By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
To quote the philosopher, Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want ... but, if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need."
And so we get what we need for Super Bowl LI, and it's not Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan or the NFL's stingiest defense vs. the NFL's highest scoring one. Nope, the storyline for Super Bowl LI is bigger than that.
It's Tom Brady vs. Roger Goodell.
Yep, the quarterback who insisted he was wrongly suspended for something he did not do vs. the commissioner who protects the shield, fought Brady in court and has refused to attend New England home games since Deflategate came down two years ago.
Well, this time the commissioner has no choice. He must sit in on the Patriots' next game – their seventh Super Bowl appearance with Brady – and, in the best interest of drama, history and downright great TV, you gotta root for Brady. Reason: We finally get to see the commissioner, Brady and owner Robert Kraft in the same area code for the first time since … well, since Brady last won a Super Bowl.
But this one is different because this one comes after Goodell and Brady slugged it out through attorneys, and the NFL prevailed – with Brady suspended four games for his role in Deflategate. The NFL said he didn’t cooperate with the investigation. Brady said he did.
Then the NFL dropped the hammer.
Well, consider Super Bowl LI an opportunity for Brady to respond, with Atlanta and Goodell in his way. Unusual? You bet. Unprecedented? Hardly. Remember when the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII, and Pete Rozelle was told to hold the Lombardi Trophy with two hands because then-Raiders' owner Al Davis -- who despised Rozelle and was suing the league to move his team -- might not shake his hand on national TV? Well, Davis did.
But that was then, and this is now, and now I want to see what happens in Houston.
New England is an early three-point favorite because … well, because Brady won four of these Super Bowls, the Patriots have the superior defense and Brady has motivation. With another victory, he becomes the only quarterback to win five Super Bowls and the people's choice as the Greatest of All Time.
But he becomes more than that. He becomes vindicated.
(Tom Brady photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
(Roger Goodell photo courtesy of the NFL)
DEFENSE WILL MATTER AGAIN
The Carolina Panthers led the league in scoring last year and didn’t win the Super Bowl. Green Bay led the NFL in scoring in 2014 and lost in the conference championship game. Denver set a league record in scoring the year before that and got blown out in the Super Bowl.
Maybe you see where this is going.
Defense wins championships, and, yeah, I know you’ve heard that for years. But here's the proof: Since New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV, teams that led the league in scoring never won a Super Bowl. And Atlanta led the league this year.
Granted, if the Patriots don’t pressure Ryan more than they did (or did not) Roethlisberger Sunday night they could be the Falcons' next casualty. But this is a defense that led the league in fewest points allowed this season and hasn’t surrendered more than 17 in its last five contests.
So there's your challenge, Atlanta.
RYAN NO ORDINARY JOE
Matt Ryan's playoff run reminds me … and reminds me a lot … of what Joe Flacco did in 2012. Like Flacco, Ryan was a 2008 first-round draft pick. And, like Flacco, he was considered someone who could get you to the playoffs but not to the Super Bowl.
Then 2012 happened, and Flacco had 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the playoffs to lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl win. It was a huge win for Flacco, who turned it into a huge multi-year contract with the Ravens, and it validated him as a franchise quarterback.
Now fast-forward to Ryan. He was 1-4 in the playoffs entering this postseason, with critics wondering if/when he wins a big game. Well, he just did, and this just in: In his two playoff victories he has seven touchdown passes and no interceptions. Now comes the Super Bowl, and Ryan's close-up.
Say it's so, Joe.
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
- What a weekend for the Patriots: They get rid of Pittsburgh and Indianapolis gets rid of Ryan Grigson, the GM who launched Deflategate.
- Still waiting on the NFL's PSI reports on footballs from Sunday's game. If air pressure was serious enough to merit a four-game suspension, don’t you think we should have the findings from Sunday's game – especially since the Patriots and Steelers allegedly were both involved in deflating footballs?
- Matt Ryan vs. the Patriots: He's 0-for-2 with two touchdowns and one interception. Tom Brady vs. the Falcons: He's 4-0, with nine touchdowns and one interception.
- Don’t say Buffalo can't be a playoff factor. It was the Bills who let Chris Hogan walk to New England after GM Doug Whaley decided not to put up an extra $900,000 to tender him at a second-round level.
- Just a reminder: The last time Brady won a Super Bowl the defense he beat was coached by … uh-huh, Dan Quinn, now the Atlanta Falcons' head coach.
- Not sure what has more holes: The Packers secondary or Sonny Corleone.
- One of Sunday's big winners: Olivia Munn. With the Packers' loss, she doesn’t have to change her cellphone number, and we won't have to read two weeks of stories about her at the center of Aaron Rodgers' relationship – or non-relationship – with his family.
- Nine years ago, Miami drafted Jake Long with the first pick and St. Louis took Chris Long with the second ... instead of either choosing Matt Ryan. Brilliant.
- Let's hear it for Thomas Dimitroff, GM of the Falcons. The club brought in Alex Mack, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel and drafted Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. Translation: It aced the final.
- I thought that 3:40 a.m. fire alarm was supposed to wake up Pittsburgh. But the Steelers finished the season in a daze, with three touchdowns in their last 28 possessions.
- In Rodgers' seven playoff losses opponents scored an average of 36.3 points per game. Just sayin'.
- Thank goodness, the Falcons didn’t pull an Antonio Brown and post 17 minutes of Arthur Blank locker-room video.
- Gotta hand it to Green Bay's Jordy Nelson. That was one courageous performance. I've covered players who suffered broken ribs, and they say there's almost nothing that hurts more.
- Memo to Mike Tomlin: You might want to try something, anything, different vs. In seven games vs. Tomlin, Brady is 6-1, with 22 touchdowns, no interceptions and seven straight passer ratings of 100 or more.
- If I'm the Patriots I put in a call to Philadelphia and find out how the Eagles held Atlanta to a season-low 15 points … and one Matt Ryan touchdown pass.
- Good news, 49ers' fans: Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is coming soon to you. Bad news: He's not bringing Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman with him.
- When you wonder what happened Sunday, start here: New England and Atlanta were a combined 21-for-30 on third downs.
- Old guys rule. For the second straight year, a 39-year-old will quarterback the AFC's Super Bowl rep.
- In the salary-cap era, there isn’t supposed to be such thing as a dynasty. So what do you call the Patriots?
- Final playoff sheet: 10 games, 8 blowouts. There is no parity. There are the Patriots, a handful of good NFC teams and everyone else.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Robert Kraft owns the Patriots, and Tom Brady owns the Steelers. Hes 10-2 against them, with 29 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
If you want to make the Falcons play from behind never give them the opening possession. They scored touchdowns on their last eight.
Even Aaron Rodgers can't cover up the enormous blemishes on the Packers.
Buffalo should have kept Chris Hogan.
Green Bay's first three priorities should be defense, defense and defense.
How valuable Le'Veon Bell is to Pittsburgh.
(Robert Kraft photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
… AND WHAT WE DIDN’T
Why New England left Brady in to the end.
What would have happened on the Steelers' goal line series if Le'Veon Bell weren’t hurt.
How the Patriots plan on defending Ryan with that pass rush.
If Aaron Rodgers' family watched Sunday's meltdown.
Why the Steelers fined Antonio Brown only $10,000 for that locker-room video. That's not a punishment. It’s a time out.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. He's the leading candidate for league MVP, and now you know why. He absolutely shredded the Packers, throwing four touchdown passes and running for a fifth. "We ran into a buzz-saw," said losing coach Mike McCarthy. No, they didn't. They ran into Matt Ryan. FYI, Ryan set an NFL record by throwing three or more touchdown passes for the fourth straight playoff game, and he might have to make it five to overcome Tom Brady and the Patriots.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
ANYONE AND EVERYONE ON THE GREEN BAY DEFENSE. Plain and simple, this was a complete team collapse. Everyone stunk. They couldn’t make a stop, and they couldn’t create a turnover … and you can look it up. Atlanta scored on seven of its first eight possessions converted 10 of 13 of third downs and piled up 493 yards. You ever wonder it would be like to play against air? Atlanta just found out.
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)