The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in overtime on Feb. 5 to win Super Bowl LI. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team back from a 25-point deficit in the third quarter to complete one of the largest comebacks in NFL postseason history.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady captured their fifth Super Bowl title, with Brady earning his fourth Super Bowl MVP award. The win gives both Belichick and Brady more championships than any other head coach or quarterback, respectively. The overtime win also cemented the New England Patriots as arguably one of the greatest sports dynasties in history.
The Patriots had initially been overwhelmingly favored to win this game; ESPN even announced that 30 of its 36 commentators had picked the Patriots prior to the Super Bowl. Yet the win occurred in a way that almost nobody expected. The Falcons took a commanding lead in the first half. Tom Brady threw an interception to Robert Alford, which was returned 82 yards for a Falcons touchdown. The image of Brady flailing and diving to tackle Alford summed up the first half for Patriots fans. Atlanta’s offense came out firing and their defense had several key sacks in the first three quarters.
Despite Atlanta’s 25-point lead in the third quarter, the Patriots were able to muster up slight momentum, dominating the “time of possession” statistic. The real turning point of the comeback was a strip sack by Dont’a Hightower, which ultimately gave Tom Brady an opportunity to cut Atlanta’s 16-point lead. “Hightower’s play was a big play; we needed that one,” Belichick said to NFL reporters after the game.
Like many of the Patriots’ past Super Bowls of the Brady-Belichick era, the game came down to the last possession and involved wild catches. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman made a miraculous catch during the game-tying drive while also stopping an interception, seeming to levitate as he juggled the football an inch from the ground. The catch was similar in craziness to those in the Patriots’ past Super Bowl appearances, including the Jermaine Kearse bobble catch of Super Bowl XLIX, as well as the David Tyree helmet catch of Super Bowl XLII.
The Patriots drove 75 yards in their first overtime possession to score a touchdown and win the game. James White scored the game-winning touchdown and finished the game with 14 catches. The defense of the Patriots played well in the second half and the New England offense was able to tire out Atlanta’s defense with 93 official snaps. “Our conditioning paid off…I don’t know how many plays we played [on offense] but it had to be close to 90,” Belichick said to NFL reporters.
The comeback made Super Bowl history, as the largest Super Bowl comeback prior to this game was a ten-point deficit that the Patriots had overcome in Super Bowl XLIX; this 25-point comeback easily doubled that record. The game was also the first Super Bowl that had ever gone into overtime.
The game proved to be another exciting Super Bowl played by the Patriots. Since 2001, the Patriots have played in seven Super Bowls, all of which have come down to one possession. Most of the Patriots’ Super Bowls in the Brady-Belichick era have ended in dramatic fashion, such as Adam Vinatieri’s two game-winning field goals, Malcolm Butler’s goal line interception and now the 25-point comeback victory in overtime.
Tom Brady, who was named the Super Bowl MVP, passed his childhood idol Joe Montana in number of Super Bowl wins and Super Bowl MVPs. After a trying year in which Brady was suspended four games due to “Deflategate,” he may have cemented his place as the greatest quarterback of all-time after this season.
The Patriots now have five Super Bowl wins, which is second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers who have six. This Super Bowl win also marks the continuation of Boston/New England’s sports dominance in the four major pro sports: over the past 16 years, New England has had 10 major sports titles and has been to 14 championship games/series.