Before we officially close the book on Super Bowl LI and turn the page to 2017, we wanted to take a moment to recognize a few of the unsung heroes of the New England Patriots’ historic 34-28 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Note: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (Super Bowl MVP), running back James White (Super Bowl-record 14 catches and three touchdowns), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (momentum-shifting strip sack) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (perhaps the greatest catch in Super Bowl history) are not eligible for consideration.
Defensive end Trey Flowers
This one might be stretching the definition of “unsung” just a tad. Flowers, the Patriots’ sack leader during the regular season, was New England’s best defensive player in his first Super Bowl, battering Matt Ryan with 2 1/2 sacks and five QB hits. Two of those sacks came on third down, and the third helped knock the Falcons out of field-goal range late in the fourth quarter. Any Atlanta points in that situation would have all but ended the game. Instead, the Falcons were forced to punt, and the Patriots tied the game on the ensuing possession to force overtime.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Amendola was targeted just 29 times during the regular season, but Brady threw his way 11 times Sunday night, including eight times in the second half. Amendola caught eight passes (doubling his single-game season high) for 78 yards and a touchdown and also added the two-point conversion that tied the game in the final minute of regulation.
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell
Brady didn’t miss when targeting Mitchell in the fourth quarter and overtime, going a perfect 5-for-5 for 63 yards. Mitchell had caught just two passes in the entire postseason before that. The rookie wideout played a key role in New England’s furious Super Bowl comeback, as four of his five late-game catches went for first downs, including a 12-yard grab on third-and-11.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski obviously was not perfect Sunday night. He missed an extra point for the fifth time this season, which would have proven disastrous had the Patriots not converted both of their two-point conversions. He also failed to execute an onside kick in the early stages of New England’s rally. But Gostkowski was characteristically excellent on kickoffs, repeatedly pinning the Falcons deep in their own territory. This was especially critical during the game’s final minutes, as Atlanta started its final two drives at its own 10- and 11-yard lines, respectively. Both of those drives ended in punts.
Ryan Allen also deserves recognition, as three of his four punts pinned Atlanta inside its own 15. The Falcons finished the game with zero punt-return yards.
Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images