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Jerry Sullivan: Falcons should have gotten the ball in OT

HOUSTON – Column as I see 'em, Super Bowl: Ten hours later, I'm still in shock.

The Patriots' 34-28 win over the Falcons was the greatest Super Bowl ever played. It ranks among the most memorable events I've ever covered, right up there with the Laettner game, the No Goal game, the Bills' comeback over Houston, and Game Seven of the 1991 World Series.

The only problem was, it ended too soon.

Tom Brady gave us an epic performance, a night to remember. But it seemed unfair that Matt Ryan, the presumptive league MVP this season, didn't get to see the field in overtime with a chance to match Brady's game-winning heroics.

Seven years ago, after a couple of playoff games ended on field goals on the opening drive of OT, denying Brett Favre and Peyton Manning a chance to respond, the NFL modified its overtime rules. Teams could no longer win with a field goal at the start of OT, but it was sudden death if a touchdown was scored.

They went halfway, and I've been railing against it ever since. Some day, it would happen in overtime, denying a star quarterback the opportunity to counter an opening touchdown in OT, and denying the league a chance for matchless drama, a mini-shootout in OT in the biggest game of them all. In both the 2015 and '16 playoffs, Aaron Rodgers watched as the Packers' opponent scored a TD on the opening drive of OT.

That's just what happened late Sunday night at NRG Stadium, when Brady marched the Patriots to the winning score while Ryan watched on the Falcons sideline, powerless to take the field one last time and do anything about it.

It was a story for the ages, regardless, but imagine the tension if Ryan had gone out there with Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, needing a TD to tie it and extend the game. Maybe the NFL believes the Super Bowl drags on too long as it is, and wants the game to end sooner rather than later.

Still, it's a bad look. If they changed the rule to give both teams the ball in overtime, why didn't they go all the way? They should modify the OT rules again to ensure that each team possesses the ball once in the overtime.

I know, the Falcons should have stopped them from scoring a touchdown. They shouldn't have blown a 25-point lead. That's beside the point. Imagine if Atlanta had gotten the ball first in OT and scored a touchdown, denying Brady a chance to counter after leading that remarkable comeback?

Something tells me Bills fans would have been just fine with it.

* * *

It seems outlandish to suggest that Tom Brady could still be getting better at age 39, but he's certainly not showing any signs of hitting the wall.

Brady's 466 yards passing in Super Bowl LI was a career playoff high, and his first 400-yard day in 34 postseason games. His previous high? He had 384 yards against the Steelers in this year's AFC title game. Brady has 12 300-yard passing days in the playoffs. Six have come in the last three years.

He's getting better with age, and better during games, too. In the fourth quarter and overtime against the Falcons, Brady was 21 for 27 for 246 yards, a TD and a two-point conversion. He went 14 of 16 for 130 yards in the fourth quarter in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks two years ago.

So after the third quarter in his last two Super Bowls, Brady was 35 for 43 for 376 yards and three TDs. He also led the two biggest comebacks in Super Bowl history (from 10 and 19 points) in those two games.

* * *

Something about the Super Bowl brings out the best in Danny Amendola, the Patriots' veteran wide receiver. Amendola had just 23 catches for 243 yards in the regular season. He was an afterthought in New England's first two playoff wins with a total of just 12 receiving yards against the Texans and Steelers.

But Amendola was huge in the clutch on Sunday night, as he had been two years earlier against Seattle. He had a season-high eight catches and 78 yards. He had six catches for 67 yards from the middle of the third through overtime, including the two-point conversion that tied the game at 28-all.

Until Sunday, Amendola hadn't caught more than three balls or gained more than 30 yards receiving in a game since Week Two. He saves his best for the Bowl. Two years ago, he had 27 catches for 200 yards on the season – then had five receptions for 48 yards, including a key fourth-quarter TD, against Seattle.

* * *

Brady's 466-yard passing day tied for the second-highest game of his career. He passed for 517 yards against the Dolphins in the 2011 opener. If the 466 numbers sounds familiar to Bills fans, it should.

That was his exact total in a 40-32 win at Buffalo early in 2015, when he broke George Blanda's record for passing yards in a game against the Bills. Brady was 38 for 59 that day.

The 25-point comeback was a personal best for Brady, including the regular season. He rallied the Patriots from 24 points back in a win over the Broncos in 2013.

* * *

Falcons coach Dan Quinn on the dubious decision to throw on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, leading to the sack fumble that turned the game around:

"Well, we thought we'd have a good look based on the personnel that was in the game for them. We trust our guys, so we thought that was an opportunity to let it rip. When it doesn't go that way, then it's easy to question it."

Right, Coach. Same as it was easy to second-guess Seattle's decision to throw at the goal-line two years ago. It was a classic exmaple of coaches not respecting the moment and their opponent. All week long, the Falcons said this would be "just another game." It was not just another game, as they discovered.

* * *

There were 24 Super Bowl records set in the Pats' victory. That included the Patriots running an astonishing 93 plays from scrimmage and accumulating 37 first downs, 26 of them passing. I can't recall covering an NFL game with that many offensive plays or first downs. I'll check and get back to you.

New England's James White set a record by scoring 20 points, three touchdowns and a two-point conversion run. No one has ever scored four TDs in a Super Bowl. White tied the record with three. Atlanta's Grady Jarrett tied the record for sacks in the Bowl with three.

* * *

According to Chris Long, it was defensive back Duron Harmon who assured the Patriots they were going to rally during halftime, the way Darryl Talley did when they Bills were down big at half in their famous comeback in 1993.

"It's natural to have some doubts," Long said. "We're human. I kept telling people Duron Harmon walked in and said, 'This is going to be the best comeback of all time.' And we completely believed it."

* * *

Travelers at Houston-Bush Airport were given an unusual advisory while lining up to check baggage Monday after the Super Bowl. They were told to take any Super Bowl programs out of their luggage and check them separately through security. Something in the commemorative programs was triggering security alarms.

Another Patriots conspiracy?

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