Julian Edelman didn't even know he'd made the catch that saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots

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Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist
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HOUSTON — When it was all over, the DNA roll call began. Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford recalled touching one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history with a hand, leg and foot. Safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal each felt it graze part of some limb, seemingly taunting them from inside a frantic tangle of football humanity.

Even New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman really only knew that he had gotten his hands around it. He remembered digging in all his fingers like a 10-spike bear trap, desperately trying to keep the ball off the ground. But for a moment he wasn’t completely sure the catch would stand. Really, none of them were, each looking up to see a replay and sharing the same fourth-quarter question as millions who leaned in and wondered: Did he catch that?

“I knew I had a feel on it,” Edelman would say later of the caroming 23-yard completion in the Patriots’ 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons. “I just didn’t know if maybe a piece of the ball was touching [the ground]. I don’t know what the dang [catch] rule is. No one knows what the rule is.”

This is what that moment felt like for the quartet of players who came together in a wild piece of history that will be replayed for years … maybe decades. They had no idea what had really happened. And once all knew it was a catch, they had a hard time grasping exactly how it happened.

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That should sound familiar. It does to some of these Patriots, who have felt the sting of being on the opposite side of this moment. Just like all the New England faithful, who lived for years with the image of New York Giants wideout David Tyree blindly pinning a 32-yard catch to the crown of his helmet in a brutal Super Bowl XLII loss. Or Giants wideout Mario Manningham’s improbable 38-yard sideline catch, delivering a loss in Super Bowl XLVI. Even the 33-yard catch by Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX win – which bounced off Kearse’s legs and into his arms – still conjures some chills.

Julian Edelman somehow got his hands under the ball to make a catch that saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots. (Getty Images)
Julian Edelman somehow got his hands under the ball to make a catch that saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots. (Getty Images)

Finally, mercifully, the Patriots exercised some of those demons. Or at least got one back for the Tyree splinter, which will surely hurt a little less going forward.

“The first thing that popped in my head was Tyree,” said Patriots defensive end Chris Long, who was a senior at the University of Virginia when he saw the play. “As a fan of the game and watching as a football player, that magic kind of reversed. Julian is such a great player; that’s where hard work and focus meets luck. We deserved that luck. I think we deserved it.”

The teammates and coaches surrounding Long agreed Sunday night, though most admitted they weren’t sure of it when it took place.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick?

“I wasn’t sure if he had it or not,” Belichick said.

He wasn’t alone. Tom Brady, Alan Branch, Danny Amendola, Patrick Chung – you went down the line Sunday night and everyone admitted being as unsure as they were astounded.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” running back LeGarrette Blount added.

“God makes things happen for a reason,” said Alford, who chose to subscribe to Patriots divinity rather than destiny.

Like the Tyree catch, it will likely be the signature moment of this Super Bowl – even though there was still so much more of the game left to be played. Why? Because as much as the moment took away the breath of both sidelines (and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels literally held his breath on the play), it snatched even more from Atlanta.

“That play hit hard because growing up, you watch the Super Bowl, and there’s always that one moment where you’re like, ‘Dang,’ ” Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “As I’m watching on the field, and I see him catch it, I said, ‘Man. Dang.’ It just felt like a whole momentum shift.”

Of course, there will be many plays that can be cited as more pivotal. A pair of two-point conversions … New England running back James White’s walk-off overtime touchdown … the sack and holding penalty that took the Falcons out of field-goal range late in the fourth quarter … the list will stretch on and torment Atlanta for years.

“It was one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen,” Brady said, summing the moment up. “I don’t know how the hell he caught it. I don’t think he does. … We’ve been on the other end of a few of those catches.”

For that, Atlanta will have the sympathy of the Patriots. But not the Super Bowl ring. And that’s all that really matters.

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