NFL's latest 'Greatest show on turf' stand in the way of Brady's historic fifth title


Friday marks the 15th anniversary of the New England Patriots' first Super Bowl title.

The Patriots beat the St Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI to lift the Lombardi Trophy on February 3, 2002, having come into the game as 14-point underdogs.

What was most surprising about the Patriots' triumph on that Sunday in New Orleans, was that they held the Rams - an offensive juggernaut dubbed ' the greatest show on turf' - to a mere 17 points.

Rams quarterback Kurt Warner had been named league MVP for the second time, running back Marshall Faulk won Offensive Player of the Year and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce both posted over 1,100 yards in the regular season.

Yet it was kicker Adam Vinatieri who had the final say in a 20-17 triumph.

And, as the Patriots, Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick attempt to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy, there is a synchronicity about their Super Bowl LI opponent, a seemingly unstoppable Atlanta Falcons team headed by a quarterback in Matt Ryan who appears set to be named MVP.

Ryan has silenced his many doubters and is enjoying the finest season of his career, passing for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns. He also set an NFL record by throwing scores to 13 different players this campaign.

Much like the 2001-02 Rams, the Falcons possess an army of weapons with which to hurt the Patriots.

Running back Devonta Freeman enjoyed a second straight 1,000-yard season and splits time with a similarly explosive ball-carrier in the form of Tevin Coleman.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty said they will try to commit everyone to Julio Jones - the Falcons star wide receiver who gashed the Green Bay Packers for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game and had a 300-yard game against the Carolina Panthers this season.

But such a plan seems foolish with the play the Falcons have been able to engineer from receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel - a speedster cast off from the lowly Cleveland Browns who has six touchdowns to his name this term.

Ryan's rapport with Jones, Sanu and Gabriel has resulted in a downfield attack that has been effectively unrivalled - the Falcons lead the league in yards per play this season.

The difference between Sunday's meeting and the Patriots' maiden success 15 years ago is that it is the Falcons who will be the upstarts.

Atlanta have not been on this stage since a 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999, while the Patriots will be making their seventh Super Bowl appearance in 16 years.

Back in 2002, Brady was a young unheralded quarterback who had only been pressed into service because of an injury to Drew Bledsoe. Now he stands on the precipice of becoming the first quarterback to win a fifth Super Bowl title.

That opportunity, his experience and perhaps the motivation of winning the title in a season in which missed four games through a suspension relating to the 'Deflategate' saga, all count in the Patriots' favour.

Brady also shows no signs of slowing down at age 39 - with his consistently excellent performances helping the Patriots end of the year with the third-best offence in the NFL.

New England fans will be further heartened by the way in which the Patriots shut down another explosive offence in the Pittsburgh Steelers - holding them to just 17 points in the AFC Championship game - and another stout defensive showing will be required in order to slow down the soaring Falcons.

The Patriots need look no further than that famous defeat of the Rams for inspiration as to how stop Atlanta, and it may take a markedly similar effort for Sunday's contest to end with Brady holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft for a fifth time.