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Nitpicks and Nitwits: Simply the Greatest, Ever

They are questions that have been asked thousands of times already, and questions that will continue to be debated for the foreseeable future.

What just happened?

It was a heavyweight punch to the head, leaving the sports world spinning and out of focus.  It was an uppercut felt by millions (or maybe a billion?) that rattled us all senseless, and floored everyone in its wake.

What did we just witness?

The Greatest Comeback in Super Bowl History.  The Greatest Comeback in Patriots History.  One of The Greatest Comebacks in NFL Playoff History.  The cementing, once and for all, of The Greatest Quarterback to Ever Play This Game.

Roger that.

While New England completed a stunning, heart-pounding 25-point comeback that began with just a little more than eight minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter Sunday in Houston, Patriots' fans undoubtedly experienced the simultaneous, uncomfortable feelings of agony and ecstasy.   

And after the upheaval of emotions had rendered their final sentiment, Tom Brady simply went to his knees and cried.

My goodness.  Even Walt Disney would have a hard time selling this script to Hollywood, wouldn't he?

"That was exactly the way we didn't plan it," Brady said in the aftermath of what the Patriots had wrought on the world.  "Everything we didn't want to do.  But that was a great football game, and it shows you that is why these games are 60 minutes."

Forgive TB12, won't you?  This game actually totaled 63:58, but I certainly don't need to tell him that.  "It was hard to imagine us winning," Brady acknowledged.  "It took a lot of great plays and that's why you play to the end."  

"Just play every play," Julian Edelman said in a simplistic, but other-worldly tone.  "We never quit."

Trying to put a little perspective on something as wondrous and unexplainable as Super Bowl LI might have been is difficult to do without being a bit sappy.  There have been hundreds of exciting, unexplainable moments in pro football history – but this one is all New England's.   

The first Super Bowl title (XXXVI) was momentous, to be sure.  Winning three in four years was dynastic, of course.  But this one for the thumb?

This one left us all gasping for air with the suddenness of its impact.  Atlanta's Falcons were spent, and left reeling like a prize fighter fallen on the ropes.  They were clearly the better team for two-and-a-half quarters, but could not finish their quest as TB12 and the Patriots began their own.

Better to be late, than never.  

"We were down.  Had some doubts at halftime, we're only human," Chris Long told the Boston Globe.  "But we had enough guys pulling us along.  Duron Harmon walked in and said 'this is going to be the best comeback of all time.'  And we completely believed that.  And it was."

As time passes, we'll continue to ask ourselves time and again how this happened, each time with an appropriate, slight shake of the head in wonderment, not knowing exactly how to answer the question.  Enjoy it, relive it, revel in the moment of it.

It was greatness, and it doesn't come along – not like that it doesn't – often enough.

Three moments frozen in time

Got nitpicks on this one?  Of course, you do.  We all do.  

But it seems pointless to pick at the mistakes encountered along the way to one of the greatest games ever played, amiright?  Too much hyperbole for you?  Let's break the 34-28, first-ever Super Bowl overtime game down to three key moments:

  • ATL 28, NE 3 – 4th and 3, ball on the New England 46-yard line, 6:04 left in the 3rd quarter

It was simple in its execution, but the Tom Brady pass to Danny Amendola in the left flat for a gain of 17 yards kept a drive alive that was an absolute necessity.  It didn't seem like much at the time, but fail here, and eternity would have stamped the Falcons as champions of Super Bowl LI.

  • ATL 28, NE 12 – 3rd and 1, ball on the Atlanta 36-yard line, 8:31 remaining in the 4th quarter

Falcons fans, rightfully so, may question why Matt Ryan was prepared to throw a pass on 3rd and 1 here.  Perhaps Devonte Coleman questioned it as well, as his responsibility was to assist on pass rush protection, per offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.  It never came.  Dont'a Hightower's strip sack of Ryan was recovered by Alan Branch at the Atlanta 25, officially breathing life into the unlikeliest of comebacks.

  • ATL 28, NE 20 – 1st and 10, ball on the New England 36-yard line, 2:28 left in the 4th quarter

Officially, David Tyree's catch for the New York Giants in SB XLII has been rendered moot.  The Patriots finally have their own unexplainable, miracle moment after having Tyree, Mario Manningham, Jermaine Kearse and even Julio Jones (with 4:47 left in the 4th) complete circus-like catches against them in a Big Game.  This time, Julian Edelman's stumbling grab of a tipped pass that came off the hands and legs of two Falcons' defenders (with a 3rd DB in the vicinity) became the stuff of legends.  Atlanta challenged the ruling of a completed pass, because it just couldn't have happened – could it?  It did, and not only did the 23-yard completion put the ball on the Falcons' 41, it also cost Atlanta their final time out – which would later prove costly during their final possession as regulation time, and their chances, ultimately ran out.

"The catch" came during "the drive," a 91-yard masterpiece that will rank right up there in NFL lore with John Elway's comeback against Cleveland in the 1987 AFC title game.  It should surpass Elway's feat – after all, this is the Super Bowl we're talking about.  But we'll leave it for time to take over from here, and see how it shakes out for the history books.

31 unanswered points, overcoming a 25-point deficit.  If any one of these three plays fail to occur, history is easily re-written.  No nitpick seems relevant after witnessing the above-described performances, along with several others as well.  

For instance, Trey Flowers' sack of Matt Ryan with 3:56 to play and the ball positioned on the Patriots' 23-yard line was another big play that meant the comeback could continue.  Without it, it's likely the Falcons kick for a game-clinching field goal.  

Instead, after the sack and a subsequent brain-cramp-of-a-holding-penalty called on tackle Jake Matthews, Atlanta had no shot left.  The Patriots had a freight train full of karma barreling down the tracks by this point forward.  

Remarkable, as well as memorable.

Lady Gaga also had a memorable halftime performance at NRG Stadium, by most accounts, with a final drop of the microphone for an exclamation point to her 32-minute show.  Guess her drop wasn't the last drop of the mic Sunday night after all, was it?

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and just completed his 24th season as the Patriots' voice at Gillette Stadium.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 29 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.

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