On February 5, the New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit, the largest in Super Bowl history, to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime at NRG Stadium in Houston.
With 8:36 left in the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons had a 28-3 lead, leaving most to believe that even Tom Brady couldn’t lead the Patriots in fighting back to the top, due in part to the team’s inability to gain momentum in the first half. However, that all changed after the Falcons scored their fourth touchdown of the game, awakening the legend that is Tom Brady.
On their next three drives, the Patriots managed to score a touchdown (James White, five yard TD catch), field goal (Gostkowski, 33 yarder), and a touchdown (Danny Amendola, six yard TD catch) respectively. With the score now at 28-20, the Falcons had the opportunity to close out with less than six minutes left in the game. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball downfield to star wide receiver Julio Jones, who then hauled in a 27 yard circus catch near the sideline. It looked like that was the dagger for the Patriots, putting an end to their comeback.
However, the Falcons could not capitalize on this situation. Ryan was sacked by the Patriots’ Trey Flowers for a 12-yard loss and was assessed a ten yard holding penalty on offensive tackle Jake Matthews, knocking the Falcons out of field goal range. After an incomplete pass on third and 33, the Falcons punted the ball to Tom Brady, who was once again in a clutch situation in the Super Bowl.
The clutch drive was solidified by an amazing 22 yard catch by receiver Julian Edelman, who hauled in the tipped pass about an inch away from hitting the ground, with three defenders covering him. This is exactly what the Patriots needed, as Brady moved them down the field to a one yard rushing touchdown by White. The Patriots now needed to complete the two point conversion with one minute left in the game. Brady hiked the ball and threw it to an open Amendola, who ran it across the plane to tie the game.
Super Bowl LI then headed into unprecedented territory: Overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss, and elected to receive the kickoff. If the Patriots scored a touchdown, they would win the Super Bowl. Brady hit Amendola (14 yards), Chris Hogan (18 yards), and Edelman (15 yards) to find his way in scoring territory after a defensive pass interference call on Falcons outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell against Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett. At the Falcons’ two yard line, Brady threw a pass to White, who then took it in two yards for the touchdown and the Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots broke the record of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history (10 points), and brought home their fifth Super Bowl Championship. More importantly, this is the fifth Super Bowl Championship in the Brady-Patriots head coach Bill Belichick era. With the deficit they faced at halftime, the Patriots didn’t lose hope.
“At halftime, I would say we weren’t down at all,” said Brady in a post-game interview, “We were disappointed in the way we played, and we knew that we could go out and do a lot better in the second half.”
One mind-boggling statistic of the game was after their 28-3 lead, the Falcons only ran the ball four times for the remainder of the game. This is a confusing strategy, as running the ball essentially kills the clock. With the way running back Devonta Freeman had been effectively running the ball all game (11 rushes, 75 yards, 1 Rush TD, 2 receptions, 46 yards), why would the Falcons stop what was working? As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Falcons underwent a lot of scrutiny for their play calls at the end of the game, but there’s no taking away the fact that they were beaten by the better team.
“We felt like we had to put the game away,” said Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. “Don’t forget, the other team was moving the football pretty well at that point.”
“It was tough to stand there when you could see the Patriots getting on a roll,” said Ryan. “But we all battled. We knew it might come down to the final minutes and then maybe to overtime. We just didn’t make enough plays at the end.”
Brady, who was suspended four games due to the Deflategate scandal, played like he was out for vengeance. Fans wanted to see the awkward encounter between Commissioner Roger Goodell, the official who laid down the Deflategate suspension, and Brady. Those people got their wish as Goodell was treated to a thunderous chorus of boos, so loud that you couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“…a lot has transpired over the last two years and I don’t think that needs any explanation,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “I want to saw to our fans, brilliant coaching staff and players who are so spectacular, this is unequivocally the sweetest.”
Brady brought home Super Bowl LI MVP honors for his clutch, record-breaking performance (43/63, 466 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT), his fourth Super Bowl MVP award in his career.
The game started off as being one of the most one-sided Super Bowls in history, but ended as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time, from overcoming a 25 point deficit, ridiculous catches, and overtime. Nothing beats that. Super Bowl LI was an absolute treat to watch.
The Patriots are enjoying the celebration now, but in typical fashion, Belichick is looking towards next season.
“As great as [the Super Bowl] is, in all honesty, we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season,” said Belichick.