Hogan reeled in nine passes from Brady for 180 yards, also a franchise postseason record, and a pair of touchdowns. Naturally, he credited it all to Brady.
Brady and Ryan will steal the spotlight, but they are far from the only players to watch in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium.
Five matchups to watch
–Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Brady, who will play in his record seventh Super Bowl, seeks to cement his legacy as the greatest to play the position. Brady’s four rings has him tied with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most by a quarterback, but a fifth would put him in uncharted territory — and would be especially meaningful after his four-game Deflategate suspension. While Brady is in the back nine of his career, Ryan is smack dab in the middle of his prime — perhaps one of the new faces of the NFL — and is silencing the doubters who said he couldn’t win the big game. The former Boston College star put up far better numbers during the regular season than Brady, giving him a leg up in the MVP race. Of course, you can toss those numbers out the window in Houston. As well as Ryan played this year, he has never played in The Big Game. Advantage Brady.
–Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Patriots CB Malcolm Butler: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup outside of Brady vs. Ryan, the likely battle between the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver and the Patriots’ No. 1 corner could very well determine who hoists the trophy in two weeks. Both played spectacular games on Sunday. Jones torched the Packers for 180 yards and two scores on nine catches. Butler, meanwhile, limited Steelers star wideout Antonio Brown seven catches for 77 yards and no scores. Butler made his name on his end-zone interception now known as “The Pick,” the play that sealed Brady’s fourth title in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. He has developed into a serviceable corner, albeit one who can be beaten in downfield coverage, but he has yet to face a receiver as explosive as Jones. How does he plan to stop him? “Going too far, man,” Butler told The Sports Xchange after Sunday’s game. “I’m enjoying the moment, brah. Enjoying the moment.”
–Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount vs. Falcons’ rush defense: Simply put, Blount is due for a big game — and he will need one to give the Patriots a balanced attack and a chance to hang with the high-octane Falcons. After besting Curtis Martin’s New England mark for the most rushing touchdowns in a single season with 18, Blount was a virtual non-factor in the Patriots’ first two playoff games, totaling just 78 yards on 24 carries, including 47 yards on 16 attempts against the Steelers. Blount showed flashes of his historic regular-season form against his former team on a carry late in Sunday’s third quarter, practically carrying the entire Pittsburgh defense on his back on an 18-yard gain to set up first-and-goal at the 1. He scored on the next play, his eighth career postseason rushing touchdown. Atlanta’s rushing defense is average, having allowed the 16th-most rushing yards per game (104.5) during the regular season. The opportunity is ripe for Blount to enjoys a breakout performance.
–Falcons K Matt Bryant vs. Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski: The most underappreciated men on the roster often wind up needing to make the biggest plays on the grandest stage. Bryant and Gostkowski are both proven veteran kickers. Bryant was 34 of 37 on field-goal attempts in the regular season with a long of 59 yards. He is 3 of 3 in the playoffs. Gostkowski was Mr. Automatic before this season, when he finished 27 of 32 with a 53-yard long. He fell into a bad rut midway through the year but has bounced back, going 5 of 5 in the postseason, although he did miss an extra point Sunday. Statistically, Gostkowski has had a better Patriots career than legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri, but he is short on the marquee kicks; Vinatieri made decisive kicks in two Super Bowls. These games often come down to kicks, so either Bryant or Gostkowski may need to come up in the clutch.
–Patriots coach Bill Belichick vs. Falcons coach Dan Quinn: The second-year Atlanta boss has his work cut out against a man widely recognized as one of the greatest coaches in football history. However, if Quinn can scheme up a game play to vanquish The Hoodie, he would join former New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin as the only coaches to knock Belichick in the Super Bowl. Quinn doesn’t have much history with the Patriots, but his general manager does. Thomas Dimitroff worked under Belichick from 2003 to 2007 as New England’s director of college scouting before taking the GM job with the Falcons, so he may be able to provide Quinn with some insight on how the Belichick machine works. It would be shocking to see Quinn outcoach Belichick in The Big Game, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented