HOUSTON – In so many areas, the Patriots have left no doubt.
Where do you begin. Bill Belichick wins fifth Super Bowl. Tom Brady wins fourth Super Bowl MVP. Patriots win fifth Super Bowl in team history. Patriots set Super Bowl record for biggest comeback win. First overtime game in Super Bowl history, and the Patriots win it with a first possession touchdown.
The Patriots are the greatest team in NFL history. And they won the greatest Super Bowl game in history. It may also have been the greatest game ever in NFL history.
The NFL formed in 1920, and it may never have authored a game better than this one. Many sages still like the 1958 NFL Championship Game, also an overtime game. This one will give it a run for its money.
James White scored on a two-yard touchdown run on the first possession of overtime, giving the Patriots a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. It culminated one of the biggest momentum changes you have perhaps ever seen. The Patriots trailed at one point, 28-3. The Patriots wound up scoring the last 31 points of the game. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen, but it did on Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
There isn’t enough space in this article to fit in all the nuances of this game, how Atlanta built its big lead, how the Patriots engineered the comeback, how Brady finished it off with what could perhaps be his career valedictory. As bad as the Patriots played when they trailed by 25, they played that well as they were chipping away at the Falcons’ lead. What is even more amazing is that Stephen Gostkowski missed another extra point, and the game was heading towards a Denver finish last year with a 2-point loss on a missed conversion.
But the Patriots came back and won it. It would be better to simply state the major points of comeback, rather than expand on how well Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett and the Falcons played in the early going.
Midway through the third quarter, Tevin Coleman caught a pass in the right flat from Ryan. Rob Ninkovich took off in futile pursuit, but Coleman ran it in for a six-yard touchdown to make it 28-3 Falcons. The Patriots took over on the ensuing drive and drove 75 yards in 13 plays, culminating with a 5-yard touchdown pass to White. The drive featured a double pass from Julian Edelman to Dion Lewis, but unlike the Baltimore game two years ago, the pass fell short. That play was on third down, but on fourth down Brady hit Danny Amendola for 17 yards and a first down.
Gostkowski missed the extra point, a doink shot off the right upright. More air came out of the Patriot balloon. Again, the former reliable kicker failed. This almost came back to bite the Patriots on the ankle.
A sack by Kyle Van Noy of Ryan on the final play of the third quarter ended the ensuing Falcons drive, and Brady got the ball back at the Patriot 13. He managed to drive the Patriots to the Atlanta 7, but Jarrett sacked Brady twice (he had three sacks overall) to force a 33-yard field goal by Gostkowski. That made it a two-score game at 28-12. Two touchdowns, two two-point conversions still needed.
But your team has Brady. As Kevin Garnett once said, “Anything is possible!”
On the third play of the next drive, Dont’a Hightower strip-sacked Ryan. Alan Branch recovered the fumble at the Atlanta 25. Five plays later, Brady hit Danny Amendola from seven yards out to make it 28-18. Amendola became only the third Patriot to score his second career Super Bowl touchdown. Someone else would become the fourth later on.
But a two-point conversion was needed. Bringing back an old play from yesterday, Brady faked a snap and David Andrews snapped the ball to Lewis, who ran it in for the conversion and a 28-20 deficit. That was the old Kevin Faulk play, and Faulk pulled off that play in the last Super Bowl the Patriots played in Houston.
Atlanta got the ball back at their own 10, but Devonta Freeman hauled in a 39-yard pass to begin the next drive. Julio Jones caught an unreal 28-yard pass two plays later despite great defense by Eric Rowe. It was first and ten at the Patriot 22, and a field goal perhaps ends it right there. But a holding call on Jake Matthews and a sack of Ryan by Trey Flowers put the Falcons out of field goal range. The Patriots got the ball back at their own 9, with plenty of time to tie the game.
On third and ten, Brady hit Hogan for 16 yards. Two plays later, he hit Malcolm Mitchell for 11 yards. The next play will literally remove David Tyree, Mario Manningham and Jevon Kearse from the New England vernacular when Super Bowls are discussed.
Brady took the ball at his 36, dropped back and heaved one over the middle towards Julian Edelman. He collided with two defenders, the ball popped up in the air, bounced off the leg of one of them, and landed into the hands of Edelman. Replay confirmed the call. It was the catch of the year, never mind the game. For once, a crazy play went the way of the Patriots, and seemed to portend what was to come.
Amendola caught an 18-yard pass on the next play, then White took a slant pass to the Atlanta 8. Two plays later, White ran it in from one yard out to become the fourth Patriot player to score his second Super Bowl touchdown. It was 28-26 with 52 seconds left.
But another two-point conversion was needed. Unlike Denver last year, Brady was able to hit Amendola for the conversion to tie the game.
Ryan had 52 seconds to respond and win the game with a field goal, but no timeouts. A questionable spike on second down and an incompletion on third down sent the game to overtime. It was the first Super Bowl game in history to go into overtime.
Matthew Slater called heads, and the coin came up heads. Ball game.
There would be no denying Brady. Amendola caught a 14-yard pass on second down, then Brady found Hogan on the left sideline for 18 yards to get into Atlanta territory. Edelman caught a 15-yard pass, then White hauled in a 10-yard pass to get the Patriots to the Atlanta 15. A pass interference call by De’Vondre Campbell on Martellus Bennett gave the Patriots a first and goal at the two. Two plays later, White became the first Patriot in team history to score his third Super Bowl touchdown with a right end run which won his team a Vince.
White set a Super Bowl record with 14 pass catches. Brady was 43 of 62 passing for 466 yards, all Super Bowl records. In defeat, Ryan was 17 of 23 passing for 284 yards and two touchdowns. Freeman finished with 75 yards rushing and a hefty 6.8 yards per carry.
The Patriots’ history cup runneth over. So many wonderful things to take away from this game for the Patriots, it staggers the imagination. Commissioner Roger Goodell took the high road and shook both Brady and Bob Kraft’s hands, and gave a gracious speech on the podium as he handed Kraft his fifth Vince. This effectively ends DeflateGate. Brady got his suspension, and his team still wins the title and he still wins game MVP.
But Brady and the Patriots, including Belichick, win much more than that. Put all debate to rest. Belichick is the best coach ever. Brady is the best quarterback ever, and maybe the best player ever. The Patriot dynasty is the best ever. Kraft is the best owner ever. It goes on and on.
Patriot Nation will celebrate this win loud and long. It’s duck boat time again. This one is even sweeter than Kraft said on the victory podium. This is the best win in Patriot history. This one tops them all.