HOUSTON — It was the greatest Super Bowl comeback in NFL history — thanks to the greatest choke job in Super Bowl history.
The New England Patriots deserve a wing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame dedicated to their 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons. And the Falcons deserve a wing in the Hall of Shame for blowing a 28-3 lead they took in the third quarter in Super Bowl LI.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are celebrated as the greatest quarterback-coaching duo in history. But on this night they received a big assist from the Falcons, who gagged as if they’d choked on the bone of one of Houston’s famous pork ribs.
At times, Matt Ryan, the Falcons' MVP quarterback, was spectacular. That was not the case in the fourth quarter, when his fumble helped fuel the Patriots' comeback. Of course, Ryan deserves an apology from running back Devonta Freeman who failed to pick up New England’s Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots linebacker who pounded Ryan and jarred the ball loose.
But they were not alone. How about cornerback Robert Alford, who had a chance to break up Brady's pass to Julian Edelman that turned into a catch for the ages and led to the Patriots' game-tying score. Or how about the defense that allowed two two-point conversions in the fourth quarter? Or the eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive in overtime that put the Falcons out of their misery.
As the Patriots entered the post-game interview room, they appeared to be in a a state of denial when asked if the Falcons had choked.
“That team, I mean, they hacked us,’’ defensive end Chris Long said. “But in the end, we just had too much belief. … I don’t think it was like (a choke). I think we just took it."
Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler acted as if he’d heard a different question.
“Hey,’’ he said, “you can only do one thing, win or lose.’’
Only offensive tackle Nate Solder flirted with the truth.
“They were under tremendous pressure,’’ Solder said. “We knew we had to put pressure on them. … Those guys are a great team.’’
The Falcons did play great — and then they choked.