JOHN YANG: More than 110 million viewers tuned into the Super Bowl last night. And a good percentage of them may have started tuning out because the game looked like a blowout. But those who looked away missed an amazing comeback.
Jeffrey Brown has our story.
JEFFREY BROWN: Up 21-0 with the first half winding down, Atlanta had a championship in its sights. There’d never been a Super Bowl comeback of more than 10 points.
The Falcons stretched their lead to 25, all but over, before the improbable and impossible, as the Tom Brady-led Patriots began chipping away. They’d drawn within eight points, when wide receiver Julian Edelman made an eye-popping grab.
Soon after, New England tied it. That forced the first overtime in Super Bowl history, and the Patriots quickly marched to victory.
ANNOUNCER: He’s in! The Patriots win the Super Bowl!
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s the fifth Super Bowl ring for coach Bill Belichick and Brady, who was voted most valuable player of the game again.
TOM BRADY, New England Patriots: New England, we love you. You have been with us all year. We’re bringing this sucker home!
JEFFREY BROWN: It was a bit of revenge for Brady, who had been suspended four games this season over a scandal involving under-inflated footballs in a playoff game two years ago.
Well, I stayed with it to the end. And I’m glad I did.
And so did Mike Pesca. He’s a sports reporter and the host of Slate’s daily news and discussion podcast “The Gist.”
Mike, I watched Patriots players afterwards, and they were saying, we never thought it was over, we always thought we had a chance.
I’m not sure I believed them. Did you?
MIKE PESCA, Slate: Yes. Athletes, that’s the mind-set. And the great ones have it.
And the great ones who play alongside Tom Brady with his now five Super Bowl rings know that that has to be the attitude. And I will have to say that, going in, it was the truth that, if Tom Brady had a chance to throw without being sacked, without being hit, without being hurt, we knew that he could a devastating against this Falcons defense.
He didn’t get that chance through almost three whole quarters. Then, when he did get the chance, the question is, well, can he slice up this team in such a concentrated time period? And that was the amazing thing.
It’s not that Tom Brady orchestrated fourth-quarter comebacks. He has done that six times. It’s that he orchestrated this 25-point comeback with — really just starting with only minutes to go in the third quarter. Amazing.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
I imagine the background to all this, the two years of Deflategate and Brady suspended for four games this season.
I want to play a little clip of owner, Patriots owner Robert Kraft after the game.
ROBERT KRAFT, Owner, New England Patriots: A lot has transpired during the last two years. And I don’t think that needs any explanation.
This is unequivocally the sweetest.
JEFFREY BROWN: Brady and coach Belichick, they said, oh, this stuff wasn’t on our mind.
Clearly on the mind of Robert Kraft and others.
MIKE PESCA: Well, it was on Belichick and Brady’s mind, you could tell. It was on the minds of all the fans.
And I do think that that Goodell ruling was him being a little bit imperious, imperial, and making a very harsh ruling. Tom Brady was suspended for a quarter of this season, giving him an extra incentive, a guy who doesn’t need that.
Now, the background with Kraft and Goodell is, Kraft is a big Goodell ally. And before this got in the way and soured their relationship, Goodell could always count on Kraft to, among things, approve gigantic salaries for Goodell.
So, I don’t know if this makes the Patriots an underdog, especially given the politics of the moment, but to their fans, this made this more than just yet another victory and the most amazing comeback during NFL history. It made it sweet revenge.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so when you speak, when you talk of most of all time, of course, the inevitable talk is greatest of all time player with Brady, coach with Belichick, and dynasty with the Patriots.
Where do you come down?
MIKE PESCA: I have never seen Otto Graham play a full game. And most of the people weighing in haven’t either. And he has an impeccable record.
Then you have to factor in that the rules and the offenses of 2016-2017 are light years ahead of what guys like Roger Staubach did.
But no one could — how could you say he’s anything less than tied? And the Brady-Belichick combination — the NFL chews up coaches. And I think Bill Belichick is one of the most creative minds in any endeavor, finding so many different ways to win and outthink the opponent.
For whatever you think of his countenance and not smiling, and perhaps wearing ill-fitting hooded sweatshirts, that guy is a brilliant thinker, and he brings creativity to the game, which I, as a fan, appreciate.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mike, just in our last minute, I want to ask you about Atlanta.
What an exciting and young team they were for about three quarters, and then what a devastating loss for the team and the city that has hungered for such things.
MIKE PESCA: Yes.
So, two points. They were on the field for 93 plays. No defense could possibly stick with another team. We did think that they had a big enough buffer.
So, the combination of the number of plays the Patriots had, which just wore down the defense, and the fact that, let’s be honest, Atlanta made some terrible mistakes, including taking some key sacks and not kicking a field goal which would have made it a three-score game with four minutes and change left.
They will be ruing this for a long time. And their one Braves championship back in the ’90s, I don’t think will be enough to sustain this city for much longer.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mike Pesca, thank you very much.
MIKE PESCA: You’re welcome.
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