A new standard has been set, as Tom Brady of the New England Patriots became the first quarterback in N.F.L. history to win five Super Bowls, leading his team to a 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
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It looked like a blowout in Atlanta’s favor, with the Falcons racing to a 28-3 lead, but Brady, who had endured a great deal of pressure for much of the game, held tight and reeled off 25 consecutive points prior to the overtime period, getting a great deal of help with a circus catch by Julian Edelman that will help erase the painful memory of the Patriots once having been sunk by David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.
Then in the first overtime in Super Bowl history, the Patriots got the ball first, and as they have done so many times in Brady’s career, simply marched down the field, going 75 yards on 8 plays, winning the game on James White’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Having grown up as a fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Brady claims to have never considered the possibility of joining his idol, Joe Montana, in having won four Super Bowls, let alone passing Montana and Terry Bradshaw, the Pittsburgh Hall of Famer, who each had four wins in four attempts. And while his journey was not quite as flawless, with two losses to go with his five wins, he now stands out as the most decorated quarterback of the Super Bowl era, and is tied with Charles Haley, the relentless defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys and the 49ers, for the most Super Bowl wins as a player.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
Brady ended up completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and 2 touchdowns despite enduring 5 sacks and throwing the first postseason pick-six of his career. He got plenty of help from White, the team’s pass-catching running back, who had 14 catches for 110 yards and 1 touchdown along with his game-winning run.
The Falcons, led by Matt Ryan, had looked nearly unstoppable for three quarters, scoring at will and holding New England in check with a defense that had steadily improved all season. But they seemingly ran out of steam on both ends of the ball, with the Patriots’ experience winning the day.
Patriots and Falcons Head to Overtime
The Falcons, given a chance to win the game, managed just 16 yards on 3 plays and were forced to punt the ball away. With just 4 seconds to work with, the Patriots attempted a fake kneel and ran the ball, but it did not go nearly far enough and the Super Bowl is headed to overtime for the first time in the game’s history.
Patriots Tie Game, 28-28
At the end of an incredible 91-yard drive, that included a circus catch by Julian Edelman, James White ran for a 1-yard touchdown, and Tom Brady found Danny Amendola for a successful 2-point conversion, tying the game at 28-28 with under a minute remaining in the game.
Matt Ryan will now get a chance to lead a game-winning drive, or play for overtime.
Patriots Get One More Shot
The Patriots have the ball back with a chance to tie the Falcons.
Devonta Freeman showed off how dangerous he can be in the open field, Julio Jones reminded everyone that he just may be the best wide receiver in the game, but thanks to a devastating sack by Trey Flowers, and a holding call on Tom Compton, the Falcons were not even able to get a field goal.
Matt Ryan started the drive at his own 10-yard line and immediately found Devonta Freeman for a 39-yard catch-and-run that looked like it could go all the way with just a tad more luck. After a short run by Freeman, Ryan then escaped pressure and found Julio Jones for a seemingly impossible 27-yard reception on the sideline in which the star wide receiver reached over a defensive back to get the ball and then managed to plant his feet before falling out of bounds.
With 3:30 remaining, Brady has the ball and is down by 8 points.
Patriots Cut Lead to 28-20
We have a ballgame.
Tom Brady was never going to just roll over and let the Falcons win, and he found Danny Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown pass that along with a 2-point conversion has narrowed Atlanta’s lead to 28-20.
The drive when set up when the Falcons, who had not turned the ball over all game, decided to look for a deep pass on 3rd-and-1. Before Matt Ryan could release the ball he was hit by Don’t’a Hightower, who swatted the ball to the ground. Alan Branch was able to recover the ball, giving New England just a 25-yard field to work with.
Brady needed just five plays, enduring one sack from Dwight Freeney along the way, and now trails by just 8 points with just under six minutes remaining in the game.
Atlanta may be short-handed the rest of the way as Tevin Coleman, one of Atlanta’s two star running backs, was forced from the game with an injury to his left ankle on the Falcons’ previous drive. He was helped off the field and his status for the rest of the game has yet to be announced.
Patriots Not Going Down Without a Fight
Grady Jarrett, the Atlanta defensive tackle, almost single-handedly turned what looked like a sure-thing touchdown drive into a field goal for the Patriots. A pair of sacks in the red zone forced the Patriots to abandon what had been a 12-play, 72-yard drive, with Stephen Gostkowski hitting from 33 yards to narrow the Atlanta lead to 28-12. With the game in the fourth quarter, it is now nearing the point of desperation for New England.
Brady steadily moved the ball down the field, with a huge 25-yard completion to Martellus Bennett having put the Patriots inside Atlanta’s 10-yard line. But then Jarrett, who had a sack in the first half of the game as well, just tore through the offensive line twice to put Brady on his back. The interior pressure from Jarrett, who has equaled his single-season sack total, has been a major factor all game. Brady has been hit 14 times by various Atlanta defenders.
The Patriots had gotten the ball back with no further scoring by Atlanta even though a botched onside kick attempt resulted in the Falcons starting a drive from New England’s 41-yard line. Atlanta ended up losing 10 yards on the drive before punting the ball away.
The sequence helped ease the pain for Gostkowski, who missed an extra point, failed to convert an onside kick, and was penalized for 5 yards for touching the ball too soon on the onside kick attempt.
Patriots Find the End Zone
The Patriots finally got the team’s first touchdown of the game when Tom Brady found James White for a 5-yard score. But thanks to a missed extra point, New England only narrowed Atlanta’s lead to 28-9.
The Patriots nearly out-thought themselves earlier in the drive when they tried to mix things up on a third-and-3 by letting Julian Edelman attempt a pass. The attempt from the college quarterback who learned to play wide receiver in the N.F.L. nearly wobbled its way into the arms of a defender before falling to the ground.
New England was able to convert on fourth-and-3 with a 17-yard pass from Brady to Danny Amendola, and a third down conversion later in the drive came by way of Brady’s legs, with the 39-year-old rumbling for a 15-yard gain.
LeGarrette Blount got the Patriots into the red zone with a 4-yard carry, and then the big running back got another 9 yards on a run outside the tackles. Faced with a 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line, the Patriots ran once with Blount for 2 yards and then let Brady find White, his safety valve on offense, for the touchdown.
Falcons Keep the Throttle Down
Matt Ryan almost seems to be toying with the Patriots at this point. The Falcons’ quarterback threw his second touchdown pass, this one a 6-yarder to Tevin Coleman, and along with the extra point Atlanta now leads 28-3.
The drive started with a diving catch by Taylor Gabriel that went for 17 yards. A short run was followed by Matt Ryan again going to Gabriel who was wide open in the middle of the field for a 35-yard gain.
Ryan picked up another first down on a diving catch by Mohamed Sanu that got Atlanta back into the red zone, and after a pair of rushing attempts by Devonta Freeman, Gabriel drew a defensive pass interference penalty on an incomplete pass, which helped set up the scoring play.
Ryan is now 12 for 14 for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns, showing the world why he was an easy choice for M.V.P. this season.
Patriots Stall Out to Start 2nd Half
Momentum can turn remarkably quickly in a football game, so after the Patriots’ defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half, and then Julian Edelman reeled off a 34-yard punt return, New England suddenly seemed to have new life.
A challenge by Atlanta, that proved Edelman had stepped out of bounds, brought the ball back seven yards, and Tom Brady’s first pass attempt of the half, while catchable, sailed over Chris Hogan’s head. A pass to Danny Amendola went for a loss of two yards, forcing a third-and-12. Brady then tried to force the ball to Edelman but his go-to wide receiver could not handle the ball, and New England’s offense once again was forced to punt.
Lady Gaga Plays It Safe at Halftime
Anyone expecting a loud political statement was disappointed, but Lady Gaga did at the very least succeed in performing a Super Bowl halftime show all by herself, rather than with an endless parade of guest stars.
The show started with a medley of patriotic songs sung from atop the roof of NRG Stadium, and after diving into the stadium — with the help of an elaborate harness — Lady Gaga transitioned into the familiar hits of her career. Joined only by dancers and pyrotechnics, she let the somewhat politically-charged lyrics of her songs, including “Born This Way,” do the talking for her rather than making any overt political statement about President Trump or any other divisive issues.
While much of the show was a big spectacle, the highlight likely came when she quieted the crowd for a stripped-down version of her recent single, “Million Reasons,” with the stadium lit up by the flashlights on the crowd’s phones.
She ended the show with a mike drop and a dive into an unseen abyss.
First Half Is All Atlanta Falcons
There were plenty of pundits predicting a Falcons victory, but few could have seen a blowout in Atlanta’s favor on the horizon. That is just what happened in the first half, as the Falcons raced to a 21-3 lead in a game that seemed even more lopsided than that.
That the Patriots even scored was somewhat surprising after some tremendous work by the upstart Atlanta defense that produced a pair of turnovers, both by Robert Alford who has to be the early favorite to be named the game’s Most Valuable Player should the score hold up.
On New England’s final drive of the half, Tom Brady salvaged some respect with a series of completions. No further room could be found, but the team was close enough that Stephen Gostkowski was able to put the Patriots on the board with a 41-yard field goal.
Brady did not seem like himself for much of the half, missing badly on several passing attempts, likely as a result of constant pressure from Atlanta’s defensive line. In one sequence late in the half, he found Martellus Bennett for a 15-yard completion but paid for it with the type of truly jarring hit that New England’s offensive line is nearly always able to protect him from.
With Atlanta set to receive the ball to start the second half, New England needs to find answers on both sides of the ball. The Falcons are winning the turnover battle, moving the ball easily on offense following a sluggish start, and seem to have no problem penetrating the Patriots’ offensive line.
Pick-Six Gives Falcons 21-0 Lead
Repeatedly given extra chances to succeed on a drive that seemed doomed, the Patriots looked like they would at least get a field goal prior to halftime, but Robert Alford had other ideas, stepping in front of Tom Brady’s pass for an interception and running it back 82 yards for a touchdown. Along with the extra point, Atlanta now has a commanding 21-0 lead with less than three minutes left in the first half.
It was the first postseason pick-six of Brady’s career, and was Alford’s second turnover of the game.
That the defense came through for Atlanta once again was fairly surprising as the unit’s youthful exuberance had reared its head earlier in the drive. Three times they appeared to have ended the drive by not allowing Brady to convert on third down only to have the drive extended each time thanks to defensive holding penalties.
But thanks to Alford, none of those mistakes matter.
Falcons’ Defense Has Patriots Reeling
With the Patriots clearly reeling, the Falcons are continuing to push hard on both sides of the ball, and Matt Ryan found Austin Hooper in the left side of the end zone for a diving 19-yard touchdown catch. After a botched attempt at an extra point was brought back thanks to a penalty, the Falcons made the second attempt and now lead 14-0.
Atlanta’s defense delivered the ball back to its offense with yet another three-and-out and the offense wasted no time, going 62 yards on 5 plays with less than two minutes running off the clock.
Matt Ryan started the drive with a 24-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel and then an 18-yard completion to Julio Jones. A 1-yard run by Tevin Coleman got the ball back into the red zone, and after Ryan’s first attempt to Hooper fell incomplete thanks to great coverage by Patrick Chung, Ryan threw to his tight end on the other side of the field for the score.
The Falcons now have a 189 to 111 advantage in total yards.
Fumble Leads to Falcons’ Lead
The Atlanta defense continues to prove that its strong play in the playoffs was no fluke, and the team’s sensational offense finally showed up. That combination added up to a 7-0 lead for the underdogs.
The second quarter opened with Tom Brady finding Julian Edelman for a 27-yard gain and New England looked to keep the Falcons on their heels by running right at them with LeGarrette Blount. But the big running back managed four yards before Deion Jones punched the ball out for a fumble and Robert Alford was able to recover it, handing the ball back to Atlanta’s offense.
Not content to go out meekly on a third consecutive drive, Matt Ryan steadily moved his team down the field with two consecutive completions to Julio Jones that covered 42 yards, followed by a 15-yard run by Devonta Freeman. Inside the red zone for the first time, Atlanta again ran with Freeman, and then from the 5-yard line Ryan handed the ball to Freeman who faked right, cut left and easily ran into the end zone for the first score of the game.
The scoring drive covered 71 yards on 5 plays.
A Scoreless First Quarter
Beyond a thrilling 37-yard run by Devonta Freeman of the Falcons, and some excellent work by the defensive lines for both teams, the first quarter was fairly uneventful, with both teams resorting to punts on each possession.
The Patriots had one promising drive, that included Tom Brady finding Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and James White for completions in a steady march down the field. But a play-action fake did not fool Courtney Upshaw, a mammoth defensive tackle, at all as he ran right through the fake and sacked Brady for an 8-yard loss.
Brady’s next pass was an attempt to White which fell incomplete thanks to tight coverage and then another defensive tackle, Grady Jarrett, chased Brady down from behind for Atlanta’s second sack of the game, short-circuiting what had looked like a promising drive as New England once again was forced to punt.
Pressure has been cited as one of the keys to the game for Atlanta, and thus far their defensive line is definitely making its presence known. But their defense is not typically the team’s strength, so the Falcons’ offense will need to wake up to keep the team in this game.
Falcons Win Toss, Kick Off to Patriots
After a coin flip by President George H.W. Bush (tails), Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons kicked off at 6:37 p.m. Eastern at NRG Stadium in Houston. After winning the toss, the Falcons deferred, giving the Patriots the ball to start the game.
After a week dominated by political discussions, Tom Brady’s chances of winning a fifth Super Bowl, and curiosity of what Lady Gaga’s halftime performance could entail, the talk on Sunday turned decidedly to football. President Trump predicted an 8-point victory for his good friend Tom Brady, but the biggest issue seemed to be the uncertain status of Alex Mack, the Falcons’ star center, who will reportedly be playing with a fractured fibula.
Overcoming a significant injury to play in the Super Bowl is hardly a new phenomenon, with Terrell Owens having played a starring role for the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX despite having fractured the same bone as Mack. But no one knows how effective Mack can be, or how long he will be able to stay on the field. Any disruption in line play could dramatically alter Atlanta’s high-flying offense, as Mack is not only great at managing handoffs but was rated as the top run-blocking center in the game by Pro Football Focus.
Despite a wide gap of experience between the two teams, both sides remained calm and composed all week. Atlanta Coach Dan Quinn emphasized a team-first business-like approach to the Falcons that was honed in his time in Seattle, and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick continued to run the league’s tightest ship.
What the Patriots and Falcons Need to Do to Win
A look at some of the key matchups between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI reveals a game that should be competitive no matter how much the Patriots’ experience appears to give them an advantage. Keep an eye on these story lines:
■ Offense vs. Defense: The game is a matchup of the highest-scoring team in the N.F.L. (Atlanta) and the team that allowed the fewest points (New England). But there is more to it than that. The Patriots have plenty of offensive firepower, and the Falcons have steadily improved on the defensive end throughout the season, thanks to the heavy emphasis on teamwork from Coach Dan Quinn, who helped build the great Seattle Seahawks defensive units.
■ Pressure on Brady: The closest thing that exists to a successful game plan against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is to collapse the pocket and put a solid amount of pressure on him. But for that to work, the opposing team has to apply the pressure without blitzing, because Brady is an expert at exploiting short-handed coverage. That means Vic Beasley, the Falcons’ second-year star at defensive end, could be the key player of the game in either direction. If he continues his recent run of success, the Patriots are in trouble.
■ Stopping Julio: On defense, the Patriots have frequently tried to eliminate the top receiving option on the other team, forcing opponents to beat them with their secondary weapons. That is a problem against the Falcons, because Julio Jones requires so much attention to slow him down that the field will be wide open for Atlanta’s dynamic running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, as well as their other receiving options like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
■ Wrecking Ball: Much has been written about New England’s wide receivers, and how they have done a tremendous job in the absence of Rob Gronkowski. But if the Patriots want to exploit a well-coached defense that is lacking top-shelf talent, a better bet might be to run at them repeatedly with the bone-crunching LeGarrette Blount, and look for spots to let Martellus Bennett exploit his tremendous physical advantages over anyone the Falcons put against him in coverage. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola rely on making fewer mistakes than their opponents, while Blount and Bennett can create their own opportunities.
■ Experience vs. Hunger: The Patriots are playing in the team’s record-breaking ninth Super Bowl and will be in search of the team’s fifth win (the four previous wins all came with Tom Brady at quarterback, and he will be looking to join Charles Haley as the only players with five Super Bowl rings). The Falcons, who joined the N.F.L. in 1966, are appearing in the game for just the second time. They lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos following the 1998 season.