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Feb 08 2017

Patriots Come Back To Defeat Falcons 34-28 in Overtime in Super Bowl LI

When I wrote my Gameplan for Super Bowl LI , I thought that the New England Patriots would have an advantage throwing to their backs. After all, when the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX, RB Shane Vereen set a record for most receptions by a RB in a Super Bowl. I said that Dion Lewis would be the Super Bowl MVP. And I said that the Patriots would win 35-25.

Well, I was 4 points off – the Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28. But it took the first overtime in Super Bowl history to get a win in a game that the Patriots never led until the final score. Moreover, the Falcons led 28-3 with 8:31 left in the 3rd quarter – the Patriots overcame the largest deficit in Super Bowl history! And a Patriots RB put forth an MVP-worthy performance, but it wasn’t Lewis, who finished with 29 yards on 7 touches. Patriots RB James White had a game-high 139 yards, including a Super Bowl record (regardless of position) 14 receptions, and a Super Bowl record 20 points, including the game-winning TD in overtime.

But the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl LI was the player who orchestrated the 4th quarter comeback, Patriots QB Tom Brady, who completed 43-of-62 passes for 466 yards – all Super Bowl records. Brady also became the first QB to throw a pick-six in the Super Bowl and win the game – teams were 12-0 when returning an interception for a TD in the Super Bowl prior to Brady getting housed by Falcons CB Robert Alford in the 2nd quarter. Brady finished with 2 TD passes and the INT and a 95.2 passer rating.

How did the Falcons even get up 28-3?

After a scoreless 1st quarter, the Patriots got all the way down to the Atlanta 33 when Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount was stripped by Falcons rookie ILB Deion Jones. It was the first time since Week 2 that Blount fumbled, and Alford pounced on the loose football, making it the first time since Week 1 that Blount lost a fumble. It took Atlanta only 1:53 to turn the Patriots turnover into a touchdown scored by Falcons RB Devonta Freeman.

Following a Patriots 3-and-out, Falcons MVP QB Matt Ryan again went through New England’s defense quickly, leading a 5-play, 62-yard drive that ended in a 19-yard TD pass to rookie TE Austin Hooper. Hooper became the first rookie TE to ever score in a Super Bowl, and the Falcons had a 14-0 lead – no team had previously won a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 at any point.

New England’s next drive reached all the way to the Atlanta 23 before Brady tried to force a pass to WR Danny Amendola. Alford read it the whole way, made the interception, beat Brady, and had himself an 82-yard pick-six – the 2nd-longest in Super Bowl history, and the first pick-six in Brady’s postseason career.

The Patriots would eventually get a FG from K Stephen Gostkowski just before halftime, but they were down 21-3 when Lady Gaga took the stage. It was looking good for the Falcons:

New England kicked off to start the 2nd half and forced Atlanta to go 3-and-out, but the Patriots failed to pick up a first down on their first possession of the 2nd half as well. The Falcons then proceeded to put together their longest drive of the game, going 85 yards in 8 plays, with Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel breaking Patriots CB Malcolm Butler’s ankles in the process:

Ryan was set up with a 1st and goal after a Butler pass interference on 3rd down, and then Ryan found RB Tevin Coleman out of the backfield for a 6-yard TD pass. It was 28-3, and I thought it was about to be curtains for the Patriots.

Current situation! #SuperBowl #NEvsATL

A photo posted by Law Murray (@lawmurraythenu) on

Now, the Patriots were the top scoring defense in the league, allowing only 15.6 points per game during the regular season. The Falcons ranked 27th in scoring defense, allowing 25.4 points per game during the regular season. No team has ever won a Super Bowl allowing that many points. And no team has ever won a Super Bowl ranked lower than 15th in both sacks and passer rating. Atlanta ranked 22nd in passer rating allowed and both the Falcons and Patriots ranked 16th in sacks; the Patriots ranked 8th in passer rating allowed. Here’s how Brady did before and after Atlanta went up 28-3:

The Patriots scored a TD when Brady found White open in front of Falcons CB Jalen Collins, but Gostkowski missed the first PAT in the Super Bowl since the 1989 season, and then the Patriots failed to recover an onside kick. The Falcons set up inside Patriots territory, but Ryan was sacked on a 3rd and long that was preceded by a holding penalty by LT Jake Matthews. Atlanta began the 4th quarter with a punt, still up 28-9.

Teams that led by 19+ entering the 4th quarter were 35-0 this season entering Super Bowl LI; the Falcons were 6-0. Teams that led by at least 19 entering the 4th quarter in the Super Bowl were 12-0 entering Super Bowl LI. Since 1940, teams that led by at least 19 entering the 4th quarter in the playoffs were 94-0 entering Super Bowl LI. And the last time a team lost a game after entering the 4th quarter with a lead of at least 19 points was in 2006, when Vince Young’s Tennessee Titans came back on Eli Manning’s New York Giants:

That’s right – teams had a 452-game winning streak, including playoffs, when entering the 4th quarter with a lead of at least 19 points.

The Patriots took their first possession of the 4th quarter and got to the Atlanta 10, but Falcons DT Grady Jarrett dropped Brady for what was his 3rd sack, officially tying a Super Bowl record. The Patriots settled for a FG to make it a 28-12 Falcons lead, and the Patriots kicked off. Coleman ran twice, getting injured on 2nd down after setting up 3rd and 1 from the Atlanta 36. That’s when the shaky playcalling from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan came in. Shanahan, who was named the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, called for a five-step drop out of shotgun. Patriots ILB Dont’a Hightower flew by Freeman and forced a fumble on Ryan that was recovered by Patriots DT Alan Branch:

Now it was the Patriots with a short field, though Brady would get sacked for the 5th time by Falcons DE Dwight Freeney. Brady would hit rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell on 3rd and 11 for a 1st down, then later throw a 6-yard TD pass to Amendola. White then took a direct snap, Kevin Faulk style, and score the two-point conversion to make it a one score game at 28-20:

The Falcons next possession was their most dizzying. It started with a completion to Freeman for 39 yards, the largest play of the game. Two plays later, Ryan hit WR Julio Jones for a spectacular toe-drag swag, good for 27 yards:

Jones’ catch set up 1st and 10 for the Falcons at the New England 22 with 4:40 left and Atlanta up 28-20. Five plays later, they punted after losing 23 yards:

Atlanta’s next five plays following Julio toe drag swag: run for negative yardage, sack allowed, holding penalty negates catch in FG range, incompletion stops clock, punt.

The Patriots still had to go 91 yards in 3:30 to set up a game-tying two-point conversion. Brady completed a 3rd down and 10 to WR Chris Hogan to get the ball to the New England 25 with 2:38 left. Two plays later, Brady found Mitchell for 11 yards and another 1st down. Then Brady threw to Edelman in heavy traffic, and Edelman not only came up with the 23-yard reception, but he cost Atlanta a challenge and their final timeout in the process:

Brady completed three more passes in a row once in Atlanta territory, hitting Amendola for 20, White for 13, and White again for 7 to get to the Atlanta 1. White rushed for a TD to cut the lead to two with 57 seconds left, his first rushing TD since December 2015 at Houston. Brady then found Amendola for the game-tying two-point conversion.

Ryan had some time to get into FG range, but his deep pass to Hooper on 3rd down from the Atlanta 27 fell incomplete after New England S Duron Harmon nearly intercepted it on the sideline. The Falcons punted, and never saw the ball again. Atlanta finished a season-worst 1-of-8 on 3rd down. They ran for only 18 yards on 9 attempts in the 2nd half after gaining 86 rushing yards on 9 attempts in the 1st half. The Falcons allowed season-high 5 sacks. And speaking of never seeing the ball again – Jones wasn’t targeted after making that huge catch on the sideline in the 4th quarter:

The Patriots only had 3 seconds to work with, choosing to run a trick play from their own 35 that got Lewis 13 rushing yards (and a hamstring injury). It set up the first overtime in Super Bowl history, though there have been overtime title games that preceded the Super Bowl:

Update from research cube!!! #NEvsATL #SuperBowl

A photo posted by Law Murray (@lawmurraythenu) on

The Patriots won the coin toss, elected to receive, and Brady didn’t let the Patriots even get to 3rd down. He hit Amendola for 14 yards, Hogan for 18 yards, and Edelman for 15 yards to get the Patriots to the Atlanta 25. From there, White rushed for 10 yards before TE Martellus Bennett drew a pass interference against Falcons rookie OLB De’Vondre Campbell to set up 1st and goal at the Atlanta 2. 2 plays later, White ended the game to give the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick, and Brady their 5th Super Bowl win.

Not only was this the biggest comeback win in Patriots franchise history, it was the biggest blown lead in Falcons franchise history. Ryan finished the game with a 144.1 passer rating, the 4th-highest by any starter in Super Bowl history. And his team lost. Ryan became the 7th straight QB to be named MVP and then lose in the Super Bowl. And while Shanahan is leaving for San Francisco, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn chose to relieve defensive coordinator Richard Smith of his duties. It’s the first time since the 2008 Cardinals that a team fired a coordinator following the Super Bowl.

Going back to the Patriots: at least one player from each of the team’s drafts since 2008 was on the roster for this Super Bowl win. Only the Packers each draft since 2007), Texans, and Bengals could say that they had at least one player still on the roster from each draft since 2008. New England finished 14-2, the best record by a Super Bowl champion since the 2004 Patriots finished 14-2. And the similarities of this team and the 2003 champion Patriots is fascinating:

And, of course, Brady’s 5th ring locks him down as the best QB that I’ve ever seen play. Folks will always bring up Spygate and Deflategate, and Brady isn’t a leader when it comes to his friendship with the President. But Brady is the best QB that I have ever covered, so I won’t need to entertain that debate anymore. Roger that:

I’m fully expecting a Falcons at New England Week 1, 2017. As for me? Super Bowl LI was my last day as a researcher at NFL Network! What a way to go out, right?

-1SKILLZ

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