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Falcons took away 'easy completions,' but Patriots adjusted

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There still is much to digest from the New England Patriots’ 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, and podcasts/interviews featuring offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (The MMQB.com), defensive end Chris Long (ESPN Radio), defensive tackle Alan Branch (Sirius XM NFL Radio) and running back LeGarrette Blount (Rich Eisen Show) in recent days provide another layer of analysis.

Some pieces picked up from those:

1. McDaniels told Peter King that the Falcons played more man coverage than they had in the past, which was something the Patriots had to adjust to.

“They were trying to take away the easy completions, and in large part, they did a little bit of that in the first half,” McDaniels said. “Then we worked through some different things and tried a few different concepts, and our guys got open and caught the ball better.”

McDaniels also touched on how the Patriots had talked about how the Falcons’ defense had been on the field so much.

“We had played 20 minutes in the first half on offense. We were in the 40s on the play count. We knew there was a chance, in a Super Bowl, that one team can get gassed and maybe lose a little steam as the game goes on if they’re out there long enough,” he said.

Then, “once it got to 28-12, even though we had to settle for a field goal on that drive, we said, ‘Look, we’ve got to put together two championship drives.’”

And when it was pointed out that Brady is 39 years old, McDaniels laughed.

“It doesn’t look like we’re going to slow down,” he said.

2. Long described the pendulum of emotions for him.

“It went from the worst nightmare in the world to the best dream all within an hour. You go from the lowest point of your career to the highest point of your career, just like that. It was the most insane thing I’ve ever been a part of,” he said on the Russillo and Kanell program.

Long added that one “could make the claim this is the toughest team in Super Bowl history. It’s unprecedented, that type of comeback.”

He noted that when the Patriots won the overtime coin toss and took the ball, some defensive players looked at each other on the sideline and said, “We’re not going back out there.”

Long, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, plans to keep playing in 2017.

“I’m excited for the next step,” he said. “I didn’t know coming into this year that I could still play football at a high level. I feel like I can play just as well as I did before I started getting hurt [in 2014-2015]. I’m happy to be back.”

3. On linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack in the fourth quarter that turned out to be a game-turning play, Branch recovered the ball with an assist from defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

“Honestly, I didn’t even see the sack happen,” Branch relayed on Sirius XM NFL radio. “I was getting double-teamed, and I saw a hand hit the ball out, and I saw the ball kind of floating in the air. My first initial reaction was to try to catch it. So I reached out, that wasn’t happening, and I didn’t know if it was an incomplete pass or a fumble. With the Patriots’ defense, they tell you it doesn’t matter and ‘fall on the ball and let the refs sort it out.’

“I just jumped on the ball, and when I jumped on the ball, it was kind of on my side where I couldn’t get my hand around it. So I was just kind of laying on it, trying to scoop it out, but I couldn’t move my arm. Rob Ninkovich had a smart play where he just started punching the ball to where it was inside my breadbasket. He punched it just enough where it was in my belly, and I was able to cover it up.”

Branch thought he might have recovered the fumble regardless -- he was throwing some elbows -- but felt Ninkovich’s assist made it a lot easier.

4. While the Patriots came out throwing early, Blount said that wasn’t the way the offense planned to attack throughout. “We didn’t go into the game thinking we’d have to throw 60 passes,” he said on the Rich Eisen Show.

Asked about his future with the Patriots, as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent, Blount said, “I don’t know what the future holds. That’s something for them and my agent to discuss. I love being here, and they know I love being here. ... I feel great. I’m 30 years old, not a lot of wear and tear on my body. I feel like I’ll be able to play for as long as I want.”