HOUSTON — With about two minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and three Atlanta Falcons defenders battled to pull down a tipped pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Edelman, using the defenders bodies and his own grip to corral the ball inches from the ground, made an improbable catch, keeping alive the Patriots’ equally improbable bid to win after falling behind 28-3.
A few plays later, Patriots running back James White plunged one yard into the end zone. After a two-point conversion, the Patriots tied the score at 28 — the largest comeback in the 51-year history of the Super Bowl — and forced the big game’s first-ever overtime period.
That’s when Brady orchestrated an eight-play drive – capped off with another White touchdown — clinching the quarterback’s fifth Super Bowl title with a 34-28 win over the Falcons. The Patriots sideline flooded onto the field. The celebration continued with the team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and Brady, the game’s MVP, addressing the crowd.
“I’m so proud of our guys, our coaches, our team,” Brady said over the crowd’s roar. “It’s unbelievable what these guys have accomplished all season.”
Until the final quarter, the Patriots struggled mightily on offense. The Falcons’ defense, which coach Dan Quinn had constructed in his first two years with the team to feature youth and speed, pressured Brady throughout the evening.
Brady took multiple sacks early in the game, which disrupted the team’s timing and forced him to continually overthrow his receivers. Falcons cornerback Robert Alford also returned a second-quarter Brady interception for an 82-yard touchdown, leaving the quarterback sprawled on the ground as Alford galloped into the end zone.
The Falcons’ defense loosened in the fourth frame, as they counted on a scoring advantage no team had overcome in the previous 50 Super Bowls to carry them to victory.
In the comeback, Brady relied on intermediate throws to his receivers to keep the defenders off balance. By the time the confetti streamed onto the turf, Brady had completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns.
“They just kept plugging away, just kept fighting, just kept trying to make plays,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a postgame press conference. “I just can’t say enough about our players, how hard they competed.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, meanwhile, went 17-for-23 for 284 yards and two touchdowns, one night removed from earning the MVP award.
He helped the Falcons open a 21-0 lead in the second quarter after the teams went scoreless in the first quarter. Ryan never had the chance to touch the ball in overtime, denying him the opportunity to deliver what would have been the first Super Bowl title for the Falcons.
“We know if we would have gotten that ball back,” Alford said, “we [were] going to win.”
Instead, Ryan and the Falcons retreated to the locker room while the Patriots fans cherished yet another title in Brady and Belichick’s tenure.
Unlike the duo’s other 16 seasons together, the 2016-2017 season started with Brady serving a four-game suspension as punishment for the “Deflategate” saga that transpired in the weeks leading up to the Patriots’ 2015 Super Bowl win.
“Two years ago, we won our fourth Super Bowl down in Arizona, and I told our fans that was the sweetest one of all,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said at the trophy presentation. “But I want to say to our fans, our brilliant coaching staff, our amazing players who are so spectacular, this is unequivocally the sweetest.”