HOUSTON – Here are my five takeaways from the New England Patriots' 34-28 overtime victory against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI Sunday:
* This will be remembered as both the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, with the Patriots storming back from a 25-point deficit late in the third quarter, and the greatest meltdown on sport's biggest stage. The Falcons had this game won. They unraveled on both sides of the ball. Their defense, which had done such an amazing job of rattling Tom Brady in the first half, couldn't keep pace with him through the last quarter-plus and into OT. And their offense started to make big mistakes, with the overly aggressive play-calling by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan that didn't take enough time off the clock, and Matt Ryan's late fumble that led to a Patriot touchdown to cut the lead to 28-20.
* I'm inclined to think there will never be a better quarterback, or player for that matter, who surpasses Brady for greatest ever in NFL history. It's impossible to imagine anyone matching what this guy did to lead the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl victory. And that's where the conversation starts, with win No. 5, which came after he missed the first four games because of the silly Deflategate suspension. Which came after he played so uncharacteristically poorly through two-and-a-half quarters. We will be marveling for a long time over how he led the Patriots out of a 25-point hole, including getting two two-point conversions, and won the game in drop-the-mike-fashion by leading a touchdown drive.
* Maybe the Patriots' edge in experience – especially the Super Bowl kind – made a huge difference after all. The Falcons' youth ultimately came back to bite them, particularly on defense. Ryan deservedly received NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors, but he had never played in a Super Bowl. And after his brilliant first half, when he registered a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3, he came apart.
* You have to love how the Patriots made their controlled passing game, with mostly intermediate routes that allow them to use it to supplement their rushing attack, began to function to well during their comeback. You think of a team rallying from such a huge deficit, and assume it would take a lot of long bombs. But that's not how the Patriots win. They have reliable, smart receivers – like Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and former Bill Chris Hogan – who know how to get open and make plays in tight spots. They also have running backs – such as James White – who caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, who are excellent receivers.
* Sorry, Bills fans. Many of you were watching the Patriots' first-half meltdown and thinking, "Ding! Dong! The wicked witch is dead!" Not quite. The Pats' dynasty looks to be as strong as ever. Maybe stronger. The Patriots made this whole ride with their best player available for only 12 games. And they didn't even have another of their greats, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is recovering from back surgery. Brady didn't look like a 39-year-old quarterback ready to go to pasture. He looked like a young stud who wants an even six Super Bowl rings.