HOUSTON — The greatest.
Super Bowl. Quarterback. Comeback.
All of it. Just the greatest.
That’s what we saw Sunday night in Super Bowl LI as Tom Brady orchestrated the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history and led the Patriots to their fifth championship with a 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons in front of 70,807 at NRG Stadium.
Trailing 21-0 and 28-3, the Patriots scored 31 unanswered points in the final 21:04 of the game, including a 2-yard touchdown run by James White to cap the only overtime drive in Super Bowl history. White scored three touchdowns, had a two-point conversion and caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes.
The Falcons and league MVP Matt Ryan never touched the ball in overtime.
No team had ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit to win a Super Bowl, and Brady had never come back from more than a 21-point deficit in his career.
“We all brought each other back,” Brady said calmly after the most breathtaking of his Super Bowl experiences. “We never felt out of it.”
Brady, who set Super Bowl records with 43 completions, 62 attempts and 466 yards passing, also threw two touchdown passes. He is the first quarterback and Bill Belichick is the first head coach to win five Super Bowls. Brady broke a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, his boyhood idol.
“He was the same as he always is: cool, calm and collected,” Patriots receiver Danny Amendola said of Brady. “He’s the leader, the general, the best ever, and that is the end of the story.”
Added White: “He’s the greatest quarterback ever, man. He willed us to victory.”
After nearly a decade of having to endure watching David Tyree’s miraculous helmet catch against them, which spoiled a would-be perfect season and denied them the Super Bowl XLII title, the Patriots finally found their own ridiculous reception to enjoy.
On first-and 10 from the Patriots’ 36, Brady threw a pass over the middle for Julian Edelman that was tipped in the air by cornerback Robert Alford. Edelman somehow, some way, was able to catch the ball centimeters off the turf after juggling it once and fighting through a scrum of three Falcons for a 23-yard gain.
“We’ve been on the losing side on a few of those catches,” Brady said. “Tonight we came up with it. It was a pretty spectacular catch.”
Three plays later, White scored from the 1. Brady hit Danny Amendola for a two-point conversion to tie the score at 28 with 57 seconds left and send the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time in its 51-year history.
“It just was an avalanche,” Brady said of the momentum change.
They finally found the end zone on a 5-yard pass from Brady to White with 2:06 left in the third quarter, but Stephen Gostkowski clunked the extra-point kick off the right upright to leave the score at 28-9. A 33-yard field goal by Gostkowski made it 28-12 with 9:44 left in the game.
Still, it seemed the Falcons were in control. Until . . .
Dont’a Hightower sacked Ryan and forced a fumble with 8:24 left in regulation to set up the Patriots at the Falcons’ 25, and Brady hit Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown. White ran in the two-point conversion to make it 28-20 with 5:56 left.
The Falcons seemed poised to run out the clock even then, as Ryan responded with a short pass to Devonta Freeman for a gain of 39 and a 27-yard pass to Julio Jones along the sideline that seemed destined to join Tyree’s and Mario Manningham’s in New Englanders’ nightmares. But the Falcons had to punt, giving Brady the ball at the 9 with 3:30 left.
After two incompletions, he hit Chris Hogan for 16 yards from his own end zone to kick-start the tying drive. The Falcons had 52 seconds left and no timeouts and were unable to get in scoring position before the end of regulation.
“We ran out of gas,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn, whose team dominated early.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons turned a pair of takeaways into 14 points and took a 21-0 lead. Rookie linebacker Deion Jones stripped LeGarrette Blount of the ball less than a minute into the second quarter, and it was recovered by Alford. From there, the league’s top-scoring offense went to work with a pair of passes to Jones for a combined 42 yards and a 5-yard touchdown run by Freeman.
The Falcons forced a three-and-out before Ryan hit tight end Austin Hooper for a 19-yard touchdown with 8:48 left in the half to go ahead 14-0.
The Patriots looked as if they might be able to land some points and stop the momentum with a 15-play drive to the Falcons’ 23. But on third-and-6, Brady was picked off by Alford, and he returned it 82 yards for the second-longest pick-6 in Super Bowl history.
That made it 21-0 with 2:21 left in the half. It was the first return for points against the Patriots all season and Brady’s first career postseason pick-6.
The Patriots kicked a field goal with two seconds left in the half to make it 21-3, but the Falcons marched 85 yards to make it 28-3 early in the third. Taylor Gabriel’s 35-yard reception was the big gain on the drive, which ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman with 8:31 left in the third.
It was a lead that seemed impossible for the Patriots to overcome. Which is what made it all so great.
The Best of Brady
Tom Brady set the following Super Bowl passing records:
Old Record: 37, Brady, XLIX
Old Record: 58, Jim Kelly, Buffalo, XXVI
Old Record: 414, Kurt Warner, St. Louis, XXIV