HOUSTON — Logan Ryan is a pretty good cornerback for the Patriots. He also understands the sports journalism business pretty well, apparently.
“I’m sure at halftime you guys wrote your stories,” Ryan said Sunday night after the Patriots’ historic 34-28 comeback victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. “Then you had to select it, paste it, and hit ‘delete all,’ and, you know, restart it.”
Yep, we sure did. During night games, many reporters must start writing their stories well before the clock hits all zeros to meet print deadlines.
BostonGlobe.com readers know that I usually write an Instant Analysis that is posted on the website as soon as a Patriots game ends. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I began writing this analysis when the Falcons took a 28-3 lead with 8:31 left in the third quarter. No team had ever overcome more than a 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl, let alone 25 points with less than 23 minutes remaining.
Even when running back James White scored his first touchdown of the game with 2:06 left in the third quarter, it still looked bleak for the Patriots. Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point, and a 28-9 deficit still appeared insurmountable.
But you know the rest, of course. Tom Brady threw for 232 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Patriots scored 25 points in the game’s final 19 minutes, their defense buttoned up, and they pulled off the most incredible comeback in NFL history. When receiver Danny Amendola scored a touchdown with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter, I stopped writing, knowing I’d be ripping up my Instant Analysis.
But instead of deleting the text, I saved it. And I’m glad I did. It shows just how improbable this comeback was, and how we may never see a game like this — on the world’s biggest stage — again.
So here is my Instant Analysis from the first 3½ quarters Sunday night. I will gladly eat a large serving of crow on this one. (Note: “TK” is industry shorthand for information that is “to come” once the game is complete.)
HOUSTON — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ TK-TK loss to the Falcons:
■ The Patriots made an admirable comeback in the fourth quarter to score 17 straight points and turn it into a one-score game. But it shouldn’t overshadow what happened in the first 50 minutes, when the Patriots were outmanned and outclassed in every facet of the game. The Falcons’ offense was too fast for the Patriots’ defense. The Falcons’ defense was too fast for the Patriots’ offense. Josh McDaniels’s play calling reeked of desperation. Matt Patricia’s defense got exposed badly with one-on-one matchups. The Patriots didn’t play any good teams in the regular season, and it showed Sunday night.
■ The Falcons’ speed on defense was no joke. The New England offense is based on yards after the catch, but the receivers couldn’t create any separation in their routes and were tackled quickly. The Falcons’ speed and tight coverage made every pass tightly contested, and the Patriots didn’t help themselves with untimely drops from receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. The Falcons took away the Patriots’ horizontal offense, and the Patriots aren’t good enough to go vertical. And once quarterback Tom Brady started locking in on Edelman, it was game over — cornerback Robert Alford picked him off and returned it 82 yards for a back-breaking touchdown.
■ The Patriots wanted to slow the game down and control the clock, but running back LeGarrette Blount was simply too slow to be effective against this defense. And his fumble on the 30-yard line in the second quarter was an absolute killer. The Patriots could have taken an early 3-0 lead, but turned the ball over instead, which resulted in a quick strike by the Falcons to take a 7-0 lead. The Patriots probably should have given running back Dion Lewis more of a chance early in the game.
■ One thing we didn’t expect — the Falcons’ front four also dominated the Patriots’ offensive line. Brady was under pressure throughout the first half against a mostly four-man rush, got jittery in the pocket, and was ultimately sacked five times for a loss of 24 yards. He didn’t set his feet, rushed his throws, and his accuracy and vision suffered. The interior offensive line of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason got beaten badly for several sacks. Tight end Martellus Bennett, who committed two holding penalties, was also dominated on his block on a stuffed third-and-inches run by Blount.
■ McDaniels didn’t help matters with the play calling. A tight end screen to Bennett at the end of the second quarter when the Patriots badly needed a touchdown? A wide receiver pass from Edelman on third and 3 that fooled nobody?
The Patriots dominated time of possession TK-TK, and in offensive plays called TK-TK, but went 1 for 3 in the red zone and couldn’t capitalize when they needed it. And when White and Amendola are your best offensive weapons, you’re in trouble.
■ The Patriots’ defense, meanwhile, finally got exposed by an excellent offense after playing mediocre or bad quarterbacks all season. New England didn’t even pretend to stop quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ passing game, as Ryan had a perfect 158.3 passer rating through three quarters. The Patriots’ pass defense allowed just 6.8 yards per attempt all season, but the Falcons averaged a whopping TK, moving the ball at will. A hobbled Julio Jones beat constant double teams for TK yards, Taylor Gabriel broke Malcolm Butler’s ankles on a 35-yard post play, and Ryan made an incredible throw to tight end Austin Hooper for a 19-yard touchdown over Patrick Chung.
■ Most disconcerting for the Patriots was how badly they were gashed in the run game by Atlanta’s stretch zone runs, a staple of the Kyle Shanahan run game that he learned from his dad, Mike Shanahan, the former Broncos coach. Running back Devonta Freeman at one point had 66 yards on five carries. Overall, the Falcons rushed TK times for TK yards (TK average) plus a walk-in touchdown by Freeman.
■ The Falcons went up-tempo on offense and gassed the Patriots, who just couldn’t keep up with the speed or the matchups. When the Falcons went 71 yards in just five plays and 1:53 for a touchdown, the Patriots knew they were in trouble.
■ On top of it, Shanahan got the better of Patricia. Rob Ninkovich covering Tevin Coleman out of the backfield? Advantage: Falcons. Coleman walked into the end zone for a touchdown.
■ In fact, we’ve never seen the Patriots give up so many walk-in touchdowns — Freeman’s run, Coleman’s catch, and Alford’s interception.
■ It wasn’t all bad for the Patriots’ defense. Defensive lineman Trey Flowers had a standout game with 2.5 sacks, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s sack-fumble in the fourth quarter gave the Patriots life.
■ And for the icing on the cake, Stephen Gostkowski missed his fifth extra point of the season and second in as many weeks. This certainly didn’t cost the Patriots the game, but Bill Belichick probably has to bring in a kicker this offseason and hold an open competition for the position.