbacks, with Trubisky, Kizer and Watson considered the top three. All have concerns, and none are considered ready to play immediately or worthy of the first overall pick. That doesn’t mean one won’t go first, though; Jared Goff wasn’t considered first-pick worthy a year ago, either. It’s also possible that a guy like Watson could be there when the Browns pick 12th. The question the Browns must answer: Would they prefer Watson or Garoppolo with the 12th pick?

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Meanwhile, CB JUSTIN GILBERT is buying tickets for Bustville.  Joe Rutter in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review;

 

The Justin Gilbert experiment ended Monday when the Steelers released the cornerback and former first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.

 

Gilbert appeared in 12 games for the Steelers this past season, playing mostly on special teams. He was used on the kickoff return unit in the postseason and had three returns for 43 yards.

 

The Steelers gave up a 2018 sixth-round draft pick to Cleveland for Gilbert before the start of the regular season. Gilbert was drafted eighth overall by the Browns in 2014.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

QB TOM BRADY is going to keep on going despite the entreaties of his lovely wife.  Ryan Wilsn of CBSSports.com:

 

Early in the 2015 season, Tom Brady told reporters that he felt like he could play 10 more years. He was 38 at the time.

 

Brady turns 40 in August. And even though he just put the finishing touches on his fifth Super Bowl title — and his fourth Super Bowl MVP — and with seemingly nothing left to prove, he has every intention of playing in 2017.

 

But if Gisele Bundchen, Brady’s wife, had her way, the Patriots quarterback would have taken his last professional snap.

 

“If it was up to my wife, she would have me retire today,” Brady told Sirius XM Radio. “She told me that last night three times. And I said, ‘Too bad, babe, I’m having too much fun right now.’ You know, I feel like I can still do it. If you love what you do and you’re capable of doing it, then I might be so bored if I wasn’t going out there knowing that I could still do it. So I’m going to work hard to be ready to go, and I still plan on playing for a long time.”

 

 Age affects different people in different ways, but Brady has somehow seemed to reverse the process. He’s better now than ever, and there’s no reason to think that suddenly changes in the coming months.

 

“In some ways, being more experienced and having your family life settled does allow you to focus a little bit more, too, because there’s less B.S. in your life,” Brady explained. “You have your family and you can go to work and focus on your job. And you expect your teammates to do the same.”

 

And this from Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

So how much longer will he play? Our pal Scott Zolak of the Patriots Radio Network has a number in mind.

 

“Three. I think three’s the magic number,” Zolak said on PFT Live.

 

Zolak applied one caveat; if Brady can win a sixth ring in the next year or two, Brady may walk away. For now, though, it’s not happening.

 

“This reinvigorates him,” Zolak said regarding the team’s fifth championship.

 

So here’s how football fans should deal with the situation: Appreciate the fact that you can witness the final seasons of the greatest career from any quarterback who ever played. If he plays for three more seasons at a high level, it’s entirely possible that he’ll exit the game as the consensus best player at any position in NFL history.

 

Of course, it will be hard to appreciate Brady if he’s once again slicing and dicing the defense of your favorite team. Even then, try to find comfort in the reality that, sooner than later, he’ll be doing it for the last time.

– – –

“Roger that” is the slogan of the Super Bowl LI victory – endorsed apparently by Brady.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After Patriots defensive coordinator wore a shirt on Monday portraying NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as a clown, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was just a little more subtle at today’s victory parade.

 

Brady rode in a parade float with a shirt in front of him that seemed designed to deliver a middle finger to Goodell. The shirt said, “Roger that,” and displayed five Super Bowl rings. The first four were across the fingers on one hand, while the fifth was on the middle finger of the other hand.

 

Yes, the ring Brady earned on Sunday was placed on the middle finger, not the ring finger. The middle finger was emphasized on a shirt bearing the first name of the commissioner who suspended Brady for Deflategate. Is that obvious enough?

 

Brady was classy in his interactions with Goodell both on Sunday night when the Patriots received the Vince Lombardi Trophy and on Monday morning when Brady received the MVP trophy. But no one doubts what Brady really thinks of Goodell, and Brady made that clear with the shirt displayed on his parade float today.

– – –

Historic items from Super Bowl LI have gone missing.  Gifts have been promised that don’t exist.  There are two Dan Patricks.  ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots running back James White can’t tell you what happened to the football from the final play of Super Bowl LI.

 

White scored the winning touchdown in overtime as the Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28. What happened to the ball after that is anyone’s guess, White told “The Dan Patrick Show” on Tuesday.

 

“I actually don’t know what I did with it,” White said. “I left it on the ground and started running.”

 

White is hopeful that an equipment manager grabbed the ball and that it is in the possession of the Patriots.

 

“I wasn’t thinking in that moment. I was too busy sprinting down the field,” he said.

 

White said he did keep the football from the first touchdown he scored in the historic comeback. White had 14 receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown and added two rushing touchdowns in the victory.

 

After the game, his teammates, including MVP Tom Brady, were quick to say he deserved a share of the MVP honor. In years past, the Super Bowl MVP award came with a car. After the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady was awarded MVP and gave the truck to Malcolm Butler, who made the game-saving interception in the final seconds.

 

Brady said he would do the same this year with White — but there is no truck to give. According to an NFL spokesman, a vehicle hasn’t been part of the MVP award for the past two Super Bowls.

 

White was asked about Brady’s promise of the truck and said, “I haven’t actually received it yet. I don’t know how that works.”

 

White said, “it’s pretty cool that he’s humble enough to give me the car,” adding that Brady is a “great teammate.”

 

It is unknown if Brady still plans to give White a vehicle of some kind.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com hears that the Jets are targeting Jeremy Bates to be their quarterbacks coach.  Once something of a wunderkind, Bates has not coached in several years.  Here is some background:

 

Bates, 40, has been out of the league for the past four seasons. He most recently spent 2012 as the Bears’ quarterbacks coach, but lasted just one season in Chicago. He was the Jets’ quarterbacks coach in 2005 under Herman Edwards. Bates worked under Shanahan with the Broncos and under Gruden with the Buccaneers, spending three years with both.

 

Between Bates’ time with the Broncos and Bears, he has spent three seasons (2007-08 and 2012) coaching quarterback Jay Cutler, a 33-year-old whom the Bears could soon release. If that happens, Cutler might be a possible free agent pickup for the Jets.

 

Bates knows the Jets’ new offensive coordinator, John Morton, because they worked together at the University of Southern California. Bates was USC’s assistant head coach for offense and quarterbacks coach in 2009. Morton was at USC from 2007-10. Morton spent one season, 2009, as USC’s offensive coordinator. So he and Bates worked closely together.

 

He’s the son of longtime NFL defensive coach Jim Bates.

 

His one-year stint in Chicago was on the staff of Marc Trestman.

 

And this from his Wikipedia page on what he’s been up to lately:

 

In 2014, Bates hiked the 2,900-mile Continental Divide Trail (CDT), completing a five-month trek across the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada alone, trekking 20-30 miles per day with a 40 to 60 pound backpack.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

SUPER BOWL RECAP

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com who is good at this kind of things breaks down the comeback of the ages:

 

Zero-point-two percent. Two in a thousand. The New England Patriots stunned the St. Louis Rams to win the first Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era during the 2001 playoffs, but even that upset can’t compare to the comeback New England pulled to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 on Sunday night in Super Bowl LI. The Pats pieced together incredible play with fortuitous bounces and impeccable timing to overcome a Falcons team that had a 99.8 percent shot of claiming its first Super Bowl with 21 minutes to go.

 

What happened from then on was nothing short of a miracle. The Patriots needed just about everything to go right and had the vast majority of those moments swing their way. It all blurs together in the aftermath, but let’s run through those big plays to piece together how the Patriots got one for the thumb.

 

Third quarter, 6:04 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 3

 

Fourth-and-3, Patriots’ 46: Brady completes pass to Danny Amendola for 17 yards.

Win expectancy shift: 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent (+0.3 percent)

 

The first tiny shift in New England’s favor came after the Patriots unsuccessfully pulled out a desperation trick pass from Julian Edelman to Dion Lewis on third down. Turning the ball over on downs probably would have ended the game, given that the Falcons would have taken over on the New England 46-yard line having scored touchdowns on three of their previous four possessions. Instead, Brady hit Amendola on an out route against Falcons cornerback Brian Poole to extend the Patriots’ drive. Their win expectancy would come close to 0.3 percent later on, but never quite dip below what it was prior to that completion.

 

The Patriots’ drive continued with Brady scrambling for 15 yards when the Falcons lost containment on a third-and-8, finishing with Brady finding James White out of the backfield on a snag concept for a 5-yard touchdown to make the score 28-9.

 

Two things then went against the Patriots in successive fashion. Stephen Gostkowski promptly booted the ensuing extra point attempt against the upright, leaving the score at 28-9. Given that the Patriots had incorrectly been called for an illegal formation penalty earlier in the game that gave the Falcons a second chance at an extra point, New England had lost two points on conversions. It seemed mostly irrelevant at the time, but it would loom as incredibly important later on.

 

Gostkowski followed that by taking an illegal touching penalty on an attempted onside kick, one which the Falcons recovered anyway. Atlanta then had a second-and-1 on the New England 32-yard line.

 

Third quarter, 0:59 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 9

 

Second-and-1, Patriots’ 32: Jake Matthews commits holding penalty (10 yards).

Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent (+0.2 percent)

 

In a sequence that would repeat itself in slightly different order later in the game, a Matthews holding penalty pushed the Falcons out of field goal range. Atlanta could have gone up 22 points with a successful field goal (and would have had a third-and-2 if Matthews hadn’t held on this stuffed Tevin Coleman run), but Matt Ryan was sacked on the ensuing third down to force an Atlanta punt from midfield. They got nothing from the excellent field position afforded them by recovering the onside kick try.

 

Brady went to work as the game went into the fourth quarter, with the Patriots eventually moving the ball into the red zone. He was sacked twice on three plays by Grady Jarrett, though, leading to a play that sets the scene for the rest of the game.

 

Fourth quarter, 9:48 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 9

 

Fourth-and-goal, Falcons’ 15: Gostkowski kicks 33-yard field goal.

Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent (+0.1 percent)

 

Settling for three points to make the game 28-12 basically did nothing for New England’s win expectancy. The field goal to bring the Patriots within 16 points worked out perfectly in the end, but it set a nearly-impossible target for the Patriots to hit. As tempting as it is to say that the Patriots are making it a two-touchdown game by kicking the field goal, it’s really not accurate to lump a 16-point deficit in with, say, a 14-point margin. So much more has to go right for you to win the game. To successfully chase a 16-point target, all of the following has to happen:

 

You have to stop the other team from scoring a single point the rest of the way.

 

You have to lead two touchdown drives.

 

You have to convert on a pair of two-point conversions.

 

You have to win in overtime.

 

If we assume for simplicity’s sake that the chance of converting each of the two-pointers is 50 percent, and the chance of the Patriots winning in overtime is 50 percent, the chances of the Patriots making the two-pointers and then winning in overtime alone reduce their shot to 12.5 percent. That’s without even considering how hard it’s going to be to score both of those touchdowns while stopping the Falcons from scoring once.

 

By definition, that 50 percent two-point rate suggests a 16-point game isn’t a two-score contest. We know that each attempt is independent, and given the 50 percent conversion rate, we would expect them to convert one out of two tries and produce a total of two points. The Patriots pulled it out here, but the 2015 Patriots and 2016 Chiefs can remind you of how leaving the game to a late two-point try is far from guaranteed.

 

An older version of the win expectancy model developed by ESPN’s Brian Burke suggests the Patriots’ chances of winning with a touchdown on fourth-and-15 would have leaped to 3.6 percent, producing that 9 percent break-even rate. It’s not a perfect parallel, since teams would likely be willing to settle for field goals, but since 2006, teams have converted third-and-goal from the 15-yard line five times in 45 tries. That’s a 10.6 percent rate, and it’s reasonable to think the Patriots are better than your standard offense. I suspect the numbers leaned narrowly toward going for it, although it would have been a much stronger case had the Patriots managed to pick up a few yards on third down in lieu of taking a sack.

 

Having fumbled the ball away during the first half before gifting Robert Alford a pick-six, the Patriots needed to catch a break. They finally got one on the next drive.

 

Fourth quarter, 8:31 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 12

 

Third-and-1, Falcons’ 36: Dont’a Hightower strip-sacks Ryan; Alan Branch recovers.

Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 1.8 percent (+1.5 percent)

 

Instead of moving the chains on third-and-1 and taking two more minutes off the clock with a fresh set of downs, the Falcons handed the ball back to New England with a short field. Hightower came on a blitz and sped past the middling block attempt of Devonta Freeman, who was inserted into the game after Coleman went down with an injury on the previous play. Freeman looked confused before the snap and seemed to be caught between attempting to block Hightower and releasing into the flat as an outlet receiver, and he ended up doing neither.

 

Hightower converged on Ryan along with Chris Long, who had gotten underneath Matthews, to force a fumble as Ryan attempted to release a pass. The Patriots fell on the fumble, which was notable because it was the first fumble of the postseason in a Falcons game that Atlanta had failed to recover, having picked up the previous six.

 

Brady was sacked on the first play of the next series by Dwight Freeney, but the Falcons’ pass rush got to him just one more time the rest of the way. From that point forward, Brady went 15-of-19 for 170 yards with two touchdowns, the game-tying two-point conversion to Amendola, and the 13-yard pass interference call that set up the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

 

Fourth quarter, 6:00 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 12

 

Second-and-2, Falcons’ 6: Brady hits Amendola for 6-yard touchdown; White converts two-pointer.

Win expectancy shift: 2.2 percent to 6.1 percent (+3.9 percent)

 

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but at 28-20, the Patriots are suddenly in business. Brady found a mismatch with Amendola aligned in the slot against the bigger Jalen Collins and took advantage, getting Amendola on a quick out (with Malcolm Mitchell arguably interfering with the outside corner) for the 6-yard score. As Matt Bowen diagrammed, the Patriots then ran a direct snap to White with a pair of double-teams to set up the first of their two-point conversions.

 

Again, though: The Patriots still need a stop, a scoring drive, a two-point conversion, and a win in overtime. They almost failed on the first of those prerequisites when the Patriots blew the coverage on Freeman on a 39-yard checkdown and were then victimized by an absurd Julio Jones catch for 27 yards.

 

After Freeman was stuffed on a first-and-10 pitch for a loss of one, the Falcons ran the clock down and had second-and-11 on the New England 23-yard line with 3:56 to go. If the Falcons had simply kneeled twice, they could have kicked what would have been about a 43-yard field goal while presumably costing the Patriots two of their three remaining timeouts. A 43-yard field goal — which all but ends the game — is hardly guaranteed, but Matt Bryant is 29-of-31 (93.5 percent) on kicks between 40 and 45 yards over the past five seasons.

 

Fourth quarter, 3:56 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 20

 

Second-and-11, Patriots’ 23: Ryan sacked by Trey Flowers for 12-yard loss.

Third-and-23, Patriots’ 33: Matthews commits holding penalty (10 yards).

Third-and-33, Patriots’ 43: Ryan throws incomplete pass.

Win expectancy shift: 1.4 percent to 4.9 percent (+3.5 percent)

 

Instead, inexplicably, the Falcons chose to pass the ball on second down, on a slow-developing play that ended with Ryan going down for a coverage sack at the hands of Flowers, who slipped between center Alex Mack and right guard Chris Chester. The sack is partly on Ryan, who needed to get the ball out and held onto it for more than four seconds before hitting the turf.

 

Ryan is at fault, but so is Atlanta’s highly regarded offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. I’m as aggressive as anybody when it comes to suggesting that coaches try to get their kickers in better field goal range in lieu of settling for 50-plus-yard field goal tries, but if there was ever a situation that called for conservatism given the game situation, it was this one. Shanahan admitted after the game that he couldn’t remember the playcalling decisions he made at this point of the game, conflating the ensuing plays with the sack, which is fair. It seems the entire Falcons team blacked out right around this point of the game.

 

The situation was still salvageable given that the Falcons were in line for a 51-yard field goal and had a play to try to pick up extra yardage while burning more time, but Matthews made a bad situation worse by committing yet another crucial holding penalty, wrapping his arms around Long’s neck to push the Falcons out of field goal range. The Pats held up in coverage on third down and forced a punt. New England had two plays to either force a turnover or push the Falcons back 20 yards to get out of field goal range and managed to do the latter.

 

After Brady beat a Falcons blitz on third-and-10 for a 16-yard completion to Hogan, the drive was off and running. You’ll probably be seeing its most notable play for a while …

 

Fourth quarter, 2:28 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 20

 

First-and-10, Patriots’ 36: Brady completes 23-yard pass to Edelman.

Win expectancy shift: 6.1 percent to 8.7 percent (+2.6 percent)

 

Of course, no win expectancy model is going to know what Edelman had to do to bring in the greatest catch he’ll ever make. Brady made the curious decision to throw into double coverage, with Alford trailing Edelman and Keanu Neal playing over the top on that side. His throw wasn’t perfect, giving Alford a chance to pick the ball off. Instead, Alford tipped the ball into the air and somehow gave Edelman a chance to bring it in on a double-clutch. I’ve watched the play 20 times and I’m still convinced Edelman’s going to drop the ball each time I watch it.

 

I’m of two minds regarding Dan Quinn’s challenge after the catch. Ideally, Quinn would have let the clock run to the two-minute warning and spent the break watching replays before deciding to use his final timeout on a challenge. The television feed of the game doesn’t make it clear whether the Patriots would have been able to run a play before the two-minute warning, although it was very clear that the Patriots were sprinting to the line in the hopes of running a play before Quinn could get a good look. (The coaches tape of the game will not be available until midweek.)

 

The play was obviously close, and it was literally Quinn’s last chance to use a challenge. Twenty-three yards isn’t an enormous swing of field position, but the Pats would have been in second-and-10. Quinn’s challenge stopped the clock before the two-minute warning, and the Pats used the extra play to complete a deep crossing route to Amendola for 20 more yards versus Poole. That would push the Patriots up into double digits at 13.2 percent. Three plays later, on the Atlanta 1-yard line, the Pats punched the ball in.

 

Fourth quarter, 1:00 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 20

 

Second-and-goal, Falcons’ 1: White rushes for 1-yard touchdown; Amendola converts two-pointer.

Win expectancy shift: 21.2 percent to 53.0 percent (+31.8 percent)

 

There’s the big leap. The Patriots, who were 55.7 percent favorites to win as of the opening kickoff, are favored again to prevail for the first time since LeGarrette Blount’s fumble on the second play of the second quarter. If it felt like the Patriots were destined to win in overtime, I won’t blame you, but I’ll also remind you of last year’s Packers-Cardinals playoff game, when Aaron Rodgers converted two Hail Mary passes to tie the game up just before overtime and never touched the ball again. You may also remember Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Rams tied the score with 1:13 left and the Patriots drove 53 yards with no timeouts (against the advice of John Madden) to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal.

 

Atlanta still might have been able to muster a drive to at least attempt a game-winning field goal. The Patriots helped out by making a strategic mistake and snapping the ball with 21 seconds to go on the game clock during the White touchdown. It’s not necessarily a good idea to run the play clock down to one second left before snapping the ball, but Brady should have shaved another 10-12 seconds off the clock before the snap. The argument that the Patriots needed to conserve time in case of a failed two-point conversion doesn’t really hold water; if the Patriots failed, they were going to be stuck attempting an expected onside kick to try to get one final possession. The chances of recovering that onside kick are likely lower than the chances of giving up a meaningful drive to the Falcons with a minute left on the clock.

 

Instead, fortunately for the Patriots, Atlanta’s drive started on the 11-yard line and sputtered out after 16 yards. New England then hoped to set up for a game-winning fair catch free kick, but Matt Bosher’s punt was too far to feasibly attempt one. The Pats then sent Lewis out to run a meaningless draw with three seconds left, with Lewis suffering a game-ending hamstring injury on the play.

 

Overtime, 12:37 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 28

 

Second-and-13, Falcons’ 40: Brady hits Edelman for 15 yards.

Win expectancy shift: 58.5 percent to 75.5 percent (+17.0 percent)

 

The biggest play of New England’s lone drive in overtime turned a difficult second-and-13 into a first down, putting the Patriots in field goal range and on the edge of the red zone. The Patriots went five-wide, and the Falcons responded by showing pre-snap pressure before dropping into a Cover 1 Robber look, with one deep safety and the impressive Deion Jones lurking in the middle of the field to take away drag routes. The Patriots went back to an impeccably timed combination of crossing routes, which the Falcons had been able to knock away during the fourth quarter. This time, though, the timing was excellent to create a subtle rub downfield, and Brady’s throw was right on the money. Four plays later, the Patriots were champions.

 

But how?

 

Those are the plays that led the Patriots to their stunning Super Bowl victory, but what was changing in the broader matchup of the game that allowed the Patriots to come back? How could the Falcons allow Brady & Co. to score the final 31 points of the game after going up 28-3 halfway through the third quarter? Let’s run through the ways the Patriots improved and the Falcons declined as the game went along, starting with one critical component …

 

The Atlanta pass rush disappeared. I wrote in my Super Bowl preview that the game would turn on whether the Falcons would be able to get pass pressure on Brady. I was right about that, but I was wrong about whether the Falcons would be able to pester the future Hall of Famer. Quinn’s defense spent most of the day in Brady’s face, and it did so without blitzing. Atlanta sent an extra man on just 7.4 percent of Brady’s dropbacks but was able to get plenty of pressure with its front four. Through the first three quarters, Atlanta pressured Brady on 44.7 percent of his dropbacks.

 

As was the case in both of New England’s Super Bowl losses to the Giants, much of that pressure came up the middle. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had all of three sacks during the regular season, came up with three sacks of Brady in the Super Bowl alone, tying the championship game record. Jarrett and his teammates abused Patriots right guard Shaq Mason, who had a dismal night in pass protection. NFL sack leader Vic Beasley had a mostly quiet night, finishing with a lone knockdown of Brady and a pass breakup on a fade to Martellus Bennett on the penultimate play of the game, which was apparently Josh McDaniels’ ode to Darrell Bevell.

 

As the game went along, though, the plays simply began to add up. Atlanta’s defense faced nearly twice as many snaps as New England’s; the 93-47 disparity between the two was the largest gap in NFL playoff history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Those 93 offensive plays represent the second most a team has faced in playoff history (behind only the Jets, who faced 96 against the Browns in a game that went into double-overtime in January 1987).

 

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Atlanta’s pass rush was gassed. During the fourth quarter and overtime, its pressure rate on Brady fell from 44.7 percent down to 20.0 percent, including an O-fer on Brady’s six pass attempts during the extra period. Unsurprisingly, once the pass pressure went away, Brady picked the Falcons apart. He finished the day with a 64.1 passer rating under duress and a 107.0 mark when avoiding pressure.

 

The Patriots successfully attacked the weaker links in the Atlanta secondary. Again, this shouldn’t have been news given the expectations coming into the game, but the Falcons were able to hold up with relatively anonymous defensive backs making plays during the first half. Deji Olatoye and C.J. Goodwin played a combined 18 defensive snaps during the first two rounds of the playoffs, but with the Falcons playing more two-deep coverage at first glance and the Patriots using more three- and four-wideout sets, the Falcons rotated their backup defensive backs into the game for a combined 47 snaps. Goodwin, in particular, made his mark in the first half by knocking away a fade route to Mitchell out of the slot and tackling White in the open field on third down to end a drive.

 

As the game wore on, though, the Patriots began to take advantage of mismatches in the secondary. They matched up Mitchell against Goodwin for critical conversions during the comeback, including a third-and-11 pickup in the fourth quarter to extend the drive. Combinations of curl routes are a great way to beat Cover 3, and Mitchell went after both Goodwin and the larger Collins, who had trouble in space against New England’s speedier wideouts. Poole also had trouble with Amendola, who had eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in what might have been his final game as a member of the organization.

 

They also found mismatches for White, who caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes in much the same way that Shane Vereen took over at times against Quinn’s Seattle defense during Super Bowl XLIX. White became a coverage problem for Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, much as he was frustrating against Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright versus the Seahawks.

 

They took Blount out of the game for White. Blount seemed like a logical fit to play a big role in this contest, given how the Falcons had the league’s fourth-worst run defense during the regular season and are built around speed as opposed to strength, but it didn’t work out. Blount dragged down the Patriots’ offense in the first half, carrying the ball eight times for just 16 yards, including a third-and-1 stuff and a lost fumble.

 

The Pats trotted him out for three consecutive runs late in the third quarter, but otherwise, he was basically left on the bench as New England launched its comeback. He finished the game taking just 17 offensive snaps, while White finished with 71 snaps. To put that in context, no Patriots running back had suited up for more than 48 offensive plays in a game this year. ESPN has player participation data going back through 2007, and the only Belichick running back to top White’s 71 snaps over that time frame was Danny Woodhead, who took 73 snaps during a 41-35 thriller against the 49ers in 2012.

 

James White — who set Super Bowl records for most catches (14) and receiving yards (110) by a running back — scored three touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Andrew Hancock for ESPN

Brady’s receivers stopped dropping passes. I don’t think Brady would characterize this as his sharpest game, as he missed a number of receivers downfield, notably a streaking Edelman on a wheel route. He also didn’t get a ton of help early on. Brady’s receivers dropped three of his 35 passes through the first three quarters (an 8.6 percent clip), and there were a number of 50-50 passes his wideouts failed to bring in. (Ryan’s receivers, in comparison, didn’t drop any of his 23 pass attempts.) The Patriots’ wideouts repeatedly struggled on a route they clearly wanted to target in man coverage, the wheel/fade out of the slot.

 

Bennett caught a 25-yard pass over Neal on that very route in the fourth quarter, though, and the Pats went back to it with Bennett in overtime for the pass interference penalty that set up the game-winning score. Brady’s receivers stepped up their concentration and made every catch count; they didn’t drop a single one of Brady’s 27 pass attempts during the fourth quarter and overtime.

 

The Patriots sent extra men at Ryan. The 2016 MVP dropped back 10 times during the first half, and while he was sacked twice, the other eight plays produced seven receptions for 115 yards, a touchdown and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. The Patriots blitzed just once on those 10 dropbacks for a 10 percent blitz rate. During the second half, the Pats brought in Elandon Roberts for Shea McClellin in their nickel package and blitzed far more frequently. This was also just a 17-dropback sample, but the Patriots blitzed Ryan 41.2 percent of the time and sacked him on three of those opportunities. Ryan still posted a 126.8 passer rating, but because QBR accounts for sacks, his QBR fell from 91.5 in the first half to 62.0 afterward.

 

Ryan’s tackles were not a source of strength, particularly Matthews, who was a liability in pass protection far too frequently Sunday and committed those two critical holding penalties. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder was fine before leaving with an injury, but then the Falcons bought in Tom Compton, whom the Patriots immediately targeted with a defensive line game on that ridiculous 27-yard catch by Julio Jones. Behind the league’s healthiest offensive line, Compton had been needed for only 69 offensive snaps during the regular season. The pressure prevented the Falcons from throwing more passes to Jones, who finished with four catches on a mere four targets for 87 yards.

 

The Atlanta running game sputtered. The biggest surprise of the game for me early on was that the Falcons had tons of success moving the ball on the ground against the league’s fourth-ranked rushing defense per DVOA. Shanahan dialed up the crack toss play against New England in man coverage early on in the contest and had plenty of success, including a 37-yard run by Freeman. He and Coleman combined for 86 yards on nine carries during the first 30 minutes.

 

Afterward, though, the Patriots adjusted. They again faced nine rushing attempts during the second half, but this time, those runs generated a total of only 18 yards. Five of them went for no gain or a loss.

 

The Falcons didn’t manage the clock well. While the Falcons couldn’t have known that New England would make its miraculous comeback, they helped the Patriots by leaving time on the clock in the fourth quarter and snapping early in the play clock. After the 39-yard checkdown to a wide-open Freeman gave Atlanta first-and-10 at their own 49-yard line with 5:39 to go, Ryan snapped the ball with 20 seconds left on the play clock and handed the ball off for a loss of 1. The next play, the 27-yard deep out to Jones, was snapped with 13 seconds left on the clock. The Falcons did wind the play clock down inside five seconds on their next opportunity after a Freeman stuff, but that was their last chance to run clock on offense all game.

 

Quinn also didn’t get much value for his timeouts. Atlanta had to use one timeout early in the third quarter when they were struggling to line up on defense before a third-and-long. A second timeout came after the first Matthews holding penalty toward the end of the third quarter on second-and-11, while the final timeout flew off the shelves when Quinn challenged the ridiculous Edelman catch. If Ryan hits that final drive with a minute and two timeouts, the playcalling would have been fundamentally different.

 

Gostkowski was a monster on kickoffs. While Gostkowski missed yet another extra point in what has been an uneven season for New England’s star kicker on scoring plays, he has retained much of his effectiveness on kickoffs and created valuable field position for the Patriots’ defense in Sunday’s second half. Gostkowski didn’t kick off until the final play of the first half, and that was a squib kick. He subsequently attempted both an onside kick and a deliberately short pop-up kick on two of his five kickoff attempts during the second half.

 

His other three kickoffs, though, each pinned the Falcons inside of their own 20-yard line. One was returned to the Falcons’ 19-yard line, but the two truly great kicks came on Gostkowski’s final two kickoffs of the game. The first, with the Patriots down 28-20, was booted to the 3-yard line with enough hang time for the coverage units to pin down Justin Hardy and limit him to a 7-yard return, starting Atlanta on the 10-yard line. Given that the Falcons finished the drive a few desperate yards away from what would have been game-sealing field goal range, Gostkowski’s kickoff might have helped save the season. After the Patriots tied the score, Gostkowski delivered a similarly effective kickoff to the goal line, which Eric Weems returned to his own 11-yard line to start a disappointingly short possession.

 

The Atlanta offense couldn’t stay on the field. More than anything, though, the Falcons blew their lead because they couldn’t come through with conversions on third down. They had picked up 64.0 percent of their third downs in the playoffs heading into the Super Bowl, but went just 1-for-8 on Sunday, with a second conversion coming on a ninth third down via penalty.

 

Every third-down failure is bad for an offense, but these breakdowns were both wildly frustrating and eventually very meaningful. Ryan was sacked four times on third down, including on third-and-3 and third-and-5 to end Atlanta’s first two possessions. The Hightower strip-sack came on a third-and-1. He also took a sack on third-and-11 from the Patriots’ 42-yard line on a play where a completion, even if it were short of the sticks, might have created an opportunity for a long field goal. Nobody expected Ryan to convert third-and-33 from the Patriots’ 45-yard line in the fourth quarter, but he failed to complete a pass that might have set up Bryant for a field goal or even forced the Patriots into using one of their two remaining timeouts.

 

Atlanta’s two third-down conversions resulted in touchdowns. One was a touchdown itself, when the Falcons isolated tight end Austin Hooper against Patrick Chung on consecutive plays. The other was a pass interference call in the red zone on Malcolm Butler that set up a touchdown for Coleman on a pick play the following snap.

 

It’s still hard to believe the Falcons actually lost this game. They’re the first team in Super Bowl history to lose with a pick-six in its pocket, one that felt like an unlikely gift given that it came from Brady. Some will throw around the “choker” label, which is inelegant at best and condescendingly incurious at worst. If choking means running after a quarterback on 68 dropbacks until there’s hardly any air left in your lungs, the Falcons choked.

 

Instead, it’s fairer to say the Falcons never shut the door. They had several chances to finish this game off and never really took advantage of any of them, leaving a tiny opening that most teams wouldn’t have been able to exploit. Even the Patriots, as good as they are, needed fortuitous timing with penalties and turnovers plus one of the all-time legendary catches in football history from Edelman to stay within range.

 

Atlanta should be proud of what it has accomplished this season and what it did in the Super Bowl. It’s what the Falcons didn’t do that will be keeping everyone in the organization up late at night for weeks to come. They gave Tom Brady and Bill Belichick a chance to kick their door down, and yet again, the two future Hall of Famers produced a late drive to come away with a Super Bowl victory.

 

 

AND THIS FROM LAS VEGAS

 

The final TD by James White not only won the game for the Patriots, it pushed New England over the spread and pushed the total points in the game from “under” to “over”.

 

If you care about such things, David Purdum of ESPN.com has a good recap of Super Bowl betting news:

 

More money was bet on Super Bowl LI at Nevada sportsbooks than any other Super Bowl in history.

 

Nevada books won $10.93 million off of a record $138.48 million wagered on Super Bowl LI, the state’s gaming control board announced Monday.

 

The $138.48 million wagered beats last year’s record mark of $132.54 million. The books held 7.9 percent of the amount wagered and recorded their seventh-most lucrative Super Bowl ever, when the New England Patriots erased a 25-point deficit and beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

 

Since the Nevada Gaming Control Board began tracking wagering on the Super Bowl in 1991, the state’s regulated sportsbooks have come out ahead in 25 of 27 games. The books are up a net $173.6 million on the Super Bowl during that span, capped by this year’s big win.

 

The Patriots covered as 3-point favorites, and the game went over the consensus closing total of 57. The favorite and over is normally a bad combination for the books, but that was not the case this year.

 

The MGM sportsbook reported winning multiple seven figures on the game off of extremely balanced action. Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports, said he ended up with 51 percent of the straight-bet money on the Patriots and approximately 1,000 more bets on New England.

 

“We did well,” Rood said. “It dug us out of the hole. We needed this to make up for such a really bad end to the season.”

 

The action was so evenly distributed on the point spread, total and props that most sportsbooks entered the game in a no-lose situation.

 

“It would have been difficult not to win money on a day like this,” Ed Salmons, Westgate SuperBook assistant manager, said.

 

The SuperBook saw a 20 percent increase in handle over last year’s Super Bowl. The South Point casino also reported record handle at its shop. Sportsbook operator CG Technology, Station Casinos, Caesars, South Point and the Wynn also reported coming out ahead on the game. But the books did have a late sweat.

 

With the point spread never moving off New England -3 and the over/under total sitting at 59 for the majority of the days leading up to the Super Bowl, a 31-28 Patriots win would have resulted in a push on the side and the total. The game went into overtime tied 28-28. New England running back James White’s winning touchdown in overtime helped the books avoid what would have been a lengthy process of refunding millions of dollars in bets.

 

“I’m sure that almost gave everyone a heart attack,” Jason Simbal, vice president of risk for CG Technology, said.

 

While betting interest surged, television viewership declined. According ESPN senior writer Darren Rovell, 111.3 million viewers tuned in Sunday night, the lowest since 2014.

 

“Usually, television ratings equate to betting handle,” said Station Casinos vice president of race and sports Art Manteris. “But that wasn’t the case this year, as betting handle in Nevada continues to soar to all-time heights. The live, in-game betting, I think, played a role in that. In-game betting really came of age yesterday during the Super Bowl.”

 

William Hill’s sportsbook was the only Las Vegas shop that reported coming out on the short end. A flurry of in-game bets on the Patriots at odds of 10-1 or greater perpetrated a six-figure loss for William Hill. In the fourth quarter, New England was listed as high as a 16-1 under to win the game. William Hill took only a couple of small bets at that price.

 

The DB can’t get over the fact that the biggest margin of victory in five Patriots Super Bowl wins came in the game in which they trailed by 25 points.

 

 

THE COLLEGE OT

Ben Kercheval of CBSSports.com is among the many who thought the Falcons should have had one more chance.

 

One of the things the NFL does better than college football is move quarters along with a running clock after first downs. But the one thing college football does better than the NFL? Overtime, without a doubt.

 

Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, which had the first overtime in the game’s history, would have been the prime situation for it.

The overtime rules in college football are straight forward. One team gets an untimed opportunity to score starting in opponent territory and then the second team gets the exact same chance. Whoever ends the period with the most points wins, sudden-death style.

 

The NFL is a bit more detailed. The overtime is treated like a full quarter, time-wise. If the first offense team scores a field goal, the second team will have a chance to tie the game or go for the win. If the first team scores a touchdown, game over. Basically, first touchdown wins, which heightens the moment. Such was the case when running back James White scored from two yards out on the first possession to give the Patriots the 34-28 win.

 

But what if the Falcons had one more opportunity? They were, after all, the league’s best offense in 2016 with an MVP at quarterback. The outcome might have been the same — there’s no woulda, coulda, shoulda here — but at least there would have been an equal number of chances to win. That’s true no matter which team went first and it’s the thing that harms NFL’s overtime the most.

 

It doesn’t need to be an exact replica. NFL overtimes don’t have to put offenses on the opponent’s 25-yard line. Move the starting position back to the 35- or 40-yard line.

 

Kickers are obviously far better in the NFL, too. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say Super Bowl LI had a college football style overtime as it is. That’s giving Tom Brady, an already four-time Super Bowl champ having the game of his life, and Matt Ryan, the league MVP, incredible field position to make the last play.

 

Defenses won’t like it, but it has more entertainment value and the NFL is chiefly in the entertainment business. There’s a unique drama to sudden-death style overtimes. It’s the heightened feeling that every little thing matters more and has large-scale consequences. There’s extra value for it in college football because the sport’s excitement stems from its unpredictability.

 

In the NFL, college football-style overtime would get its extra value from seeing both sets of star players take the field at least one more time. Sunday’s battle wouldn’t have been just Brady in overtime, it would have been Brady and Ryan. Maybe twice. Maybe three times. The important thing is they each would have been given the same number of tries.

 

Therein lies the two primary benefits of college football overtime: It’s exciting and it’s fair. A game many will consider one of the great Super Bowls of all time deserved to have that type of ending.