HOUSTON — Tom Brady let go of the ball, only to see it fall into the arms of a quick-footed Falcon. From there, the race was on. And Brady never stood a chance.
The 39-year-old Patriots quarterback had already taken a beating to that point from Atlanta’s collection of speedy defenders. But when cornerback Robert Alford stepped in front of a pass intended for receiver Danny Amendola in the second quarter and took off sprinting in the opposite direction, Brady immediately sprung into action.
But his last-ditch effort — a plodding jog followed by a futile leap at Alford’s feet — was nowhere close to being effective. And as Alford scampered 82 yards for his second pick-6 of the season (third of his career), a helpless Brady was motionless on his hands and knees several yards behind.
For the first time in 34 postseason games, the future Hall of Fame quarterback surrendered a pick-6.
Alford’s interception return — the second-longest in Super Bowl history behind the 100-yard return from James Harrison vs. Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII — put the Falcons up 21-0 in the second quarter.
The Falcons led 28-3 in the third quarter before the Patriots rallied for a stunning 34-28 overtime victory.
Alford’s ball skills shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Louisiana native, who goes by the nickname “Rocky,” played wide receiver in high school, catching 10 touchdown passes as a senior. And he still has those quick hands, even as a defensive back.
Alford is a vital piece in the Falcons’ defense, starting 15 games in 2015 and every game this season. He recorded 61 tackles, 19 passes defensed and two interceptions with a touchdown during the regular season. But his latest TD was by far his best, coming in front of family members and friends seated in the stands of NRG Stadium.
Immediately after the interception, Brady returned to the sideline and took a seat on the Patriots bench. He clasped his hands together and hung his head.
Alford, whose brother, Fred Booker, played 12 games at defensive back for the New Orleans Saints in 2005, catapulted himself into the early Super Bowl Most Valuable Player discussion with his heads-up play.
But Brady took the honor.