It wasn’t some crazy fever dream. The New England Patriots seriously won Super Bowl LI after trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 midway through the third quarter.
So, how exactly did they get there? Let’s go through the key plays that led to the Patriots winning their fifth Super Bowl title.
The Patriots’ first touchdown of the game finally came when they got the ball with 8:31 left in the third quarter and slowly moved down the field until they got to the 5-yard line with 2:12 remaining in the third.
The Patriots were criticized for taking too long, but the other option was to panic and have Brady start throwing bombs downfield. That’s usually not a winning formula.
THIRD QUARTER, 2:12, 2ND and 5
Tom Brady pass short left to James White for 5 yards, touchdown
The Patriots were in 11 personnel with Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and White on offense. White swung out to his left out of the backfield.
He caught the ball and slammed on the brakes.
Rookie cornerback Jalen Collins couldn’t stop on a dime, so White was able to run past him …
And dove into the end zone.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his extra point, making the score 28-9.
The Patriots attempted an onside kick but were penalized for illegal touching, giving the Falcons the ball on the Patriots’ 46-yard line. Through negative plays and penalties, the Falcons lost yards and punted the ball away.
The Patriots got the ball on their 13-yard line and drove down the field until they faced fourth and goal at the Falcons’ 15-yard line. They kicked a field goal to get within two scores at 28-12.
FOURTH QUARTER, 8:31, 3RD and 1
Matt Ryan sacked for -11 yards by Dont’a Hightower. Fumbles. Recovered by Alan Branch.
The Falcons faced third and 1 after two carries for 9 yards. Running back Tevin Coleman suffered an injury on the previous play, forcing Devonta Freeman into the game.
At this point, Hightower is rushing off the edge, and Freeman isn’t even looking at him. Freeman doesn’t seem to know whether to stay in to block or run a route.
He does neither, and Hightower essentially shoves him out of the way…
Before diving at Matt Ryan and forcing the fumble, which was recovered by Branch.
The Patriots got the ball at the Falcons’ 25-yard line, and Brady immediately was sacked. They then pushed down the field on three consecutive short passes.
FOURTH QUARTER, 6:00, 2ND and 2
Tom Brady pass short left to Danny Amendola for 6 yards, touchdown
Brady pushed Amendola over slightly before the snap.
Amendola clearly had a mismatch against Collins, who is bigger but less quick.
Amendola gained nice separation on Collins.
And caught the ball at the goal line and fell into the end zone to pull within 10 points.
The Patriots motioned White into the backfield before the snap.
White took a direct snap from center David Andrews.
And the interior line did the rest of the work, pushing the Falcons’ defensive line forward as White plowed into the end zone. The Patriots were within eight points at 28-20 with 5:56 left.
The Falcons got the ball at their own 10-yard line after a fantastic kick by Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots then immediately let up a 39-yard catch and run to Freeman. A 27-yard catch by Julio Jones put Atlanta at New England’s 22-yard line and in field goal range.
Freeman then carried the ball for a 1-yard loss.
FOURTH QUARTER, 3:56, 2ND AND 11
Matt Ryan sacked for -12 yards by Trey Flowers
Flowers lined up at defensive tackle as the Falcons faced second and long.
Flowers immediately split between right guard Chris Chester and center Alex Mack.
He found a crease as Ryan continued to drop back.
Flowers escaped from Mack and kept his balance as he was being pushed back.Flowers grabbed Ryan and flung him back on a sack for a 12-yard loss.
The Falcons then were flagged for offensive holding, pushing them out of field goal range, and Ryan threw incomplete to Taylor Gabriel on third down.
Because the Falcons still were near midfield, they were able to pit the Patriots inside their own 9-yard line on a punt. They backed out of their own end zone on 16- and 11-yard completions.
FOURTH QUARTER, 2:28, 1ST AND 10
Tom Brady pass deep middle to Julian Edelman
Then Brady got lucky on a deep pass to Edelman.
The ball clanged off Robert Alford’s outstretched arms and into a scrum of Falcons and Edelman.
The ball bounced off Alford’s leg and Ricardo Allen’s arm and into Julian Edelman’s double-clutched hands.
The Patriots kept pushing down the field on completions of 20, 13 and 7 yards.
FOURTH QUARTER, 1:00, 2ND AND 1
James White, right guard for 1 yard, touchdown
White received key blocks from Edelman, Bennett and right guard Shaq Mason on his 1-yard touchdown run.
Making it look easy for him to fall into the end zone.
The Patriots designed a screen for Amendola for the two-point conversion.
It’s been speculated that Edelman or Hogan committed pass interference on the play, but the ball was out of Brady’s hand here, Edelman still was on the line, and Hogan hadn’t made contact with his defender yet.
Amendola barely got into the end zone for the conversion, which tied the game at 28-28.
The Patriots halted the Falcons’ offense with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter then won the coin toss in overtime.
Brady drove the Patriots 73 yards down the field while going 5-of-6 for 63 yards.
OVERTIME, 11:08, 2ND AND 2
James White right end for 2 yards, touchdown
White received a key block from Edelman to start the play.
He used his agility to cut back.
Cannon buried a Falcons linebacker, then White showed off some underutilized power by breaking a tackle…
And drove through two defenders into the end zone.
The ball just barely crossed the line, and the Patriots won the first ever overtime Super Bowl 34-28 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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