When the Atlanta Falcons faltered down the stretch of Super Bowl 51 on Sunday, the New England Patriots kept coming.
Over the course of the game, the Patriots ran 99 plays to the Falcons’ 49, according to CSN New England’s Phil Perry, simply wearing down the Falcons.
Conditioning can be an overlooked aspect of sports, in part because it’s hard to see and define. However, in Super Bowl 51, it ended up being a defining factor. The Falcons defense was tired after spending so much time chasing the Patriots, and down the stretch, they couldn’t get to Tom Brady or slow down his receivers.
The secret to the Patriots’ conditioning is a basic, old-school drill that players alluded to after the game as a deciding factor: sprinting up a hill.
Julian Edelman, one of the game’s biggest heroes, said of the Patriots outlasting the Falcons: “We’ve got these stupid hills in Foxborough that we have to run, like literally, until we left. We all b—- and complain about it. But hey, we do it. We put in the work. We put in the conditioning.”
As Perry documented in July, the hills behind the Gillette Stadium are a big part of the Patriots’ training. There are two hills, according to Perry. “One is 20 yards long and steep. The other is 60 yards long and features more of a gradual incline,” he wrote. They are both finely manicured, with 5-yard lines so players know the distance left to run.
The Patriots run these hills in training camp, but apparently they were running them up until the week before the Super Bowl.
“We were running the hill last week,” said tight end Martellus Bennett. “And I was like, who runs the hill in Week 23? Guys were tired, but guys got out there, they ran full speed up the hill. We’re just a team that works.”
It’s not a fun task for the players. Wide receiver Danny Amendola told Perry that “it’s a beast, for sure,” while tackle Nate Solder compared it to taking medicine.
However, the act of sprinting up the incline helps players. Nick Caserio, the director of player personnel, told Sirius XM Radio over the summer: “That hill’s great. That hill gets them in shape pretty quickly. Those guys don’t like it, but they’ll probably, in the fourth quarter, realize it’s worthwhile.”