Well, no one expected that. The result was exactly what the National Football League needed. The New England Patriots pulled off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, rallying from a 25-point deficit to win in overtime, 34-28, on a two-yard run by an unlikely hero in running back James White. While a Patriots’ victory might have been expected, how they got it surely was not.
Super Bowl 51 started with both Atlanta and New England trading possessions for the entire first quarter. The Patriots would advance the ball to the Falcons’ 29-yard line, but RB LeGarrette Blount fumbled it away killing the drive. The resulting Atlanta drive brought about the game’s first points, a five-yard TD run by Devonta Freeman.
What happened next was surprising to just about everyone, including the Falcons who took a 21-0 lead on a Matt Ryan-to-Austin Hooper 19-yard TD pass and an 82-yard interception return by Robert Alford. It looked as if a rout was on as the NFL’s No. 1 offense during the regular season was too much for the league’s top defense. Patriots QB Tom Brady, who would be named the game’s Most Valuable Player, finally led a scoring drive at the end of the first half. New England went 52 yards in 11 plays to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal.
Atlanta got the ball to open the second half, but the Patriots defense forced a three-and-out. The Patriots’ offense sputtered again on their opening drive of the second half. Brady was sacked five times, three by Atlanta DT Grady Jarrett tying a Super Bowl record. When Ryan hit RB Tevin Coleman with a six-yard TD pass with 8:31 to play in the third quarter, the Falcons were just over 23 minutes from the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. Then, the wheels fell off the Falcons’ bus.
Brady showed the football world why he is the greatest of all time. Head coach Bill Belichick and Brady stuck to their game plan, never panicked, and calmly marched 75 yards on 13 plays culminating the scoring drive with a Brady-to-White five-yard TD pass. The Pats missed the extra point, but the momentum was beginning to change.
New England’s defense would force a three-and-out on Atlanta’s ensuing series and the Patriots would eat up a little over five minutes on their next scoring drive. They would come away with another Gostkowski field goal, but the Patriots were within two scores (28-12) with 9:44 to play in the game.
Then, disaster struck for Atlanta. Facing third-and-1 from his own 36, Ryan was sacked by Donta Hightower. Not only was Ryan sacked, he fumbled the ball away to the Patriots, who were in business at the Falcons 25-yard line with 8:31 to play. Brady would guide New England to another score, this time completing a six-yard pass to WR Danny Amendola. White would convert the extra point and the Pats trailed just 28-20 with just under six minutes to play in the game.
New England came up with the defensive stop it needed on the next series. After giving up a big play to Falcons WR Julio Jones, Trey Flowers came up with one of his 2.5 sacks dragging down Ryan at the New England 35-yard line. Belichick and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would force a punt and with 3:38 to go in the game, all New England had to do was drive 91 yards, score, and convert a two-point conversion.
That is exactly what Brady and the Patriots’ offense did. The MVP completed a series of passes to march his offense down the field in just two-and-a-half minutes. New England scored on a White one-yard touchdown run. Brady then completed a quick screen pass to Amendola for the extra point.
With the game tied at 28-28, Brady led New England down the field once again, scoring on the opening drive of overtime. It was the first overtime game in Super Bowl history and it ended when White powered his way over the goal line on a two-yard run.
Brady became the first player to win five Super Bowl rings with the same team. He finished the night completing 43-of-62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns. White, a third-year player out of Wisconsin, caught 14 passes for 110 yards and the one touchdown. He also ran the ball six times for 29 more yards and scored twice on the ground. Amendola caught eight passes for 78 yards and a score. Leading receiver Julian Edelman had five catches for 87 yards and AFC Championship game sensation Chris Hogan 57 receiving yards on four receptions.
Brady also set a record when he won his fourth Super Bowl MVP. The Patriots achieved the greatest comeback in the game’s history. Down by 25 at one point, New England scored 19 points in the fourth quarter. The Patriots offense put up 546 yards of total offense, had 37 first downs, and controlled the football for almost 41 minutes.