Tom Brady cemented his legacy in style.
The greatest quarterback in NFL history won his fifth Super Bowl ring, breaking a tie with quarterbacks Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl victories, by leading the Patriots to the greatest comeback in NFL postseason history, a 34-28 overtime triumph over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
By the way, it was the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
Brady completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns. For his efforts, Brady won his fourth Super Bowl MVP Award, also a record.
But Brady, who was suspended for the first four games this season due to DeflateGate, wasn’t the only hero. Running back James White set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions. He gained 110 yards on receptions, but also scored two touchdowns and ran in a two-point conversion during the second half. In overtime, White capped the greatest postseason comeback in history with a 2-yard run, fighting his way to the goal line for the winning score.
Another hero was Julian Edelman whose amazing catch on the Patriots’ final scoring drive during the fourth quarter picked up 23 yards and seemed to indicate that destiny was on the Patriots’ side.
Falcons build big lead
It didn’t appear as if destiny was on the Patriots’ side during the first half. After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons opened up a 21-0 lead during the second quarter. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was efficient, the Falcons took advantage of a rare Patriots fumble, and Robert Alford took advantage of an even rarer Brady interception, racing 82 yards to increase the Falcons’ lead to 21-0 with 2:21 remaining before halftime. That was the first time in Brady’s career that he had an interception returned for a touchdown during the postseason.
The Patriots’ finally got on the scoreboard on Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field with 2 seconds remaining in the first half, but the situation still looked bleak. The largest deficit overcome to win a game in Super Bowl history was 10 points.
The Patriots seemed like unlikely candidates to make a historic comeback whtn eh Falcons pushed their lead to 28-3 on a 6-yard pass from Ryan (17 of 23, 284 yards, 2 TDs) to Tevin Coleman midway through the third quarter.
Never say die
But the Patriots, who hadn’t trailed in a game since Week 12, were undeterred by the huge deficit. A 5-yard pass from Brady to White with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter started the comeback, although Gostkowski bounced the extra point attempt off the right upright.
The deficit was still 28-9 with 10 minutes remaining in regulation. The Patriots reached the 13-yard line, but had to settle for a 30-yard Gostkowski with 9:44 remaining, reducing the deficit to 28-12, a two-score game.
The Patriots defense came up with the next big play. Dont’a Hightower blew in from Ryan’s right side virtually untouched. He jarred the ball loose, and Alan Branch recovered it at the 25-yard line.
Brady was sacked on first down by veteran Dwight Freeney, but that couldn’t stop the Patriots’ momentum. After picking up a first down at the 14, Brady threw consecutive passes to Danny Amendola, with the second one covering 6 yards for a touchdown. On the two-point conversion, the Patriots snapped the ball directly to White – while Brady pretending the ball was snapped over his head – who ran up the middle and into the end zone, cutting the deficit to 28-20.
It only took the Falcons one play on their next possession to move from their 10 to their 49-yard line. Two plays later, it appeared the game was over.
Ryan escaped pressure and fired a pass on the run down the right sideline. Perhaps no receiver other than Julio Jones could have made this catch. The pass barely cleared cornerback Eric Rowe’s outstretched arm. Jones stretched out, caught the ball and somehow got both feet down inbounds at the Patriots 22.
The Falcons were within field goal range. A field goal would extend their lead to double digits. But a sack and a holding call pushed the Falcons back to the 45, forcing them to punt.
Brady took over at the Patriots 9. It hardly seemed fair – to the Falcons.
The Patriots quickly moved out to the 36, and then Edelman provided his version of The Catch. Brady’s pass down the middle of the field was deflected up in the air by Alford. Several Falcons defenders and Edelman grasped for the ball. Instead of hitting the ground, though, the ball hit Alford’s foot and ankle. A diving Edelman got his hands under the ball after it bounced off Alford, and just before it hit the ground.
The 23-yard pass to Edelman gave the Patriots possession at the 41. A pass to Amendola advanced the ball to the 21. A 13-yard pass to White advanced the Patriots to the 8. Anotehr pass to White took them to the 1, and then White ran in from the 1 to pull the Patriots within 28-26.
On the ensuing 2-point conversion, Brady connected with Amendola, who barely got across the goal line to tie the game.
The Patriots, with all the momentum on their side, won the toss in overtime.
Once again, it hardly seemed fair.
Brady carved up the Falcons defense with ease. It took just 3:58 for the Patriots to move 75 yards for the winning touchdown, a 2-yard run by White.
The Patriots, with 31 unanswered points, completed the greatest comeback in postseason history.
The victory came in, arguably, the greatest game in Super Bowl history.
And the comeback was engineered by the greatest quarterback in NFL history – and there isn’t much debate about that topic. Not after Super Bowl LI.