“There was a lot of great situational football.”
– Bill Belichick, in the post game press conference following Super Bowl LI
Here we are. The third consecutive Superb Owl decided by situational football. Lots of writers are making excusing and blaming other things. But the Falcons made a few huge mistakes, and are going to be laughed at the rest of their lives for them.
1. The Falcons NOT running the play clock down while the game clock was running.
This is the most unforgivable, as any coach in any game where his team has a lead of more than 16 should do. You’re up three possessions (at one point they were up four possessions), the only way you can lose is to leave enough time for your opponent to score.
2. The Falcons getting a first down at the 22 yard line with under 5 minutes to play, leading by 8, and not getting any points.
The Patriots had shown they weren’t going to stop fighting, and they’d made it a one-score game. The only thing that could kill them is it going back to a two-score game. After two great pass plays (not called while in FG range), it was time to be smart. Three runs and a FG, probably getting all the Patriots timeouts in return.
Instead, it’s a run, a pass play sack (first Patriots timeout), holding penalty, incompletion) and a punt from the 45 yard line.
3. Much like the Seahawks in XLIX, the Falcons had wasted their first two timeouts of the second half. They used the first with 12:57 in the 3rd quarter, and the other with 0:59 in the 3rd quarter. They spent the third challenging Julian Edelman’s catch. So when they got the ball with the game tied and 0:57 remaining, just needing to get into FG range, they had zero timeouts.
4. With under 9 minutes to go, up 28-12, the Falcons expected Devonta Freeman to block Dont’a Hightower. An inexplicable call in which Freeman seemed to think he was releasing into a route, then thought “maybe I’m blocking that guy?”, then getting pushed aside by Hightower, who then caused Matt Ryan to fumble. The Patriots recovered at the Falcons 25 and scored a quick touchdown. Without this turnover, the Patriots probably don’t have time to come all the way back. Note: On this play, the ball was stupidly snapped with 14 seconds on the play clock.
Honorable mention: The Falcons calling so much man coverage that their defenders were gassed in the second half, leaving holes in the zone coverage that they started calling in the 4th quarter.
So, yet again, Bill Belichick did his job, the other coach didn’t, and it was beautiful.