Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to one of the greatest comebacks in sports history Sunday night at NRG Stadium on football’s biggest stage. Rallying from a 28-3 second-half deficit in the historic Super Bowl LI on February 5. Brady, who was playing in his seventh career Super Bowl, started out slow against the NFC Champions Atlanta Falcons, who were playing in only their second Super Bowl in franchise history. After punting on their first two possessions, the Patriots drove to the Falcons’ 33 yard line before running back LeGarrette Blount lost a fumble, resulting in Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016-17 NFL MVP, leading the high-octane Falcons offense 71 yards in just 5 plays, which ended with a five-yard touchdown run by running back Devonta Freeman.
After another three-and out forced by the up-and-coming Falcons defense, Ryan again led the Atlanta down the field, keyed by a 24-yard hookup to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel followed by an 18-yard pass to star receiver Julio Jones to put the ball at the Patriots 20 yard line. Ryan then found tight end Austin Hooper in the end zone on a 19-yard touchdown pass to extend the Atlanta lead to a score of 14-0. The Patriots got the ball back and started to find a rhythm, as they were aided by three defensive holding calls, all resulting in first downs, bringing them down to the Falcons 23-yard line. Their rhythm was short-lived however, as Falcons defensive back Robert Alford jumped a route on third and six and intercepted Brady, cruising 82 yards to the end zone and sending the sideline into exultation.
Once again, the Patriots offense drove down the field, and this time they got to the Falcons’ 15-yard line. But the drive stalled, and the Patriots had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski 41-yard field goal right before the half ended, leaving the score at 21-3 at the intermission. It seemed as if the Falcons were the team that was appearing in their fourth Super Bowl in the past decade, rather than the Patriots, as they dominated in all aspects in the game. With the biggest deficit ever overcome in a Super Bowl being ten points, it seemed as if the Falcons were in good shape.
After Lady Gaga gave a memorable halftime show that resulted in thousands of memories being created, the second half started with a three-and-out forced by the rested Patriots defense, but Brady and the Patriots offense once again couldn’t get anything going and punted on their first drive as well. Ryan once again marched the Falcons down the field; this time an 85-yard drive in eight plays, capped off by Ryan’s second touchdown pass of the game, a six-yard toss to running back Tevin Coleman to increase Atlanta’s lead to 28-3 with 8:31 left to play in the third quarter.
Now down four touchdowns, the Patriots were in desperate need of a mistake-free drive in order to keep the game within reach. Brady finally delivered, as he led the offense on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Brady finding running back James White for a 5-yard score. Gostkowski then missed the extra point off the right to keep the score at 28-9. Nonetheless, the eventual greatest comeback in sports history had begun. The Patriots then proceeded to try an onside kick, but it was unsuccessful and the Falcons recovered it.
As the third quarter came to a close, with only 15 minutes to go and controlling a 19-point lead, the Falcons had a 99.6% of winning according to ESPN’s Super Bowl GameCast. But then the Patriots began to look like the team that finished with a 14-2 record and earned a top seed in the AFC Playoffs. After forcing a punt, the Patriots picked up three points as Gostkowski nailed a 33-yard field goal with 9:44 remaining. Even though the Patriots had once again blown a formidable touchdown opportunity, it was now back to a two-score game at 28-12. In need of a big play, the Patriots didn’t have to wait long, as on the Falcons’ ensuing drive middle linebacker Dont’a’ Hightower sacked Matt Ryan and forced him to fumble in the process, and defensive end Alan Branch pounced on it at the Atlanta 25-yard line. Brady and the offense took advantage of the turnover and eventually found Danny Amendola for a six-yard score to cut the deficit to 10. But the Patriots weren’t quite back in it, as they needed to score on a two-point conversion to make it a one-score game. Showing no signs of fear, however, head coach Bill Belichick reached into his bag of tricks and called for a direct snap to White, while Bardy pretended as if the snap had gone over his head. The deception worked, and all of a sudden it was a one-score game at 28-20 with 5:56 left in the contest. But the Falcons showed no signs of fatigue as they calmly drove down to the New England 49 yard line, only needing a field goal to essentially put the game out of reach. Ryan then threw a pass down the right sideline, where Jones went up and made a phenomenal catch, somehow keeping both feet inbounds at the Patriots’ 22-yard line, well within field goal range.
When it seemed as if the Patriots had just had their fate sealed, Atlanta tried to throw the ball, and paid the price as Ryan was sacked back at the 35-yard line. Facing 3rd down and 23 from the 35, Ryan found Mohamed Sanu at the 26-yard line, meaning once again the Falcons were in the field goal range. But the play was called back due to a holding penalty on Falcons offensive lineman Jake Matthews, which negated the play and instead brought the ball back even further to the New England 45-yard line. After Ryan threw an incomplete pass, Atlanta opted to punt instead of trying a game-clinching 62-yard field goal. Patriots punt returner Julian Edelman called for a fair catch at his own 9 yard line, setting the stage for one of the most successful quarterbacks in Super Bowl history. Tom Brady had 3:38 seconds to lead his team 91 yards to the end zone, plus another two yards to convert another two-point play to tie the game. Once again, Brady led a memorable Super Bowl drive. It started with a 16-yard completion to Chris Hogan on third-and-ten, and then continued with an eleven-yard completion to Malcolm Mitchell for another first down. The next play resulted in one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, given the circumstances. Brady threw a pass down the middle of the field towards the direction of Edelman, where it was tipped up in the air by a Falcons defender. Edelman then dove back towards the ball, along with two other Atlanta defenders. As soon as the ball was about to harmlessly fall to the turf, it deflected off the shin of a Falcons defender where an airborne Edelman somehow juggled the ball and scooped it into his chest just in time. The result was a 23-yard gain, as well as one of the greatest catches in NFL history. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn was in disbelief and opted to challenge the catch, but the move backfired and the ruling was upheld. After three more completions, the Patriots had the ball at the Falcons’ 1-yard line with less than a minute to go when White took a handoff and lept into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. Once again, the Patriots needed a two-point conversion, and once again they succeeded, as Brady found Danny Amendola on a screen pass as he ran into the end zone to miraculously tie the game at 28. After a Falcons punt and one play run by New England, Super Bowl LI was headed to overtime, the first time ever a Super Bowl has gone to overtime.
New England won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball. The circumstances were simple: a touchdown would win the game, while anything less would give the Falcons the ball back with a chance to win the game themselves. With all the momentum on their side, the Patriots offense drove down the field with cold-blooded efficiency. Brady could not be stopped, as he completed five consecutive passes to get the Patriots to the Falcons 25-yard line, setting a Super Bowl record for completed passes in a game. White then took a handoff and raced ten more yards for another first down, then a defensive penalty on the next play put the ball on the two-yard line. On first and goal, Brady lobbed a pass in the corner of the end zone intended for tight end Martellus Bennett, where Atlanta linebacker Vic Beasley heroically tipped the pass away. But on the next play, White took a toss toward the right side and fought his way across the goal line, completing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history and earning the Patriots their fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history, and solidifying Tom Brady’s rank among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.