HOUSTON– For the first time, a Super Bowl needed overtime, and for the fifth time, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions.
This time, it took the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to do it, rallying from a 25-point deficit and defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 at NRG Stadium in Houston in Super Bowl LI.
Tom Brady became the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl titles. He was named Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time, the most all time.
“It was a hell of a football game,” Brady said.
Atlanta had a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter. But a costly Atlanta fumble by quarterback Matt Ryan midway through the fourth quarter helped set up the Patriots to come all the way back to tie it at 28.
In overtime, Patriots running back James White rushed in from two yards for the game-winning touchdown. He finished with 139 total yards and three touchdowns. Brady threw for 466 yards — a Super Bowl record — and two touchdowns.
“I saw a crease,” White said on the final play of the game. “You have to find a way to make a play for your team at that point in the game — at the 3-yard line, 2-yard line, you just have to find a way in.”
All five of those Patriots’ titles have come with Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, but this one had some slightly different circumstances. Brady missed the first four games of the regular season, serving his Deflategate suspension that was imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Ultimately, Brady’s absence didn’t negatively impact the Patriots, who went on to a 14-2 record and the top spot in the AFC.
“We’ve done pretty good over the last few years, you know?” Brady said. “We were in the AFC Championship Game last year and won the Super Bowl two years ago, so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the Patriots.”
When asked if there was any feeling of redemption: “This is all positive,” he said. “This is unbelievable.”
New England had returned to the Super Bowl for the ninth time, an NFL record, with Belichick and Brady leading seven of those appearances.
In addition to winning the most championships as a quarterback, Brady matched Charles Haley for the most Super Bowl titles by a player. Belichick now has the most Super Bowl wins by a head coach, surpassing Chuck Noll. Belichick and Brady also now have the most Super Bowl appearances as a head coach and as a player.
“Chuck Noll is a tremendous coach, with a tremendous legacy,” Belichick said. “I coached against Chuck in his final game. I always admired Chuck and his style and the way that his teams played. It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with Chuck Noll, but tonight’s really about our team. It’s not about some record. … It’s about what our team accomplished.”
This was just Atlanta’s second appearance in its 51-season history. The team first came in the 1998 season, when the Falcons lost Super Bowl XXXIII 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.
Atlanta had dominated the first half, and it was the defense that struck first, with rookie linebacker Deion Jones stripping the football from Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, forcing the fumble, and cornerback Robert Alford recovering.
Five plays later, Atlanta was on the scoreboard first with running back Devonta Freeman bouncing outside and rushing in from five yards for the touchdown.
Later, Falcons quarterback — and NFL MVP — Matt Ryan found tight end Austin Hooper for a 19-yard touchdown.
That made it 14-0 with 8:48 left in the second quarter, but Atlanta’s defense still wasn’t done.
On the next drive, in which the Patriots had been marching down the field, a Brady pass intended for Danny Amendola was picked off by Alford, returning it 82 yards for the touchdown. It was the first pick-six off Brady in any postseason game.
But the comeback was on for New England starting in the second half. When it was 28-12, it kicked into overdrive, when Ryan was sacked at Atlanta’s own 25 by Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Ryan lost the ball, and defensive tackle Alan Branch recovered.
It was the first time the Falcons had turned the ball over in this postseason.
“There’s nothing you can really say,” Ryan said. “That’s a tough loss. Obviously very disappointed, very close to getting done what we wanted to get done, but it’s hard to find words tonight.”
Following the Atlanta turnover, Brady found Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 5:56 left. The two-point conversion by White made it an eight-point game.
On the next drive, Atlanta was forced to punt, setting up the Patriots time for a final push to force overtime.
The drive included one of the best catches in Super Bowl history. It was 1st-and-10 from New England’s own 36, and Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, fighting off three Atlanta defenders — even going through the legs of one of them — somehow scooped up the ball before it hit the ground.
“I knew I got it,” Edelman, who had 87 yards receiving, said. “I felt like I had it.”
With 57 seconds left, White found the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass from Brady to Amendola tied it, setting up overtime.
“It’s hard tonight for the lessons,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “What I can tell you is you can’t truly be relentless until it’s right there, and you’ve got to take it away or you didn’t get it. A loss like tonight, although it’s difficult, I would like to think that this group, we’re putting our stamp and we’re just getting started to be what we can be.”