Scott Pioli Relives 28-3 Super Bowl Nightmare Against Patriots

Likening Tom Brady to Freddy Krueger, Pioli painfully recalled the second-worst loss of his career

Zach Gelb
April 06, 2020 - 12:58 pm
Tom Brady Patriots Super Bowl

USA Today Images


If you spend over two decades in the NFL, you’re bound to be on the wrong end of some heartbreaking losses. Scott Pioli knows this all too well. 

The two worst losses of his career both came in the Super Bowl – first in Super Bowl XLII, and later in Super Bowl LI. Both were down-to-the-wire thrillers involving the Patriots, and neither game ended as Pioli wanted.

In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants beat Pioli’s Patriots 17-14 to spoil an undefeated season. And in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat Pioli’s Falcons 34-28. The Falcons led that game 21-3 at halftime – and even then, Pioli was terrified.

“Oh, scared to death,” Pioli said on The Zach Gelb Show. “I knew the guy [Tom Brady] on the other side of the field – both the guys: the head coach [Bill Belichick] who was going to make adjustments. There were times the Falcons started celebrating a little bit too early, and other times where we just held on for dear life. But at halftime, I was in this box and I was sick to my stomach. There was a group of people that I was with that were also Falcons employees and scouts and front-office executives, and they were celebrating like the game was over and that the next 30 minutes was just going to be this cruise.”

Pioli knew they wouldn’t be.

“I didn’t say anything. I was keeping to myself. Everyone is standing up, and I never left my chair,” Pioli recalled recalled. “Someone said to me, ‘Scott, loosen up. We got this thing.’ And I snapped. I turned around and I stood up and I said, ‘You guys just don’t get it. That dude on the other side of the field wearing No. 12 is Freddy Krueger, and he’s coming back. It’s just a matter of how far he’s going to come back and how many of us he’s going to kill on the way. You better hope and pray that he doesn’t come back all the way.’”

The reaction? 

“There was just this silence, and people thought I was being a buzzkill,” Pioli said. “But truth be told, I knew what the guy had in him. I was scared to death. I also knew that Bill was going to make all the other adjustments.”

The Falcons went up 28-3 midway through the third quarter. The Patriots, however, scored 25 unanswered points – including a pair of two-point conversions – to force overtime. Brady took it from there, as James White’s 2-yard touchdown rush won the game in OT.

“Lo and behold, [it’s] the second-worst loss of my life, that’s for sure,” Pioli said. “Obviously the biggest one [was] 18-1.”