Every avalanche begins with a single rock.
For the Falcons, running back Devonta Freeman might as well been the boulder from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The Falcons swamped the Patriots in the first half, scoring the game’s first 21 points. And Freeman, the running back from Miami Central and Florida State, was the catalyst.
He went around the left end to score a 5-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter. Freeman rushed for 71 yards on six carries through the first two quarters and was a major reason why the Falcons averaged 9.9 yards per play before intermission.
Freeman, who won a state title with the Rockets in 2010 and national championship with the Seminoles three years later, is a two-time Pro Bowler who rushed for a career-high 1,079 yards in 2016.
NFL honors Pope
Edwin Pope might be gone, but he’s surely not forgotten by the NFL.
The iconic Miami Herald columnist and sports editor passed away last month at the age of 88.
The league honored Pope’s impactful life Sunday by reserving a press box seat at Super Bowl 51.
A memorial service is planned for Feb. 18 in Okeechobee.
Pope didn’t just cover the NFL. He was a part of its DNA.
He was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and was one of only four writers to cover the first 47 Super Bowls before health issues prevented him from attending the 2014 game or any subsequent Super Bowls.
Pope’s impact and legacy extended beyond his columns. When Dolphins owner Joe Robbie asked Pope who should be hired to replace George Wilson as Dolphins coach in 1970, Pope suggested Don Shula, who was coaching the Baltimore Colts.
The rest is South Florida history.
THIS AND THAT
▪ In quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s first six Super Bowls, the Patriots scored 20, 32, 24, 14, 17 and 28 points.
But they didn’t crack the scoreboard in the first quarter in any of them.
That remarkable streak extended to seven Sunday, as the Patriots and Falcons ended the first quarter scoreless.
▪ The most emotional moment of a pregame program chock full of them was when President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, took the field for the coin toss.
Both have been battling illness, and the president needed the assistance of a motorized wheelchair to get to midfield.
It was tails, the Falcons won the toss and deferred.
▪ A taped message from Pope Francis aired on the NRG Stadium big screens prior to kickoff.
The Pope said that “great sporting events like today’s Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace.
“By participating in sport, we are able to go beyond our own self interest — and in a healthy way — we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules,” he continued. “May this year’s Super Bowl be a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world.”
▪ If you had Luke Bryan and the over, you lost. Bryan, the country music star, sang the national anthem unofficially in 2 minutes 5 seconds — nearly three ticks shy of the over/under.
▪ Dolphins great Larry Little was among the Hall of Famers from historically black colleges and universities honored on the field before the game.
▪ Shula, who recently turned 87, attended the game Sunday and was on the sidelines before kickoff.
▪ Patriots inactives: quarterback Jacoby Brissett; wide receiver Michael Floyd; cornerback Justin Coleman; cornerback Cyrus Jones; running back D.J. Foster; safety Jordan Richards; and tackle LaAdrian Waddle.
▪ Falcons inactives: receiver Nick Williams; running back Terron Ward; cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson; safety Dashon Goldson; linebacker Josh Keyes; lineman Wes Schweitzer; and tight end D.J. Tialavea.