The New England Patriots needed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to erase a gigantic lead built by the Atlanta Falcons, and Tom Brady somehow pulled it off, capping it with a touchdown drive in overtime that ended with a 2-yard score by James White.
Atlanta led 28-3 late in the third quarter and didn’t give up a touchdown until less than 18 minutes were left in regulation. But when the New England offense finally came to life, the Falcons’ top-rated offense struggled to respond and committed its only turnover of the game to gift wrap more points to the other side.
A final drive in the fourth quarter for the Patriots tied the game at 28-28, aided by a miraculous catch by Julian Edelman with just over two minutes remaining to push New England into Falcons territory.
The Patriots managed to force the first overtime in Super Bowl history, won the coin toss, and never gave the Falcons the ball. Brady orchestrated an eight-play, 75-yard drive, putting the Patriots on the door step of a game-winner.
The long drive ended the game when White bulldozed through would-be Falcons tacklers to score the winning touchdown:
The win is the fifth Super Bowl victory for the Patriots during the Brady and Bill Belichick era.
It was the Falcons defense that surprisingly built Atlanta’s lead
Super Bowl LI was billed as a likely shootout between the No. 1 scoring offense led by NFL MVP Matt Ryan and the No. 3 scoring offense led by three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. But the question was if the No. 27 scoring defense of the Falcons would have any chance at keeping pace with the Patriots, who allowed the fewest points in the NFL.
Yes, the Atlanta defense played its best football in the latter half of the season and did a good job in the playoffs against the likes of Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers.
But not only did the group keep the Patriot offense from scoring early, the Falcon defense created opportunities all on its own and was the biggest reason why Atlanta earned a 28-3 lead in the first place.
Linebacker Deion Jones set up a Falcons’ touchdown by ripping the ball from New England running back LeGarrette Blount, and then cornerback Robert Alford broke the game open with an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown:
The interception was Brady’s 31st in his postseason career, topping Brett Favre for the most all time.
Tom Brady struggled to find a rhythm until the fourth quarter
In addition to the Falcons defense creating big plays, it stifled Brady, who never found much of a rhythm until the fourth quarter.
He was pressured early by the Atlanta defensive front, with Courtney Upshaw and Grady Jarrett each recording sacks on New England’s second drive of the game, ending what looked like it could be an early scoring chance for the Patriots.
But even when the pressure wasn’t there, Brady seemed to struggle with accuracy for much of the first half. The first touchdown of the game for the Patriots didn’t come until the final minutes of the third quarter after the Falcons already buried them with a 25-point lead.
Another scoring chance in the fourth quarter was also shut down by Atlanta’s pass rush, with Jarrett recording a pair of timely sacks when New England was close to the goal line.
Jarrett tied the record for sacks in a Super Bowl with three, joining Reggie White, Darnell Dockett and Kony Ealy.
But Brady caught fire and led the Patriots down the field for 19 points in the fourth quarter, erasing a Falcons’ lead that looked insurmountable. The first of his two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter was set up by Atlanta’s only turnover of the game, and the second was a 10-play, 91-yard drive that took only 2:33 and was punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown run by White.
Brady finished the game with 43 completions on 62 attempts for 466 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
The Falcons offense made plays, but didn’t capitalize on the scoreboard
Sometimes football is less about who makes more plays, and more about who screws up less. While the Patriots offense had two back-breaking turnovers in the first half that afforded the Falcons a big lead, Atlanta avoided crucial errors for most of the game.
The only turnover for the Falcons came in the middle of the fourth quarter, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
Julio Jones made plays when the ball came his way, as did Devonta Freeman, but for the most part it was a game without many spectacular plays for an offense that usually has no shortage of highlights.
Even when Jones made a ridiculous catch down the sideline in the fourth quarter, it was followed by negative plays by the Falcons offense that booted the team from field goal range.
Ryan, the newly anointed NFL MVP, only threw 23 passes all game, but racked up 284 yards and two touchdowns. But an offense that averaged 33.75 points per game in the regular season and 40 points per game in two previous postseason wins only managed 28, despite the Falcons defense aiding in the scoring.
The Patriot dynasty already had a strong argument as the greatest extended era of dominance for any NFL team in history, and only improved that case Sunday. Brady was named Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time in his career and became the first quarterback to win the game five times.
Belichick also surpassed all other coaches, breaking a tie with Chuck Noll as the only coaches with four Super Bowl wins.
It’s the Patriots world and we’re all living in it.