Super Bowl LI takaways: greatest comeback, worst choke in Super Bowl history

Super Bowl LI takaways: greatest comeback, worst choke in Super Bowl history

Not really many new or more sweeping superlatives to offer for what was, in this observer's opinion, the greatest Super Bowl ever. The New England Patriots may be the Evil Empire to some detractors, but the 34-28 overtime win at the expense of the spent Atlanta Falcons revealed a character and greatness, no matter what's said about PSI or anything else.

What you have after an event like this are snapshots, impressions left by this play or that.

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Five Super Bowls won, two lost (both to the New York Giants, both involving freakish pass receptions), and more important, this one won by directing a comeback from 28-3 that involved shaking off an anemic first half and responding with a historic second. Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning – all relegated to the discussion as to who is No. 2 all-time.

Difficult not to put a harsh second-guess on Atlanta coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In a game that saw their players streak to a 28-3 lead in the third quarter, the Falcons ran the football a total of just 18 times despite averaging 5.8 yards per carry for the game and 4.6 ypc on the season.

Pass plays were called that resulted in sacks, one call an inexplicable empty backfield package on a third-and-1, resulting in a strip-sack that was turned into the New England touchdown that made it a one-score game. The Falcons were struggling to run with center Alex Mack operating on a fractured leg but the strategic coaching imperative is to put players in the best positions to be successful, and that call against an energized Patriots front was a game-changer.

The last time I can recall a gag job of this magnitude, the Houston Oilers run-and-shoot offense was choking away a 35-3 lead in the 1993 wild-card round to the Buffalo Bills.

Collectively, the Falcons, players and coaches, conspired to choke away a Super Bowl. And add owner Arthur Blank to the role of foul-ups, too. With his team blowing out the Patriots, Blank left his box and was down on the sideline for what appeared to be some camera time celebrating for the whole fourth quarter. Idiotic jinxing.

If John Fox ever needed an object lesson to impress upon his Bears teams the intrinsic importance of never quitting, Tom Brady and his bunch provided one. Playing 60 minutes (or more, in this case) is supposed to come with being a professional, and it doesn't guarantee anything if you're simply not good enough. But without that never-quit component, Super Bowl LI is over at the 45-minute mark. Things like this never happen.

If there was a quirk of the game, it was that the Patriots turned the football over twice inside the Atlanta 35, one on a pick-6, without which this game probably doesn't reach overtime. The Atlanta offense only stayed on the field a total of 46 plays, less than half New England's (93), and the 344 total yards were the third-fewest the Falcons put up all season. Matt Ryan's passer rating was stratospheric (144.1) but the Patriots held him to 240 passing yards, third-fewest of the season.

An underrated element of Super Bowl LI was the Atlanta Falcons defense, which was on its way to being the story of the game until the fourth quarter, when suddenly the four-man pass rush ran largely dry, not really surprising in a quarter when the Patriots ran 28 plays, including two-point conversions.

The Atlanta offense was on the field exactly 3:44 of the second quarter and only 4:49 of the pivotal fourth. Easy to say that the defense could've helped itself by holding the Patriots to less than 7-14 on third downs and gotten off the field, but the real culprit was the Atlanta offense that converted exactly one of eight third downs, none of its five in the second half.

It obviously has to be the right people, but the general template employed by the Patriots and Falcons is one the Bears are loosely following – defense-based coach, commitment to strong run games (New England No. 3 in attempts, Atlanta tied for No. 4 in rushing average), even taking an undersized edge rusher the Bears left on a draft board. The Bears have the defensive-coach thing in place, they've got the foundation of an A-list run-game even if they didn't always use Jordan Howard like they mean it, and they think they've got in Leonard Floyd what they passed on to take Shea McClellin and Kevin White in those drafts.

Now, the quarterback thing, that's something else. Atlanta and New England have A-list quarterbacks, something the Bears are finally going to get around to seeking this offseason.

NFC North: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 3

NFC North: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 3

Chicago Bears fans will get to enjoy a stress-free Sunday in Week 3 with the Bears playing Monday night against the Redskins. They'll have an opportunity to do a little advanced scouting of the NFC North, too, with all three division rivals in action Sunday afternoon in games that, unfortunately, may not present the biggest challenge.

The Packers (2-0) face an opponent familiar to the Bears when they welcome the Broncos to Lambeau Field. Green Bay is a heavy favorite (7.5 points) and based on what Denver revealed in Week 2, Aaron Rodgers should be more than capable of scoring enough points to give the Packers' top-tier defense enough of a cushion to beat up on Joe Flacco and the very average Broncos offense. 

The Vikings (1-1) have arguably the easiest game in Week 3 against the Raiders (1-1) at home. Oakland was one of Week 1's surprise winners over the Broncos, but they came back to earth a bit in Week 2's loss to the Chiefs. Expect a rebound performance from Kirk Cousins and the rest of Minnesota's offense. The Vikings are the biggest NFC North favorites of the week; they're projected to win by nine points or more.

The Lions (1-0-1) have the most challenging game of the three as they'll travel to Philadelphia to face the 1-1 Eagles. Detroit was an upset-winner over the Chargers in Week 2 and very easily could be 2-0 had they held onto their lead in Week 1 against the Cardinals, but they simply aren't talented enough to expect much of a fight against Philadelphia, one of the NFC's Super Bowl favorites. The line is pretty close, however. The Eagles are only favored by 4.5 (at home). 

How many yards will Mitch Trubisky throw for vs. Washington?

How many yards will Mitch Trubisky throw for vs. Washington?

The 2019 NFL season is still very young with only two weeks in its rear-view mirror, but the talking points surrounding Chicago Bears QB Mitch Trubisky are starting to get really old. He's been the subject of relentless criticism because of the offense's slow start and while some concerns regarding his development have merit, most of them are the product of impatience.

For example, the lazy suggestion that Trubisky is a bust because his 2017 NFL draft classmates Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, both of whom he was drafted ahead of, are already league superstars is just wrong. Players evolve and develop at different speeds. Trubisky is the only one of the three on his second head coach and is only just now beginning to develop timing with his receivers, all of whom were added to the team via free agency or the draft last season. Neither Watson nor Mahomes have had nearly as much turbulence and turnover as Trubisky through three seasons. And that matters.

It also matters who a quarterback faces from week to week. Trubisky's 2019 season started against two of the NFL's better defenses in Green Bay and Denver, so his poor stat line is a combination of his below-average play meeting above-average defenses. It's tough for a young quarterback to get out of a slump when he's battling top-tier pass rushers and quality secondaries along the way.

Fortunately, he'll get his first big opportunity to put up quality stats against the Redskins Monday night; Washington is one of the NFL's worst defenses right now, including against the pass.

But Bears fans are still somewhat skeptical about Trubisky's ceiling in Week 3. A matchup like this should make a 300-yard game within his reach. Maybe even a couple of touchdowns. But according to a recent poll I ran on Twitter, Bears fans don't see it coming out that way.

The majority of fans (36%) think Trubisky will end the game with somewhere between 200-249 yards, which by today's NFL standards is very (very!) average. If you factor the 29% who think he won't even reach 200 yards, you end up with 65% of Bears fans thinking Trubisky won't reach 250 yards and, in theory, could struggle to even hit the 200-yard mark.

That's pretty surprising, considering the numbers the Redskins have given up in Weeks 1 and 2. Carson Wentz threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1 against and Dak Prescott sliced them up for 269 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday. There's no reason to think Trubisky can't have a game similar to Prescott's, assuming Matt Nagy dials up the right plays to put him in position to succeed.