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A Game of Inches: Pats Complete Comeback and Win Super Bowl LI

By SIMON BRADY

 

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime Sunday night in Super Bowl LI. In an ultimate tale of two halves, the game dramatically flipped from a lopsided blowout in favor of Atlanta, to a finish for the ages as New England captured its fifth Super Bowl championship.

The high powered Atlanta Falcons offense, led by this year’s league MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and league’s best wide receiver Julio Jones, played as advertised in the first half getting out to a huge lead early.

Whether it was Ryan and the Falcons’ passing attack, or the Falcons’ ground game led by the star studded running back tandem Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Atlanta was clicking on all cylinders. Two scoring drives for Atlanta capped off by a Freeman five-yard scamper and a 19-yard reception by tight end Austin Hooper gave the Falcons a quick 14-0 lead.

Late in the first half, it was the youthful and underrated Atlanta defense that made the play that took the spirit out of New England. Thanks to a few penalties on the Atlanta defense, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots were in position to finally put some points on the board and cut into the Atlanta lead.

From Atlanta’s 18-yard line, Brady threw a pick six to cornerback Robert Alford, who took it back 82 yards to give the Falcons an emphatic 21-0 advantage. This would be Brady’s first pick six in his seven Super Bowl appearances. After place kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal to end the first half, the Patriots needed a rally down 21-3 at half.

With 8:31 left in the third quarter, running back Tevin Coleman found the end zone on a six-yard pass from Ryan to extend the Falcons lead to 28-3. At this point, many felt this was the dagger that would seal an Atlanta victory. ESPN had the Falcons win probability at 99.5 percent following the Coleman touchdown.

From that point on in the game, an undying belief and will from Brady and head coach Bill Belichick would help erase the daunting 25 point deficit in just about a quarter and a half of playing time. The rally began with a five-yard touchdown reception by the game’s x-factor, running back James White, as New England cut the score to 28-9.  Totaling 100 receiving yards on 14 receptions, White was Brady’s go-to guy all night through the air.

The Patriots continued to methodically mount a comeback in the fourth quarter. New England eventually would outscore Atlanta 19-0 in the final period. A 33-yard field goal from Gostkowski with 9:44 left in the fourth quarter would begin the 19-0 run, as the Patriots were down 28-12.

The following possession, a strip sack by Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower on Matt Ryan, set up New England with great field position as they were posed to score again. With 5:56 left in the game, Brady found wide receiver Danny Amendola from six yards out for the touchdown. An additional successful two-point conversion on a direct snap and run to the end zone for White, cut the Falcons lead to eight.

What once seemed an impossible task, New England was finally in striking distance of tying the game up with a stop on defense and score. The Patriots defense stood tall again and stopped the Atlanta offense on the ensuing possession, forcing a punt.

With 3:30 remaining the in fourth, Brady and the New England offense took the field, needing a touchdown and two point conversion to tie the game. Finding five different receivers, Brady dissected the Falcons defense, leading the Patriots down the field on a 10 play, 91-yard drive in 2:33 minutes. White continued to shine and find the end zone, as he completed the drive with a one yard touchdown run.

At this point down 28-26, the Patriots needed to complete one more two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. No surprise New England put it in the hands of Brady to complete the two-point conversion. Brady threw a quick screen to Danny Amendola, who muscled his way into the end zone to the tie the game.

With the game now knotted up at 28, a failed last minute drive by Atlanta would force the first overtime in Super Bowl history. The first touchdown for either team would seal victory. And luckily for the Patriots, they won the coin toss and had the first possession.

Brady made quick work of the Falcons defense one final time, spearheading the game winning Super Bowl drive in just 3:58 of game time. After five completions of fifty yards from Brady and 10-yard run by White, New England was in the red zone, and in prime position to end the game.

From the 15-yard line, Brady targeted tight end Martellus Bennett in the end zone, and a pass interference on Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell advanced the ball to the two yard line for New England. And with a two yard touchdown run on a toss to James White, the Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28, completing the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. In 64 minutes and two seconds of total game time, the final James White touchdown was the only point New England led for the entirety of the game.

Among all the memorable Super Bowls the Patriots have won, this was certainly the most satisfying. Although this was an unprecedented comeback and victory for New England, the outweighing factors for pulling it off remains constant. The brilliant play of Brady and outstanding game planning by Belichick led New England to the win even Patriots fans felt may have been impossible at certain points in the game.

Brady solidified himself into the conversation as the greatest quarterback in NFL history Sunday night, completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, including two touchdown passes. Brady now holds the record for most completions, pass attempts and passing yards in Super Bowl history. Brady’s incredible performance earned him his fourth Super Bowl MVP and fifth Super Bowl title. His five Super Bowl victories are now the most of all time among quarterbacks, surpassing former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who each won four.

On the flip side, Belichick’s fifth Super Bowl title is the most among head coaches in the game’s history, surpassing former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, who won four. Along with Brady being the greatest quarterback in NFL history, many believe Belichick should now be considered the great coach of all time following Sunday’s victory.

In many people’s eyes, the only coach in NFL history with an argument against Belichick in terms of greatest is the late Vince Lombardi. Lombardi also totaled five NFL championships, three prior to the Super Bowl era, and Super Bowls I and II,coaching for the Green Bay Packers.

For many Patriots fans, seeing White score the winning touchdown may not have actually been the most satisfying component of Sunday night’s Super Bowl win. As an NFL tradition, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell annually presents the winning owner, coach and Super Bowl MVP the Lombardi Trophy.

Given that Brady served a four game suspension imposed by Goodell at the beginning of the year for the “Deflategate” scandal that began late in the 2015 season, there was expected be some tension in this trophy presentation. To the tune of thousands of booing Patriots fans, Goodell reluctantly handed the trophy over to those who he imposed the punishment on.

New England’s long time owner Robert Kraft had no issue raising the awkwardness on the podium when presented the trophy, as he directly took a shot at Goodell for what he believed to be an unfair suspension for his quarterback.

“A lot has transpired during the last two years, but I don’t think that needs any explanation,” Kraft said.

Kraft’s powerful speech and insulting words toward Goodell, that all of Patriots nation had anticipated since the season’s beginning, were wrapped up an amazing night from NRG Stadium in Houston. The New England Patriots celebration for their unprecedented victory in Super Bowl LI was well under way from there.

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