Patriots 34, Falcons 28 | Overtime: Patriots Mount a Comeback for the Ages to Win a Fifth Super Bowl
The Falcons traded Brett Favre and had a coach, Bobby Petrino, notify players that he was quitting by leaving notes at their lockers. The only other time Atlanta reached the Super Bowl, in January 1999, one of its best defensive players, Eugene Robinson, was arrested for soliciting a prostitute the night before.
They have lost far more than they won, endured more agony than ecstasy and been lampooned for everything from their attendance to their uniforms, and for all those reasons — and more — a city that had not claimed a champion since the Braves won the World Series in 1995 was ready to celebrate with abandon once more.
But first, Brady.
He still had to contend with a defense overseen by the Falcons’ coach, Dan Quinn, who nearly foiled him two years ago, when he worked in Seattle. For all of Belichick’s experience, Quinn had coached in more Super Bowls recently, three in the last four seasons.
The memory of that loss to New England still smolders for Quinn, who from that game remembers not the game-saving goal-line interception by Malcolm Butler, but how the Seahawks went ahead to stay with about two minutes left. Quinn may never again coach a defense as fast and physical — words emblazoned on a bracelet he has worn — as Seattle’s, but for the first three quarters on Sunday, the Falcons harassed Brady, swarmed the ball and created turnovers, converting both of New England’s mistakes before halftime into 14 points.
Most obvious was the Falcons’ speed advantage, and how, as Quinn’s Seahawks did against Denver in the 2014 game, they parlayed it into momentum. Robert Alford’s 82-yard interception return for a touchdown, the second-longest return in a Super Bowl, had the same effect on the Patriots as Malcolm Smith’s for Seattle three years ago.
And that, to an extent, was part of the plan Quinn toted along with him to Atlanta, whose ascension under him began with an evolved way of thinking forged by his time in Seattle: He wanted his players to work as hard as they ever have — but have a great time doing it. The Super Bowl was enjoyable, until it wasn’t.