HOUSTON – At 5:50 p.m. EST, the New England Patriots took the long way down their sideline, all the way to a tunnel leading to their locker room.
The last song they heard as they left the field: "Hate Me Now" by Nas.
It's been a long time, been a long time comin'
Looks like the death of me now
But you know, there's no turning back now
This is what makes me; this is what I am
You can hate me now, but I won't stop now
Cause I can't stop now, you can hate me now
All season, that song has played during warmups. It's an embrace of the hate, fear and loathing that turned this franchise from the most beloved champions in NFL history in February, 2002 to one of its most reviled here in February, 2017.
So much revulsion caused by this one team from a little area in the top right corner of the country. All caused by 15 years of the team's excellence, arrogance, petulance and perfection, the fanbase's insanity, insufferability and never-ending persecution complex. To say nothing of the media's catty, smarmy, condescension.
For 37 minutes of football, the country luxuriated in watching the Patriots finally get their nuts stomped in public. A whole damn season of hearing how Roger Goodell would rue the day he suspended Tom Brady and had to hand him the MVP Trophy. HA! The Patriots were on their way to losing by 40.
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles and their NFL rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
The rumpled genius Bill Belichick was halfway to being stripped bare. Things were proceeding so that the fanbase and media might even be forced to shut up for 15 minutes about their precious Tawwwwmmmmyyyyy and the miscarriage of justice the NFL visited upon them.
Then America's dream Super Bowl turned into America's nightmare.
Brady reached into the mouth of the Falcons, jammed his hand down through their esophagus, fished around until he found their heart, pulled it out in one long, slow tug, let them look at it and squeezed.
The Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit by outscoring Atlanta 31-0 over the last 17 minutes of play plus overtime. The 25-point comeback was the biggest comeback by a Super Bowl winner ever. The next-closest was 10. The Patriots did that too just two years ago when New England was on the winning end of another "Can you believe this?!" Super Bowl win over Seattle.
Belichick and Brady have won five Super Bowls meaning both men are unsurpassed in Super Bowl wins. Brady's walked past Montana and Bradshaw in Super Bowl wins. The idea that people are even bothering to ask any more if Brady is the greatest quarterback ever is testimony to how much he's reviled.
The real question? Is Tom Brady the Michael Jordan of the NFL? Or was Jordan the Brady of the NBA?
For the country? For the country this has to be the … Worst. Super Bowl. Ever. Sunday started with SNL's Michael Che calling Boston the most racist city in America and pledging to cheer his ass off for Atlanta.
It ended with Brady breaking down after James White's OT touchdown, a flood of emotions buckling him after he'd kept everything boxed up and filed away for months on end. Good job America. That's the guy you can't stand.
The Patriots definitely dragged out the drama though in trying to make Matt Ryan the first MVP to win the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner did in 1999.
The first quarter was a scoreless rock fight but the first play of the second quarter was a Brady redirect of Julian Edelman on third-and-1 and the Patriots got 33 and the Patriots were in business. Then they weren't.
A strip by rookie Deion Jones of LeGarrette Blount got Atlanta the ball and then the Falcons ripped downfield with Julio Jones winning on a deep in-cut against Logan Ryan for 19 followed by a terrific 24-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Jones on the left sideline. Then it was Devonta Freeman ripping off 15 and 9 to put Atlanta down deep with 12:40 left in the half. And Freeman walked in.
The Patriots went three-and-out and then the Falcons did it again. From the Blount fumble on, the Falcons gained 19, 23, 15, 9 and the Freeman touchdown. The next drive had completions of 24, 18, a 1-yard run, an incompletion and then a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper with Pat Chung in coverage.
Then it got really bad. Despite having a drive propped up by three third-down flags against the Falcons, the Patriots weren't able to cash in as a third-and-6 from the Atlanta 23 was picked by Robert Alford and took it 82 yards the other way to make it 21-0.
A 10-play, 52-yard drive that had the Patriots down inside the Atlanta 5 with fewer than 30 seconds left on the clock but a Martellus Bennett hold wiped out the gain that got them there, and New England had to settle for a field goal that left it at 21-3 going into halftime.
Post-Gaga, it got worse. The Patriots got a three-and-out and had decent field position after an Edelman punt return, but a first down drop by Chris Hogan and a third-down drop by Edelman forced a punt and the Falcons scored again.
And in doing so saw Malcolm Butler turned inside out by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 35-yard gain, and Shanahan outscheme Belichick and Patricia with their touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman who they isolated on defensive end Rob Ninkovich on the perimeter.
The Patriots got themselves downfield to make it 28-9 on a drive that seemed to take longer than it needed to as the Patriots went heavy inside the 20 and took a long time to score. After they did, Stephen Gostkowski shanked the extra point in the direction of San Antonio.
He promptly followed that up with an illegal touch on the ensuing onsides kick. Atlanta recovered and you 35-9 seemed reasonable. But the Falcons luxury liner sprung the tiniest of leaks in the boiler room.
After a 9-yard completion to the Patriots 32, Jake Matthews got called for a hold on second-and-1. Then Ryan took a 9-yard sack on third-and-11 and Atlanta had to punt.
The Patriots, going shotgun and up-tempo, ripped downfield on a 12-play drive but had to settle for a field goal making it 28-12. Sixteen points was two scores but what were the odds of no Atlanta points, two Patriot touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Almost nil.
They needed a play. They got it. Dont'a Hightower, who saved a Super Bowl before Malcolm Butler really saved it in SB49, got a strip sack of Ryan and the Patriots cashed in five plays later. Amendola got the two-point conversion and it was 28-20.
It took Atlanta three plays to get to the Patriots 22, though. There was 4:40 left. Run the ball, make the Patriots burn timeouts, kick a field goal to go up 11. Done and done. But instead, Ryan dropped to throw and was sacked back at the Patriots 33. Another hold on Matthews and suddenly it was third-and-33 and the Falcons were out of field goal range and Brady was getting the ball again.
The country gulped. The smart ones turned it off then. The rest? They saw the Patriots put it all to bed.