So, there it is, right there in the above photo. One inch, maybe two, between football and turf? Some barely countable fraction of a second that felt like it took forever as the ball hung, seemingly unmoored from gravity, precisely long enough for Julian Edelman to double-clutch. An instantly iconic catch, equal parts luck and skill (massive amounts of each), and the universe again breaks New England’s way.
If momentum is real—and we’ve all seen too many games like last night’s, if not on the same scale or stage, to disbelieve it—then all the Patriots had to do was tie things up. The rest would take care of itself. It did, and that’s why the first Super Bowl overtime felt so anticlimactic—the real drama was the Patriots’ last full drive of regulation. “I just knew,” said Trey Flowers, whose sack of Matt Ryan set up even the possibility of a game-tying drive, “if we go to overtime, we’re going to get it. We’re going to win and be the champs.”
It took 10 plays and 2:33 for New England to go 91 yards for the score and the tying two-point conversion, and it was as bloodless and clinical a drive as Tom Brady’s ever led in his career, supremely confident and competent and made up of yet another series of quick strikes that he makes look indefensible. For a gassed Falcons defense, it may as well have been. But there was one absurd moment of chaos, a tipped ball and a tangle of limbs that required replays to make sure, and when Julian Edelman crawled out of the pile, he had made the sort of circus catch that’s always seemed to go against the Patriots in situations like this.
“It was about time we got one of those crazy catches for ourselves,” Devin McCourty said, referring not only to a pair of sideline toe-taps by Julio Jones earlier in the game, but a pair of basically impossible flukes that have victimized the Patriots in Super Bowls past. There was Jermaine Kearse’s juggling save two years ago, and of course, David Tyree’s helmet catch in 2008. “The first thing that popped in my head was Tyree,” Chris Long said.
It started with the tip. Robert Alford, who had taken back a Tom Brady pass for a touchdown earlier in the game, was slightly taken by surprise by this one, thrown behind Edelman. He said he didn’t have the time to try to haul this in—“I got my head around and the ball was right there on me”—but that the Falcons secondary had discussed batting balls in the air and leaving it to converging teammates to try to bring the ball in if possible.
“I was over by the numbers and when the ball popped up in the air, we always say on our team, good things happen to those who run,” Ricardo Allen said. “So when the ball is in the air, all of us, keep running.
“We get a lot of interceptions by effort. It ended up coming back to bite us.”
Allen and Keanu Neal went for the ball; Alford was falling away from the play; Edelman had rounded his momentum back toward the ball and launched in a near-horizontal desperation dive. What happened is hard to describe: the ball bounced off of Alford’s leg, and Edelman reached through Alford’s legs, grabbed it, released, then grabbed it again.
Even with photos it’s hard to parse. Look at this frozen moment and tell me the guy wearing white is the one who’s going to make the play:
And yet. Here’s a remarkable sequence of photos by Getty’s Ezra Shaw:
“It was one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen,” Brady said. “I don’t know how the hell he caught it.” But he did. About that, at least, there is no question.