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Super Bowl LI: The greatest comeback in NFL history

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NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas. On the 5th of February 2017, history was made by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

For the first time in the NFL’s history a Super Bowl was taken into overtime. Leading 21-3 at half-time it seemed like the game was over and the victory jerseys were going to be rolled in to the Falcons locker room. Brady, McDaniels and Belichick clearly had a different plan and came back to win the game 34-28 in OT. Adding to their myriad of accolades, the Patriots became the first team in Super Bowl history to win after trailing by more than 10 points, as well as Brady setting new records for most passing yards (446), pass attempts (62) and completions (43). 

The Falcons and Patriots looked like two evenly matched teams heading into Super Bowl LI. Atlanta finished the season with the top-rated scoring offence averaging a huge 33.8 points per game. On the flip side of the coin we had New England coming in with the league leading defence allowing an average 15.6 ppg. On Atlanta’s opening drive the Patriots defence was shredded to bits with a 37 yard run from Devonta Freeman. However the drive was stopped after a big sack of Matt Ryan on New England’s side of the field, leaving them outside of field goal range. 

It became very apparent early on in the game that the Falcons’ were not going to shy away from NE’s defensive intensity. New England, known for its power running game, were held to only four yards on the ground through the first quarter. The Patriots also managed to keep the Falcons off the scoreboard despite their success in the early ground game. This marked the seventh Super Bowl where New England have ended the first quarter scoreless.   

A promising start to the second quarter for NE was obliterated by a fumble from LeGarrette Blount on the Falcons’ 29 yard line. At this stage in the game it was clear that the momentum was with Atlanta. The Patriots defence failed on damage limitation and the play ended with a 5 yard rushing touchdown from DeVonta Freeman.


Things went from bad to worse in the second quarter.

There was 2:34 left on the board and Brady was poised to make his signature comeback drive. All they had to do was score before the two minute warning, hold the Falcons back on their drive and come back down the field to tie the game. It may sound like a lot, but a scenario that Patriots fans had become accustomed to achieving under Brady. On a 3rd and 6th pass attempt to Danny Amendola, Robert Alford cut under Amendola’s route, intercepting Brady, taking the ball back to the house for their 3rd TD. This was one of only 2 interceptions Brady threw that season.

After both teams failed to score on their opening drive of the 3rd quarter, the Falcons continued to add to the devastating scoreboard. Due to a pass interference flag called on Malcolm Butler, what could have been a field goal drive for Atlanta turned into another 7 points. Awarded with a new set of downs, Ryan got the ball out quickly to Coleman, on 1st and goal, who ran into the end zone. Little did Atlanta know at the time, but those would be the last points they put on the board in Super Bowl LI.  The ball was now back in Brady’s hands.

On a 4th and 3rd conversion Brady connected with Amendola taking them in to Falcons territory. Held to another 3rd and 8, Brady scrambled for 15 yards taking the Patriots into the redzone. The drive finished with a throw to James White who managed to dodge Jalen Collins and dive over the line. The third quarter ended 28-9 Atlanta but after 45 minutes of football, the game had barely begun. 

The fourth quarter started fairly uneventfully. New England started to show a little more urgency, however, they were unable to turn yards into a score. Starting the drive on their own 13 yard line, they marched downfield to the Atlanta’s 7. Brady was then sacked twice by Grady Jarrett pushing them back to settling for a field goal. The Patriots defence rallied in the fourth quarter and had the Falcons held to a 3rd and 1. The Falcons only managed to convert 1 third down on 8 attempts throughout the game.


Dont’a Hightower came up with a massive strip sack giving them the ball back in field goal range. On 3rd and 11, Brady threw a bullet to Malcolm Mitchell. A few plays later, Brady connected with Amendola for their second touchdown of the game. Suddenly momentum was shifting and the Falcons had cause for concern. Brady and the offence lined up for a 2 point conversion. A direct snap to James White ploughing into the the end zone brought the Patriots within one score. 

With 4:38 left on the clock, Ryan connected with Julio Jones on a toe-tap 27 yard catch, despite extremely tight coverage from Eric Rowe. Setting themselves up on the Patriot 22 yard line, it should have been game set and match. The Patriots once again rallied and Trey Flowers came up with a big sack for 12 yards. On 3rd and 23 the Falcons were hit with another penalty for offensive holding. On 3rd and 33 Ryan threw an incomplete pass leaving them well outside field goal range. With 3:17 left on the clock the Patriots were held to 3rd and 10 on their own 9 yard line. Brady made some huge chunk plays driving them down the field.  

Then a moment occurred that will be spoken about for generations. THE CATCH.

Brady threw a deep pass for Edelman that was initially deflected by CB, Robert Alford. This could have been his second interception of the game. In a battle to the ground the ball bounced off the knee and shin of Alford. Edelman trapped the ball against the arm of Ricardo Allen and released it before securing the ball centimetres from the ground. After a lengthy challenge process and wait for the NE staff, it was confirmed that the call on the field of a catch was upheld. With 57 seconds left in the game, Amendola scored their second two point conversion after a TD from James White. 

New England won the overtime coin toss and chose to receive.

After 3 huge chunk plays to Amendola, Hogan and Edelman the Patriots were set up on the Falcons 25. A screen pass to White saw him pick up another 20 yards and a Falcons defence which had spent so much time on the field was clearly struggling to find momentum. A pass interference call against De’Vondre Campbell gave New England a first down deep in the redzone. Another toss to White who dived through defenders for his second touchdown of the game. New England wins 34-28, marking the franchise’s 5th Super Bowl victory in 15 years. 

Forever to be known as the greatest comeback in football history. 

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