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Patriots devour Falcons

NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year

HOUSTON — I’m on such a high! I can’t tell you what it means being from Chicago to cover the Super Bowl and see your son, Larry Jr, share the greatest honor the NFL has, the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award shared with Eli Manning. They were in the same Draft class in 2004 — Manning was drafted by New York and Larry Jr. by Arizona.

Eli Manning & Larry Fitzgerald

This was my 36th Super Bowl. The City of Houston did a great job. It was a treat to see four young men from Minnesota play in Super Bowl LI: Michael Floyd with New England; RaShede Hageman, De’Vondre Campbell the ex-Gopher, and Tom Compton with Atlanta. My college coach at Indiana State University, Bobby Turner, is the running back coach for Atlanta.

The Falcons won the coin toss and deferred until the second half. After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons’ defense forced the game’s first turnover. LaGarrette Blount fumbled and the Falcons recovered. The turnover sparked the Falcons to a quick-strike 21-0 lead. They played a near perfect game Sunday in building a huge 25 point 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI.

NFL 2016 MVP Matt Ryan was 3-0 in his career in Bowl games while starring at Boston College. It’s no secret that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with an 88-61 career record. All he needed was confirmation in the playoffs.

With weapons like Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons were turning Super Bowl LI into a reality statement. Atlanta was 6-0 when they scored 40 points or more. It appeared the Patriots in the first half had no answer defensively for the high-flying Falcons’ speed.

This game was supposed to be about the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Bill Belichick proving again they were the best quarterback-head coach combo in Super Bowl history. Brady even made a critical early error, throwing an 82-yard interception to Robert Alford.

It appeared the Falcons were making a super statement — they were blowing the Patriots away 21-0.The team that had scored a defensive touchdown in the Super Bowl previously was 12-0. It was 21-3 Falcons at halftime. The 70,807 stadium fans were stunned.

Super Bowl LI MVP Tom Brady

After the long, 31-minute halftime concert featuring Lady Gaga, the Falcons built their lead in the third quarter to 28-3. Brady was able to move his team against the Falcons defense, but the Patriots would either drop a pass or Brady would miss an open receiver.

Late in the third quarter Brady finally got the Patriots a touchdown with a five-yard pass to James White. It was 28-9 after kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Time was running out on the Patriots, it appeared, with just 2.05 left late in the third quarter.

Brady and the Patriots drove for a field goal; it was 28-12 starting the fourth quarter. The Falcons took possession after the Patriots failed on an onside kick. But the proud Patriots, having made defensive adjustments, forced Ryan into a mistake. Hit by linebacker Dont’a Hightower when trying to pass, Ryan fumbled and it was recovered by Alan Branch of the Patriots at the Falcons’ 25-yard line.

Brady then threw his second touchdown pass six yards to Danny Amendola. The Patriots then converted the two-point play when White scored. Momentum was now clearly with the Patriots at 28-20 Falcons. After failing on an onside kick and missing an extra point, the Patriots kicked deep. Now it was on the Falcons starting at their own 10 to get first downs and drain the clock. Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots’ 22-yard line. A field goal and the Falcons were up 31-20.  

Ryan hit Julio Jones on the sideline, who made a remarkable catch for 27 yards and a first down at the 22. Then the Patriots’ defense rose up and stuffed Freeman — he lost a yard. On second down and 11, Ryan tried to pass and was sacked — he lost 12 yards. On the next play the Falcons were called for holding — it’s third and 33 yards. After another incomplete pass, the Falcons punted from the Patriots 45 yard line.

After a fair catch the Patriots then started at the nine yard line trailing 28-20 with 3.30 left in regulation. Brady and the Patriots marched 91 yards in 10 plays. Julian Edelman made one of the greatest catches you will ever see against three defenders. He somehow grabbed a deflected Brady pass, falling down and keeping his concentration, and pulled it in for 23 yards.

Shortly after, White scored his second touchdown, 28-26. Brady then hit Amendola for a two-point conversion and Super Bowl LI is tied 28-28.

The Falcons had time, .57 seconds, to get in field goal range; however, the Patriots’ defense stopped the Falcons again. For the first time in Super Bowl history — overtime. The Patriots won the toss and Brady was money again.

Moving the Patriots right down the field, passing every down from shotgun formation, Brady, the MVP of Super Bowl LI, tried on first down at the 15 to hit tight end Martellus Bennett. Interference was called — first down at the two-yard line. White then ran two yards for his third touchdown of the game, and the Patriot’s win it 34-28 in sudden death.

The Patriots, with the mother of all comebacks, rallied 31-0 and captured their fifth Super Bowl. Thirty records were broken or set in Super Bowl LI.

For the fourth time, Brady was named MVP. He completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns. Bill Belichick becomes the first head coach to win five Super Bowls. Brady becomes the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls. 

And the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) debate is, is Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time? Absolutely — he’s now 208-61 when he starts regular season or playoffs. In the playoffs he’s 25-9; in the Super Bowl he’s 5-2.

New England had 546 yards total offense, the Falcons 344. The Patriots had 37 first downs, the Falcons 17. Time of possession: Patriots 40.31 Falcons 23.27. Third downs: Patriots 7-14 for 50 percent, Falcons 1-8 and just 13 percent. Penalties: Patriots 4-23, Falcons 9-65.

Statistically the Patriots dominated Super Bowl LI. This was the greatest Super Bowl game I have ever covered. At times both teams appeared to be dominating the other. But when it counted in fourth quarter, the Patriots’ defense and Brady grabbed control.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. a finalist for NFL Man of the Year

When things don’t go your way you simply hope for the best. The Arizona Cardinals were pre-season 8-1 favorites to reach Super Bowl LI. So were the Green Bay Packers after winning eight in a row. Sunday the Falcons sent the Packers home 44-21.

Arizona started the season at home against another pre-season 8-1 Super Bowl pick, the New England Patriots. The Patriots did not have the great Tom Brady, who was out serving a four-game suspension. No problem: Patriots 23-Cardinals 21.

What a difference a game makes, right? The Cardinals finished 7-8-1 and missed the playoffs in what could be Larry Fitzgerald, Jr.’s final season. Fitzgerald was selected to his 10th career Pro Bowl this week in Orlando. Only Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice among receivers has been selected to more — 13.

Fitzgerald is third all-time in receptions behind only Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez. In fact, he has more receptions in his first 201 games — 1,125 — than any other player in NFL history. Fitzgerald has 14,389 yards receiving, which is ninth all-time, and has 104 career touchdown receptions, which is eighth all-time.

Fitzgerald also led the NFL in receptions in 2016 with 107. Sunday Fitzgerald, along with Eli Manning of New York and Greg Olson of Carolina, was named a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the year. This is the second time in his career (first in 2012) he has been named a finalist. The winner will be announced at NFL Honors on FOX during Super Bowl week on Saturday, February 4 in Houston, Texas.

The award recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence. Fitzgerald has already received $10,000 provided by Nationwide for being named the Arizona Cardinals/Walter Payton Man of the Year. He will receive a $50,000 donation to the charity of his choice and an additional $50,000 donation in his name to implement the Character Playbook program in Arizona.

Through two foundations — the Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. First Down Fund, which he started, and the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund, which was founded in 2003 by his father, Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. — Larry has helped thousands across the country by providing funds for positive activities for kids.

Fitzgerald has done charity work around the globe with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, all over Africa, and with Oxfam America in Ethiopia. He has been honored for furthering awareness for breast cancer research and for his longtime support of men and women serving the Armed Forces.

The overall winner of the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year” award will receive a $500,000 donation to the charity of his choice and a $500,000 donation to expand Character Playbook across all NFL markets. Fitzgerald and family will be in Minneapolis on Friday, April 7 for the 13th Annual Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund Benefit.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

NFL Final Four: Follow the rings!

In many ways the NFL playoffs, better known as the Super Bowl LI tournament, is like an Easter egg hunt. When the playoffs begin, just take the Super Bowl Championship rings off the head coaches and quarterbacks, hide them, and let the search begin.

When the Super Bowl rings are found, they will lead you to the survivors. Those survivors are Tom Brady-Bill Belichick, Ben Roethlisberger-Mike Tomlin, Aaron Rodgers-Mike McCarthy, and Matt Ryan-Dan Quinn, better known as the NFL Final Four: 15-2 New England, 13-5 Pittsburgh, 12-5 Atlanta and 12-6 Green Bay. They were the best teams in the league back in July, when the 2016-17 season started with 32.

Yes, 32 dreamers and believers have been reduced to the best, those that have stood up to take the NFL week-by-week survival test. The pretenders are gone: New York, Miami, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Kansas City and Dallas. Of the eight pretenders, only Houston and Seattle won at least one home playoff game.

Seattle, with Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll, have Super Bowl rings also. Houston kept alive their dream of playing a home game Super Bowl until the Patriots showed them reality. If we look closely at the finalists, we see four teams that have traveled different roads on the journey to Super Bowl LI, which will be in Houston, home of NASA,

Last week the powerful film Hidden Figures premiered detailing the story of the space program and how several courageous Black women survived racism, sexism and bigotry in the 1950s and ’60s to support their families and advance this country. I’m convinced that had the film been released a month ago, Donald Trump would not be president-elect.

I am so looking forward to covering my 36th Super Bowl in three weeks. The two teams that win this weekend will be battle-tested. New England at home, the favorite, will play Pittsburgh in their sixth-straight AFC Championship game coached by the great Bill Belichick, who’s 24-10 in the playoffs, the best in NFL history.

The Patriots have won eight straight games. Pittsburgh has won nine in a row coached masterfully by ex-Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, more than any other team.

Tomlin is 8-5 in the playoffs. Despite what Terry Bradshaw said, he’s an outstanding head coach. The quarterbacks are Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger, Brady with four Super Bowl wins and Roethlisberger with two.

The NFC Championship game will be the final game ever at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Falcons are the highest scoring team in the NFL. Led by MVP favorite quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons scored 540 points and have won five in row. Of the four teams left, Ryan is the only QB who has not won or been to a Super Bowl.

The Green Bay Packers, the NFC North Champions, are led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s thrown an NFL-high 42 touchdown passes. The Packers have won eight in a row. They have won 13 NFL Championships, more than any other franchise.

These teams are the cream, they are the best, and they played each other in the regular season. New England beat Pittsburgh 27-16 without Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh. Atlanta beat Green Bay 33-32 in a classic at the Georgia Dome.

I have seen them all play. It’s too close to call. However, I’ll do it anyway: Patriots vs. Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.