The New England Patriots entered the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI down 28-9 against the Atlanta Falcons. A 33-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal brought the Patriots within 16, making it a two-possession game. Of course, those two possessions needed to be capped by two touchdowns and two successful two-point conversions in order to erase the deficit.
Only three plays after the field goal, linebacker Dont’a Hightower forced a Matt Ryan-fumble, which was recovered by defensive tackle Alan Branch. Starting on Atlanta’s 25-yard line, New England needed five plays – the last of which a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola – to come one successful two-point attempt of making it a one-possession game.
And the Patriots did just that.
1) (Direct Snap) TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. J.White rushes up the middle. ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS.
New England’s offense used an 11-personnel group on its first two-point try of the game. Julian Edelman (#11) and Malcolm Mitchell (#19) aligned in a slot formation on the weak side of the formation. Tight end Martellus Bennett (#88) lined up in a two-point stance on the right tackle’s outside shoulder, with Chris Hogan (#15) covering him up.
Running back James White (#28) was originally flanked out wide to the right but motioned to the backfield prior to the snap to align to Tom Brady’s (#12) left:
Atlanta used a nickel defense with four down-linemen and two off-the-line backers to defend the Patriots’ personnel group. Due to White’s motion towards the center of the formation, Atlanta changed its secondary alignment. Strong safety Keanu Neal (#22) moved to the box to line up over the right-side B-gap, while deep safety Ricardo Allen (#37) moved closer towards the boundary.
Despite Atlanta employing a relatively light front, this motion gave the defense a numbers advantage over the Patriots blockers. New England countered the defensive alignment by going right at its heart: the defensive tackles. The Patriots did this with two double-team blocks paving the way for the designed inside run.
After David Andrews (#60) snapped the football to White – not perfectly but well enough for the running back to grab it – the center immediately moved to his left to team up with guard Joe Thuney (#62) in blocking defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman (#77). After initial contact, Andrews peeled off to move to the second level and take on linebacker Deion Jones (#45).
In the meantime, the right side of the Patriots’ offensive line – guard Shaq Mason (#69) and tackle Marcus Cannon (#61) – took on Jonathan Babineaux (#95). The double team created excellent upfield push, which a) clogged a potential attack lane for Neal while b) allowing Mason to disengage as well and serve as a lead blocker through the A-gap.
White followed Mason’s lead to take the football into the endzone and make the Super Bowl a one-possession game:
Overall, the Patriots’ offense executed the play call brilliantly. The offensive line was able to get the necessary push to create a running lane for White and the outside players – Bennett and left tackle Nate Solder (#77) – won their one-on-one blocking assignments. Furthermore, Brady sold the fake well which in turn froze Neal and Jones just long enough.
2) TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. T.Brady pass to D.Amendola is complete. ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS.
On their next possession, the Patriots scored their second fourth quarter touchdown to come within one successful two-point attempt of tying the game. After James White’s 1-yard scoring run to make it a 28-26 game in Atlanta’s favor, New England used a 10-personnel group aligned in an empty 3x2 formation.
Three wide receivers – Danny Amendola (#80), Chris Hogan (#15), Julian Edelman (#11) – lined up on the offense’s left. Malcolm Mitchell (#19), the fourth wideout, joined running back James White (#28) in a two-player stack on the right side:
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Atlanta used a dime package consisting of four cornerbacks and two safeties player a cover 0 man-to-man defense. With the Falcons covering New England’s receivers one-on-one, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a perfect play to take advantage of the defense’s alignment: a screen pass.
Just prior to the snap, Amendola, the receiver playing closest to the left-side boundary, started to move inwards. Being in man-coverage, cornerback Brian Poole (#34) mirrored the motion. At that point, Tom Brady (#12) received the snap and made a quick one-step drop before releasing the football towards Amendola. Simultaneously, Hogan and Edelman were starting to set up their blocks:
In order to follow Amendola, Poole needed to move around behind defensive backs Jalen Collins (#32) and Robert Alford (#23). And this is exactly what New England exploited with the play call as Brady delivered the football just when Amendola and Poole were moving across the field. With Hogan and Edelman blocking Collins and Alford, respectively, Poole’s lane at the pass catcher was closed and the defender remained stuck in traffic:
The key to the play were Hogan and Edelman being able to block their assigned defensive backs. And while Hogan could have been flagged for blocking past one yard of the line of scrimmage, a penalty – which would have been an offset to Atlanta’s offside call on the same play – would have been a surprise given the way the game was called up to that point.
Edelman did a great job of driving Alford back, which in turn also blocked the path of safety Ricardo Allen (#37), who reacted immediately to the play. While Hogan was unable to sustain his block throughout the entire process, he still did a good job of stopping both Collins and Poole from tackling Amendola before he reached the endzone. In short: The Patriots were able to stop four defenders with two blockers.
As has been the case on the first two-point attempt, New England’s offense executed close to perfection. Quarterback, offensive line, receivers and blockers all did their job which allowed the Patriots to tie Super Bowl LI at 28 with not even one minute left in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots entered the Super Bowl with three two-point plays at their disposal. They used all three, and all three were well executed and allowed the team to come back from a 25-point deficit and ultimately win their fifth Lombardi Trophy.