HOUSTON -- The snap counts tell the story.
Tom Brady and the Patriots ran 99 plays in Sunday's Super Bowl LI 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons. Matt Ryan and the Falcons? They ran 49.
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The effort and energy the Falcons expended defensively over the course of four quarters and overtime seemed to take its toll by the end. They didn't admit it after the game, but they were gassed. Where their defensive line and linebackers were flying around, making plays, and harassing Brady throughout the first three quarters, they were slowed in the fourth and overtime.
Nearly 100 plays -- 63 of them pass plays, during which big bodies were asked to get up the field -- will do that.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Falcons pressured Brady just 6 times over his last 38 drop-backs, and he wasn't bothered during any of his final 15 drop-backs of the game.
If the Falcons defense was exhausted from the workload, how was the offense it faced not equally worn down? The Patriots credited the hills behind their practice fields back at Gillette Stadium.
"The [bleeping] hills" is how you'll hear them referenced occasionally in the Patriots locker room. We chronicled the importance of the hills to the Patriots' conditioning regimen during training camp, but the Patriots use them throughout the season. Typically they dial back the up-hill sprints as the season wears on and players are looking to conserve energy and manage injuries.
But they were on the hills as recently as their last week of practices before traveling to Houston. “We got these stupid hills in Foxboro that we have to run, like literally, until we left," Edelman said. "We all bitch and complain about it,” Edelman said. “But hey, we do it, we put in the work, we put in the conditioning.”
"We were running the hill last week," Martellus Bennett said. "And I was like, who runs the hill in week 23? Guys were tired, but guys got out there, they ran full speed up the hill. We're just a team that works. We're a team full of workers"