By Nick Shook
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The Super Bowl, a contest annually played at a neutral site, rotates the visiting and home squads by conference on a yearly basis. For Super Bowl LI, the Falcons were the designated home team. The Falcons also held a 28-3 lead with less than four minutes left to play in the third quarter.
Road greatness: activated.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots scored 31 unanswered points (insert the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead joke here) to stun the football world, make history and win Super Bowl LI, the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy. Because Brady is Brady and the narrative must hold strong — oh, and because he set a Super Bowl passing yardage record, and engineered a 92-yard drive to tie the game — we couldn’t possibly expect anyone but the greatest quarterback of all time (it’s not an argument anyone, folks) to win Super Bowl LI Most Valuable Player.
But what about James White?
Greatest on the Road
James White, New England Patriots
Brady was scintillating in come-from-behind fashion, yes. But you can put my name on this from now through the end of time: the Patriots do not win the Super Bowl without the efforts of James White.
White, a running back who Deion Sanders had to implore after the game to tell the television audience his name, what school he attended and when he was drafted (because presumably, the average fan didn’t watch Wisconsin football four years ago) finished with 14 catches for 110 yards. He wasn’t just a checkdown option, he was the underneath target for Brady, extending drives and getting the Patriots deep into Falcons territory during their monumental comeback. White’s final line (six rushes, 29 yards, two touchdowns, 14 receptions, 110 yards, one touchdown) still struggles to illustrate how important he was to New England’s offense. White was New England’s leading receiver, scored the game-winning touchdown and did everything in between.
Many (including myself) saw a gameplan that would find success with Dion Lewis catching passes out of the backfield. Instead, it was White, who didn’t take home hardware or a new car but can forever look at his soon-to-be diamond-encrusted ring and know he was a major factor in winning it.
Also considered …
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Disclaimer: This was a game at a neutral site, which made both teams road teams. Don’t @ me.
We know Julio Jones (and his government name of Quintorris Lopez Jones). We know what we get from him. But then, there was this.
That is an incredible catch. It elicited shouts of shock and awe inside the NFL Media newsroom. It almost clinched the title for Atlanta.
Jones’ final line of four catches and 87 yards falls below his stratospheric standard, but he was excellent within his opportunities. That catch epitomized his effort, even if it wasn’t quite enough to win the Lombardi Trophy.
Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
For three quarters, Atlanta largely dominated. New England was stagnant offensively, Brady looked skittish at times and the viewing audience was surprised, if not stunned. The favored heavyweight was taking multiple shots to the jaw and making little effort to block the blows.
Grady Jarrett was the devastating right hook.
The defensive lineman was a force and a nightmare for New England’s interior linemen, who often struggled with the 6-foot, 305-pound tackle. Jarrett displayed a level of quickness that usually gets lost in the wash of interior line play, utilizing rip and swim moves to get past blockers to record two sacks, and circling around the edge of a long stunt to sack Brady on third down. Grady finished with three sacks as part of an Atlanta defense that sacked Brady five times.
For a while, it looked like Jarrett had a strong case for MVP (if it were to go to a Falcons defender), along with Deion Jones and Robert Alford. Even with the loss, that’s something to be proud of.