There have been plenty of great catches in the 51 year history of the Super Bowl. For decades Lynn Swann’s 53 yard catch in Super Bowl X was the standard, but in recent years the latest generation of pass catchers have surpassed his graceful and well concentrated effort. Admittedly, we’ve been extremely spoiled as of late in terms of close games in the Super Bowl. The dramatic endings that no one could have better scripted have changed the way we perceive these spectacular catches made at the end of games. In addition to also increasing the value of the plays. In the last decade we’ve had David Tyree, Santonio Holmes and Jermaine Kearse all make spectacular catches in the waning minutes of Super Bowls.
However, you don’t have to look any further than last year’s Super Bowl, Super Bowl LI, for the greatest catch in Super Bowl history.
But first a look into what almost was the greatest catch in Super Bowl history… Sorry in advance to the supporters of the Atlanta Falcons.
In case you weren’t aware, the Falcons had a 28-3 lead late into the 3rd quarter. Teams that lead by that much that late in the game do fairly well for themselves in the wins column. Yet, that lead had somehow evaporated to a 28-20 lead with roughly four and a half minutes to play in the 4th quarter. On 2nd and 9 it was up in the air if the Patriots were going to be able to stop the high powered Falcons offense, who were already at midfield, once again for a chance to tie up the game.
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First off, Patriots CB Eric Rowe (#25) doesn’t do a bad job covering Jones here. He might have slightly mistimed his jump in an attempt to swat away the ball or misjudged where he should have been positioned, but this is a perfect throw from Matt Ryan. It’s also a inhuman catch from Jones.
As the ball travels over Rowe’s hands, Jones leaps and first makes contact with the ball using his fingertips while fully extending his arms. He then displays his excellent concentration ability to watch the ball in as he attempts to gain possession midair while also attempting to stay in bounds. Jones makes a ballerina like move in the air as he secures the catch and gets his first foot in bounds. As he begins to fall towards the boundary Jones brings the ball into his mid area and taps his other foot to qualify as a catch. The body control while going to the ground on this play is also impressive as he turns just as he hits the turf to protect the ball from movement caused by the ground to complete the process of the catch.
At this point the game feels as if it’s over for New England with the Falcons up eight and in field goal range. However, after a series of meltdowns by Atlanta that pushed them out of range for their kicker Matt Bryant, the Patriots were given life once again, allowing this play to happen and live in NFL lore for the rest of time.
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With 2:28 remaining in the 4th quarter on 1st and 10, lined up in 11 personnel Julian Edelman made the greatest display of manual dexterity I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a clean throw and catch delivered by Tom Brady. Falcons CB Robert Alford (#23) undercut the route and made a play on the ball tipping it into the air. In hindsight, Alford should have tried to intercept the pass himself instead of tipping it into the air for his teammates to clean up.
There are far too many great elements of this play that go unrecognized. For instance, when the ball is frozen in time up in the air, Edelman is fighting against his momentum to position himself to plant and redirect to the ball. As he plants, Edelman cross steps before he lays out. Then, while laying out, he’s able to get inside of safety Keanu Neal (#22) as the ball begins to fall to the ground.
This is where things get messy. There are four players involved on the play and three of them are Falcons defensive backs. Neal and Ricardo Allen (#37) are laying out for the ball along with Edelman while Alford falls backwards into the ground. The ball falls through Edelman’s hands at first, but Alford’s leg is able to redirect the ball back into the air before it hits the ground.
The ball bounces into Edelman’s right hand and he attempts to get his other hand to secure it. He seemingly has it at the bottom of the scrum, but all the action forces him to loosen the ball from his hands and he has to secure again. I can’t explain how, but Edelman somehow does regain possession.
Now, this might seem hyperbolic, but it’s the only possible explanation for this catch being completed. Belichick must have stopped time for a moment with 2:23 seconds left in the 4th quarter. How else do you explain this not hitting the ground?
For those that cannot come around to appreciate this as the greatest catch in the history of the Super Bowl, we can all at least appreciate the concentration and hand quickness needed to reel this catch in in real time. Call it recency bias if you will, but I’m still not sure how this was completed almost a year later.