HOUSTON — The last time the Patriots threw a pick-six in the postseason, the Bears’ Reggie Phillips returned Steve Grogan’s pass 28 yards for a touchdown to go up 37-3 in Super Bowl XX.
Robert Alford changed that Sunday. With 2:21 left in the first half and his Falcons already leading the Patriots by two touchdowns, the fourth-year cornerback picked off Tom Brady and returned it 82 yards for a score.
It marked the second-longest interception returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. The Steelers’ James Harrison had a 100-yarder eight years ago at the end of the first half against Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.
The pick-six ended a bizarre -Patriots possession. They benefitted from three Falcons defensive-holding penalties on three consecutive third-down -attempts.
Former Bears linebacker Shea McClellin was flagged for lining up over the long snapper and trying to hurdle him on the Patriots’ second extra-point attempt.
The Falcons moved up five yards and made the kick to go up 14-0.
McClellin started the game at outside linebacker but was swallowed up on the first play, a 37-yard run by Devonta Freeman.
Martellus Bennett was the Patriots’ second-leading receiver in the first half, catching four passes for 37 yards. But he had a memorable mistake.
The former Bears tight end was flagged for a holding penalty on Brady’s 12-yard pass to running back James White that got the Patriots to the Falcons’ 3-yard line with 12 seconds left in the half.
The ball came back to the 20, Bennett caught a dump-off pass for minus-3 yards and the Patriots had to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to trail 21-3 at halftime.
Bennett (knee) was one of seven Patriots listed as questionable for the game but had planned to play all along.
This and that
Lady Gaga rappelled from the NRG Stadium roof — which was opened specifically for the halftime show — and performed 13 minutes of her hits.
• Before Luke Bryan sang the national anthem, three members of the original “Hamilton” cast — Renee Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones and Phillipa Soo — sang “America the Beautiful.” They added “sisterhood” to the word “brotherhood,” which drew immediate applause from Falcons coach Dan Quinn and many in the crowd.
• Former President George Bush, who was wheeled to midfield alongside his wife, Barbara, made the coin toss. It marked their first public appearance since they were hospitalized last month.
• Pope Francis recorded a message for Super Bowl fans that aired on the stadium video board about 90 minutes before kickoff.
• The NFL honored Hall of Famers from historically black colleges and universities, including former Bears star Richard Dent and the late Walter Payton.
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